Hornets Fortify Backcourt Defense With Frank Ntilikina Signing

Earlier this summer, the Charlotte Hornets added backcourt depth through the NBA Draft and now, that trend has continued with the recent free agent signing of point guard Frank Ntilikina.

A six-year NBA veteran, Ntilikina holds career averages of 4.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.7 steals across 316 games with New York and Dallas, 65 of which were starts. Prior to being drafted eighth overall by the Knicks in 2017, Ntilikina played two seasons for France’s SIG Strasbourg, where he was named the LNB Pro A Best Young Player in back-to-back years.

Although born in Belgium, Ntilikina was raised in France and represents the French National Team. He helped the Bleus win a bronze medal at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, a silver medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and is currently with the squad right now preparing for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which begins later this month in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.

The 6-4 Ntilikina is known for his point-of-attack defense, much of it made possible by a lengthy, condor-like 7-1 wingspan. Across 47 appearances last season, he landed in the 86th percentile for guards in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions (-4.5) and the 88th percentile for opposing effective field-goal percentage differential (-2.6%), according to Cleaning the Glass.

A quick, consolidated glance at some of Ntilikina’s YouTube highlights makes it clear why defense has been his calling card since arriving to the NBA. His length allows him to consistently stay in front of and with opposing players out on the perimeter, he’s got active, pesky hands and contests shots effectively without fouling.

Despite some of Ntilikina’s offensive shortcomings – he averaged 2.9 points on 36.4% shooting and 25.4% from 3-point range on 1.4 attempts per outing last season – the Mavericks still netted an average of 5.6 points per 100 possessions with the Frenchman on the floor during the 2022-23 campaign. This ended up being the fifth-best mark on the team and in the 83rd percentile for guards (Cleaning the Glass). A good passer with solid ball-handling and dribbling skills, Ntilikina connected on 12-of-27 attempts at the rim (44.4%) and 13-of-21 in the mid-range area (61.9%).

For now, Ntilikina could see some minutes at the backup point guard spot, which was vacated after Dennis Smith Jr. – coincidentally drafted one spot after Ntilikina six years ago – signed with Brooklyn last month. His physical dimensions allow for positional versatility and switch-ability, as he can run both guard spots on offense and defensively, possibly guard one through three.

While carving out a niche won’t be easy in Charlotte’s crowded backcourt, there is a pathway for Ntilikina to be in the team’s opening night rotation. Showcasing that consistent high-level defense mixed with some stretches of sustainable shot-making would certainly put the former lottery pick on the right track towards taking advantage of his new opportunity in Buzz City.