Despite averaging 21.3 minutes per game through his first three seasons, the fourth-year guard played just 9.8 MPG this season. He also only played 33 of the 72 possible games.
It’s been a disappointing season for Ntilikina who is set to enter restricted free agency on Aug. 2. However, the season is not quite over, and the upcoming playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks is time for Ntilikina to shine.
The New York Knicks need to slow Trae Young down in order to win the series, so they should utilize Frank Ntilikina, who has a history of guarding Young well.
In the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, Ntilikina matched up well against the Hawks’ All-Star guard Trae Young. In the upcoming series, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau can insert Ntilikina into the rotation in order to slow down the slippery All-Star.
Ntilikina guarded Trae Young for 14:55 minutes and 59 possessions across the two aforementioned seasons, according to Forbes’ Tommy Beer. In those possessions, Ntilikina limited Young to 7-of-19 from the field and the Hawks scored 73 points.
In comparison, current starting point guard Elfrid Payton guarded Young for 14:38 minutes and on 64 possessions in 2019-20. Young scored 44 points on 46 percent from the floor, and the Hawks dropped 94 points, according to Beer.
Sure, it’s a small sample size. Omitting this statement would be a flaw to the argument. However, over the course of similar time frames, one guard stands out as the better defender against Young.
Furthermore, Payton’s defense against Young wasn’t any better this year. Again, he defended the All-Star guard for a similar amount of time: 14:08 minutes and 56 possessions. Young scored 22 points and added 10 assists. More importantly, the Hawks scored 92 points in that span.
Unfortunately, there are no stats from this past season in which Ntilikina guarded Young because the Knicks guard sat two of the three games between the teams and played just two seconds of the third contest.
So for the Ntilikina non-believers, a fair argument is to question why he should be put in the rotation when he’s been excluded for a majority of the season.
Well for one, Payton’s defense against Young has been abysmal in the past two seasons he spent with the Knicks. Furthermore, Derrick Rose, who played 26.8 MPG for the Knicks this year, did not do particularly well defensively against Young either.
When considering overall defensive capabilities, Ntilikina stands out among the bunch. Since draft day, the 6’4″ guard has been considered a great defender. His 7’1″ wingspan adds to his ability to disrupt passing lanes.
But considering defensive box plus-minus and defensive win shares, Ntilikina, again, sticks out. In terms of the former, Ntilikina has a 2.2 defensive box plus-minus, which is higher than Rose (0.5), Payton (-0.6) and Immanuel Quickley (-0.9).
For defensive win shares, Ntilikina has racked up 0.5 through 322 minutes, Payton has 1.9 in 1,484 minutes, Rose has 1.2 in 937 minutes and Quickley has 1.4 in 1,243 minutes.
Clearly, Ntilikina has the least, but win shares are also reliant upon minutes played. A great defensive player who played significantly less than an average defender is likely going to have fewer win shares since they have less time to accumulate them.
So, to make this fair — imagine all four point guards had played 1,484 minutes, the amount Payton played this season. Through this calculation, it proves Ntilikina is on pace to lead the group of guards mentioned.
Ntilikina would have 2.3 defensive win shares, Rose would have 1.9 and Quickley would have 1.67. Payton’s, of course, remains the same.
So, in terms of defense, Ntilikina is the best option, especially in a series in which slowing down Young should be the defensive priority. If Ntilikina is doing this, the Knicks should easily win the series.
Give Ntilikina a shot, the numbers prove he deserves it.