Frank Nitlikina heard the online chirping. The second-year PG bounced back in a major way for his second Summer League appearance, scoring 17 points and dishing 6 assists in the Knicks’ competitive 90-85 loss to the Jazz. There’s a lot to unpack from this fun game so let’s get right to it.
FRANK’S REMINDER: Summer League hot takes with such a minuscule sample size is illogical, but yesterday’s game served as an important reminder for Knicks fans. One, it reminded us that Ntilikina’s potential will take several seasons to unlock. Within the first few minutes, we saw him drive into the lane and use his length for a floater. He remained aggressive throughout the game hitting fadeaways and driving layups. With Frank establishing himself as a scoring threat, this spread the floor and prevented defenses from easily trapping our shooters.
Second, Ntilikina is making progress and right on schedule for a 19 year old. He has a new coach and system to learn after a year of being “molded” by Hornacek’s regime. Patience in the most important virtue.
KNOX AND MITCH’S STRUGGLES: Our two rooks have their feet held to the fire in getting a back to back this early in the schedule. Knox (19 points) is still struggling with his jumper (5/15, 2/6 from downtown) and I think it’s partly due to a slight rush on the shots. The form still looks great and it’s just a matter of time before he gets comfortable with the NBA pace. Late in the fourth, he had a chance to bring us within one after getting open on a three with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Another improvement area for him will be finding a go-to move to free up space. Right now he’s trying to overwhelm guys with his physical prowess and that gets him out of control on drives if the refs swallow their whistles.
Mitchell Robinson was a force on the glass and nabbing cleanup dunks (12 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks), but struggled defensively with Tony Bradley (16 points, 7/8). The Jazz center’s big body allowed him to get deep positioning and evade Robinson’s wingspan. Remember that Robinson sat out last year and is still getting his legs, so he’ll do better in this area as he gets stronger.
BALL MOVEMENT NULLIFIES ATHLETICISM: A statement was mentioned during the broadcast that I wholeheartedly agreed with — the Knicks had the better players last night, but the Jazz had a better “team.” I took that to mean the Jazz had a much better strategy predicated on ball movement, back-door cuts and guards breaking down the defense and finding open shooters. Our team played like they felt they could beat the Jazz on talent alone, leading to a lot of iso attempts.
That strategy came back to haunt us in the final minutes. The Knicks had a 82-78 lead with roughly four mintues remaining following an Allonzo Trier layup and Knox jumper. From there the Jazz put the clamps down and we couldn’t score. The Jazz went on a 9-1 run to seal the victory.
THE GUNNER: Speaking on Trier, he was once again in chucking mode, going 4/16 (0/4 from downtown). Still, he managed 15 points and was 7/7 from the line. I was joking last game about him being the new JR Smith, but I can also see a hot bench scorer if we can get him under control. I have the impression he has a chip on his shoulder from not being drafted.
IS DOTSON OK?: Now that Frank has shut everyone up, we can expect the critical eye to turn towards Damyean Dotson (3 points, 0/3). I suspect he was told to fall back to let the younger guys cook. However, it isn’t like the 24-year old is some hard-nosed vet with years of experience under his belt. Our offense will need his three-point shooting so I hope he looks for his offense more next game.
The Knicks get a break tonight and suit up on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. against the Lakers.