Frank Ntilikina encouragingly ranked second in the NBA in steals through mid-November to start his rookie season, including six swipes on the eye-opening night he engaged in a heated shoving match with LeBron James in a home loss to the Cavaliers.
The rookie point guard hadn’t been nearly as active on the defensive end recently, however, going seven straight games without registering a steal before notching three during Wednesday’s victory over Memphis at the Garden.
With no more than three assists in any of his past dozen appearances, the 19-year-old out of France acknowledges he has gotten away from the all-around game he initially had displayed to kick off his career.
“Yeah, maybe. I was focusing on defense, but not having that much steals, so yeah, (Wednesday) was a good game, I had three and that’s always a good start for the future,” Ntilikina said Thursday night before a meet-and-greet with fans at Lord & Taylor on Fifth Ave. “The adjustment is getting better. For rookies, it’s always difficult to get into a new system, and for an international player, more.
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“I love being here and I’ve worked a lot on my game and I’m learning a lot of things, how to be a professional, how to take care of my body, the style of playing. I’ve learned a lot.”
The Knicks (12-12) will return to practice on Friday as they prepare to continue a stretch of seven consecutive games against teams with losing records (53-110 combined entering Thursday’s action) on Saturday at NBA-worst Chicago (3-20).
Ntilikina missed one game last week with a sore ankle – which he claims is “a lot better now” — and he admits he’s still adjusting to the taxing schedule.
“Surprise me, not really, but maybe the number of games, it’s really different from what I’ve been going through (in Europe),” Ntilikina said. “You just have to get used to it. But I love it. I’m playing basketball mostly every day; it’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I’m a kid.
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“I just have to work on my body, treat your body the right way to be ready for these games. It’s just getting used to it.”
In that regard, Ntilikina believes that veteran point guard Jarrett Jack, who posted 10 points and 10 assists Wednesday against the Grizzlies, has served as the ideal mentor during his introduction to the NBA.
“Jarrett has been here to help me every day in practice and during games, he’s been talking to me a lot, giving me a lot of advice on how he played his career,” said Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in last June’s draft. “He’s thinking he can help me and I’m really thankful for having him here.”
The Knicks remain without starting shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (leg), but Kristaps Porzingis returned Wednesday after essentially missing three games with an ankle injury/illness.
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“We just do what we have to do. With that second unit, we know we have a lot of responsibilities,” said Ntilikina, who noted his parents soon will be coming to New York from France for Christmas. “Tim is not here and KP missed some games, so we know we have to play harder and play more together, do more effort than usually. We’ll keep doing it and try to get more wins.”