Frank Ntilikina’s Defense

Frank Ntilikina has developed a reputation amongst Knick fans as a “lock down” defender. His lack of aggressiveness on offense has been tempered by this defensive reputation. Some Knick fans get giddy at the notion that we have Frank, and he’s gonna lock down so-and-so tonite — the so-and-so being the other team’s elite point guard.

But there’s been something gnawing at me for the past month or so. Seems every time the Knicks face an elite point guard — or almost any point guard — that guard has his usual scoring night against the Knicks.

Lock-Down Defender Doesn’t Lock Anyone Down?

So far this season Ntilikina famously locked down Trae Young for 3 quarters and gave Kyrie Irving a hard time in a Knicks win over Boston in November. But in the month before he got benched for 3 games, with Ntilikina either starting or playing significant minutes, the Knicks played:

  • Stephen Curry, who had his usual game — 10-18, 29 points on Oct 26
  • Damian Lillard, who had his usual game – 29 pts, 8 assists in Portland’s 4-pt win (Ntilikina played 28 min) on Nov 20
  • Russell Westbrook who was injured, replaced by Dennis Schroder, who lit up the Knicks for 5-10, 15 pts, 12 assists & a +30. Ntilikina played 21 min, 4 pts and a -11. Thunder won by 25 on Nov 14
  • Mike Conley, who had his usual game, 23 pts 11 assists (to be fair Ntilikina only played 13 min, 7 pts a -6) on Nov 25
  • J.J. Redick who came around screens all night to destroy Ntilikina. So bad was it Fizdale switched Ntilikina onto T.J. McConnell and penetrated against Ntilikina at will in Philly’s win on Nov 28
  • Spencer Dinwiddie who Ntilikina was assigned to in the final moments of the Brooklyn game — and Dinwiddie was calling ISO plays against Ntilikina and scoring on him at will (seen in the tweet below) in the Nets win on Dec 8
  • Kemba Walker who was guarded by Emmanuel Mudiay — Ntilikina defended old-man Tony Parker off the bench, who drove on Ntilikina at will for 16 points in Charlotte’s win on Dec 9

There are a number of Knick fans who have picked up on this as well — one being Knicklear Fizzicist on twitter.

His Weaknesses on D?

Looking closely at the film a number of things show up about Ntilikina:

  • He often doesn’t use his feet to defend — he overplays and people blow past him. In a flash he is trailing his opponent. This is a basic defensive tenet which I tell my 13-yr-old — USE YOUR FEET TO STAY IN FRONT OF THE GUY. It’s surprising to see Ntilikina constantly chasing a guard because he couldn’t stay in front of him. I mean he’s supposed to be a “lock down defender”.
  • He doesn’t fight thru screens. Certainly not the way Ron Baker does. Baker plays an aggressive defense and is a disruptor on the court when he comes in. Ntilikina is more a finesse defender who is good at using his long reach to deflect passes in the paint.

What the Unnamed Source Scouts Say

Recently an unnamed scout in a Marc Berman article (Berman is the all-time leader in unnamed sources but this one seems legit) said “When he got in the [76ers] game, he was embarrassed by [J.J.] Redick. Redick got loose for two jumpers and then they put him on [T.J.] McConnell and he drove around him. Other scouts tell me he’s a great defender. I don’t see a great defender. He can be disruptive with length, but he’s slow to react. He’s a better-than-average defender, but I think his confidence is shot on offense. His passes aren’t doing anything.’’

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