Draft Profile: Is Frank Ntilikina The Next International Sensation?


Now perhaps more than ever, the NBA rewards players with versatility, size, ballhandling skills, defensive ability and the ability to shoot from distance. If the Hawks are looking for such a package in the upcoming draft, one player who could fit the bill is Frank Ntilikina. To find out more about the French teen, Hawks.com spoke with Pascal Giberné (@PascalGibBN), a correspondent for Canal+ Afrique (@cplusafrique).

What does Frank do well? 

“It was his best game as a pro, by far.” 

Never one to praise his players, Strasbourg’s coach Vincent Collet didn’t mince his words while describing Frank Ntilikina's (Neeleekeena) performance during the decisive Game 5 of the LNB semifinals against ASVEL. The 18-year-old point guard displayed a tenacious defense on Casper Ware, ASVEL's point guard and the 2016 Pro A Finals MVP. With a prodigious wingspan measured at seven feet and his quick feet, Ntilikina delivered Pippen-esque D, suffocating and frustrating the older vet. The Pippen comparisons are legit. The 6-foot-5 Ntilikina can be a hawking presence on defense, eluding screens and shutting down opponents. The NBA draft is all about potential and Ntilikina has plenty. His basketball IQ is the very first thing the scouts mentions when they talk about him. Basketball comes easy to him. He is crafty with the ball and can play fast or slow. He can shoot. Smart, polite, he is a coach's dream (more on that later). In 32 appearances this season, he averaged 5.2 points (on 48.5 percent shooting) and 1.4 assists in 19 minutes per game. The numbers aren’t overwhelming, but keep in mind that he wasn’t the main option.

How does his game translate to the NBA? 

Ntilikina’s game is perfect for the Association. The NBA is all about the pick-and-roll, and Ntilikina will excel in that department. He is a tall guard with length who can play the 1 and the 2 spots. He possesses a good handle, he can shoot threes, and he knows how to maneuver his defender. He is a natural player with sharp instincts on offense and defense. He is a good, very long athlete. He can finish at the rim using a variety of moves or kick out for a teammate. He uses his hesitation dribble to freeze the defense, penetrate and rely on his floater. His court vision is excellent, sometimes to a fault, as Ntilikina is always looking for an open teammate. As Larry Brown always said, he plays the right way.  

What can he do to improve? 

Ntilikina is an 18-year-old, and sometimes he plays like one. He can be naive, and one would love to see more assertiveness in his game and attitude. Physically he doesn’t have that first-step burst or out-of-this-world elevation. He will have to put on some muscle and spice up his athleticism. His shot is a little flat and he will have to work on this. A coach's dream, he is sometimes too cautious with the ball, afraid to make mistakes. He will follow his coach's orders while refusing to take risk. Quiet, Ntilikina is not a vocal leader. The NBA likes players who exude confidence and a pinch of craziness, especially at the point guard spot, and it’s not in Frank’s DNA. Don’t get me wrong, he is the total package, but teams will have to be patient and respect the process. Ntilikina did lead the French junior National Team to the title of the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championships in December. He dominated his age group and was voted the MVP of the tournament. It’s time for him to show the same domination at the pro level. 

What style of play suits his game best? 

He like when the game is fast but will be as efficient in a half-court type of offense. 

To which current or past NBA player would you compare him? 

He has some Pippen in him, and even though he loves Russell Westbrook, Ntilikina is pretty much his own man.