Frank Ntilikina’s return to the court appears to be imminent, with the Knicks announcing Tuesday that the 20-year-old sophomore is listed as questionable for Wednesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden.
Ntilikina, who has missed the last 23 games since leaving a Jan. 27 game against the Miami Heat with a strained groin, practiced with the Westchester Knicks on Tuesday and has since been recalled by the Big Boy ‘Bockers.
Frank Ntilikina has been recalled from Westchester. He is listed as questionable with a sore groin for tomorrow night’s game versus Utah.— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) March 19, 2019
Although it remains technically possible that he’ll play against Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz Wednesday night, it seems more probable that Ntilikina will return on Friday when the Knicks play the Denver Nuggets. If he comes back Friday, Ntilikina will have 10 games left in the season to showcase his skills.
This is overall a good thing, as it was starting to feel like we might have seen the last of Frank as a member of the Knicks. Instead, we get to see two more handfuls of games from Ntilikina at the very least. As Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News noted, while the last stretch of the season is pretty inconsequential for the Knicks — minus the need for the team to stay among the bottom three teams so they can snag that sweet, sweet 14 percent chance at landing the first overall pick — it could be extremely consequential for Ntilikina’s future.
While these final games are largely inconsequential for the Knicks, they're most significant for Frank Ntilikina and his future https://t.co/WlrLhrUznD— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) March 19, 2019
Once the offseason begins, all bets are off when it comes to what the Knicks will do with the 6’6”, 200-pound Frenchman. Reports have said the Knicks may try and trade Frank on draft night, and according to Bondy, Scott Perry sought to see what he could get for Frank from the Atlanta Hawks prior to this year’s trade deadline, although he was rebuffed because the Hawks are currently trying to build around Trae Young, who is also a point guard.
Before we begin contemplating a life without Frank, though, let’s just enjoy his long-awaited return for a minute or two. Ntilikina’s career, which started with promise, has quickly turned sour. It’s not all his fault, by the way, although there’s no question that his offense hasn’t improved as much in year two as the franchise would have liked.
In fact, his numbers this year are basically the same as his rookie stats, right down to the 21.3 minutes per game he’s played under David Fizdale. Frank played 21.9 per game last year, when his coach was Jeff Hornacek, a guy who really loved Jarrett Jack.
Quick aside to send some well wishes to Jack, who recently tore his ACL while playing for the Miami Heat’s G-League affiliate. Prayers up to the 35-year-old former Knick, who will therefore always be a Knick.
Ntilikina has been exasperatingly inconsistent this year, which has led to all the speculation about his future. To put it in number form, Frank’s averaging 5.9 points (34 percent from the field, 29 percent from three), 2.8 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. Without a bonafide star for Frank to tango with on offense, it’s not clear whether he has it in him to be anything more than an average, if not below average, offensive player.
Those who are in his corner cling to the fact that, at the very least, he can be a top tier defender. And if he figures out a way to put it together on the offensive end — something he has shown the potential to do at times — he could become a truly scary player for opposing teams.
The Knicks shouldn’t trade Frank unless the package is up to par, but unfortunately it’s not even totally obvious what exactly he would or should be worth at this juncture. Regardless, prepare yourselves for plenty of discussion over the next few weeks concerning whether Ntilikina will be on the roster next year.
Hopefully, he’ll finish the season strong, performing well enough to convince the front office to stick with him, at least for now.