Frank Ntilikina, a Rwandan-French basketball player was yesterday drafted 8th overall pick in the NBA Draft by the New York Knicks, a professional basketball team based in New York City.
Ntilikina, 18, who was born to Rwandan parents and lived in Belgium as a child before moving to France, is an intriguing pick because of his biography as well as his talent.
Frank Ntilikina was determined to get to New York for the N.B.A. draft even though Strasbourg, the team he plays for in the French Pro-A League, was in the midst of the championship round of the playoffs, he calculated that he could catch a train to Paris and a flight to New York, make a quick appearance at the draft and then hustle back in time to join Strasbourg for the decisive game of the finals.
Ntilikina’s next stay in New York will last a lot longer. The Knicks, in desperate need of backcourt help for a glaringly imperfect squad, selected Ntilikina, a 6-foot-5-inch 18-year-old, with the No. 8 pick in the draft Thursday night, setting the stage for another European import to impress at Madison Square Garden.
But in many ways, his selection was almost an anticlimactic moment after days of increasing speculation that the Knicks might trade Kristaps Porzingis, their budding 7-foot-3 star who has become estranged from the team’s president, Phil Jackson.
In the end, a deal for Porzingis did not materialize. For now, Porzingis remains at the core of the team, along with another young 7-footer from Europe, Willy Hernangomez, who not long ago was playing with Porzingis in Spain.
Ntilikina, Porzingis and Hernangomez could give the Knicks a European identity, an interesting plot twist for a franchise that was struggling before Jackson took over three years ago and has continued to do so.
Jackson declined to talk about Porzingis on Thursday night, which meant he did not have to answer questions about how close he came to dealing him. Instead he focused on Ntilikina, who impressed the Knicks’ front office with his size and his defensive prowess.
Ntilikina can play point guard and shooting guard, two positions the team needs help with, although his immediate contributions might be limited. While he did not work out for the Knicks because of his team’s playoff run in France, he interviewed with Jackson and Knicks Coach Jeff Hornacek on Wednesday.
Jackson called him a “project-type” player, which is an understandable assessment. Ntilikina was the second-youngest player in the draft, and Jackson said there was considerable debate among Knicks executives before a consensus was reached to gamble on him.
“We like his aptitude for the game, the athleticism, and actually the ability to incorporate himself into a winning-type situation,” Jackson said.
Ntilikina will step into a Knicks team still rife with issues. There is the ongoing tension with Porzingis, who blew off his end-of-season interview with Jackson over apparent frustration with the team’s problems, as well as the stalemate between Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, whom Jackson would like to trade.