Frank Ntilikina is often criticized for playing offense like a timid teenager, but every so often, the modest Monsieur of MSG breaks character and seeks to soar in for a slam, which causes Knicks fans to erupt like Larry Johnson just nailed a four-point play.
That feeling when Ntilikina tries to fly is difficult to describe. It has its own energy. It’s kind of like when you step outside on the first warm day of spring and the world suddenly just seems more pleasant. Or the relief that washes over your entire body when you’ve desperately had to pee for hours and finally make it to the bathroom. Maybe it’s the way his long arms look as he rises towards the rim, or perhaps it’s merely tied to the hope that he’s going to prove to the front office that he belongs on the Knicks, but there’s just something about when Ntilikina rises to try and throw it down.
The 22-year-old Frenchman has found himself bound to the bench more than he’d like in his fourth season, but on Thursday, with Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley and Elfrid Payton all sidelined, Ntilikina received roughly 27 minutes of playing time, the most he’s gotten all season.
His shots weren’t falling in the first half (he was 0-2), but because there were a bevy of point guards unavailable, Tom Thibodeau had no choice but to keep Ntilikina in the game. With more minutes came increased confidence. In the third, Ntilikina hit three of five shots, including a three-point play on a dunk attempt that would have shaken the arena to its very core if Madison Square Garden could have full capacity right now.
Heck, time itself, which is nothing but a social construct anyway, might have stopped if Frank had been able to jam that ball through that hoop. It’s moments like this which provide the Ntilikina Hive with courage to continue arguing on Frank’s behalf. And this isn’t the first time he’s injected a bolt of electricity into the team and fanbase. In fact, it’s something he should try to do more often.
The most famous version of this is when Ntilikina tried to send Kristaps Porzingis to the hall of shame last season in Dallas, during the very first game in which Porzingis was on the court as an opponent of the Knicks. Purposely or not, Ntilikina represented every single person who has ever rooted for the Knicks when he tried to yam it down KP’s throat.
Frank Ntilikina tried to throw it all the way down on Kristaps Porzingis pic.twitter.com/ei90b1pUUS— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) November 9, 2019
A foul was initially called, although Dallas successfully challenged. But who cares? The takeaway was that Ntilikina sought to steal the light from Porzingis’ soul. The moment was needed for fans of the Knicks. It helped us heal.
Frank Ntilikina saw Kristaps Porzingis there when he got the ball & still tried to dunk it. Him on his dunk attempt on KP:— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) November 9, 2019
"It really didn’t matter if it was Kristaps or not. It was just the right play to do — to go at the rim & be aggressive. It’s something I need to do more.” pic.twitter.com/4UqSOlcZNl
Sometimes, Ntilikina is successful in his dunk attempts. Like the time he posterized fellow Frenchman — and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year — Rudy Gobert.
Frank Ntilikina dunks on Gobert. pic.twitter.com/8aV93phaUG— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) December 30, 2018
Tired of slams that took place in arenas outside of New York? Fine. How about this delicious dunk at MSG during a victory over the Houston Rockets last season?
Frank Ntilikina cette nuit :— First Team (@FirstTeam101) January 2, 2020
Et ce gros dunk !! pic.twitter.com/unUnGNzOR7
According to NBA.com/stats, Ntilikina hasn’t even technically attempted a dunk this season (perhaps the play against Orlando is counted as a layup, since he didn’t officially stuff it home but the ball went in the hoop?). Last year, he made five of nine dunks. The season before that, he was two for three. And as a rookie, Frank succeeded on six of seven. Altogether, that’s only 18 dunk attempts for his career, or 1.5% of the total shots he’s taken.
Ntilikina is never going to be viewed as a legendary dunker. That’s not his game. He’s a defensive bloodhound whose offense comes and goes like it often has somewhere else to be. But he should take note of the reaction to his three-point play against the Magic. When he’s aggressive, his teammates and coaches, not to mention the fans, take notice.
With the trade deadline only days away (March 25), who knows if Ntilikina will still be a Knick long enough to do more dunks? Here’s still here for now, though, and Thibs seems to like him, so let’s appreciate the times he’s taken flight.