When looking at De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., even Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, the instant trade of Eric Bledsoe on draft night would be highly plausible. However, if Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough has the timetable to take another flyer and have him develop under Eric Bledsoe for at least a season, Frank Ntilikina would fit the billing.
Ntilikina fits where the modern point guard is going, size for his position and someone you can develop into your top lockdown defender on 1’s and 2’s with his reported 7-foot wingspan alongside his above-average 6-6 height anyways. He’s someone who uses his length rather well on both ends of the court — cutting off driving lanes and pick-and-roll disruption, which more often than not led to a transition bucket — a very developable trait.
Speaking of his defensive abilities, his upside on that end is the highest of all in this draft class. If Ntilikina pops, then he’s going to be a nightmare to try to score on all night once his frame develops.
The 18-year-old is already advanced on closeouts with him able to stress the shooter with his length usually right in their face as they shoot.
Another area Frank has in the arsenal is the drive-and-kick ability on offense. He doesn’t have that elite burst, which I will explain later, but he was still able to open up space on the outside for perimeter shooters. Give him some even better ones and that’s a whole new area you really could get excited about in his game with the basketball IQ he has.
Again, Ntilikina is one of the rawest prospects in this class, but it wouldn’t shock me to see general managers talk themselves into him over Smith Jr. on draft night due to that All-NBA defensive ceiling around a blossoming offensive attack where he already possesses a good jump shot and has sky-high creation potential.
However, Ntilikina’s negatives really begin to clash with his positive outlook — at least for me.
On that burst? That scares me. All elite guards have to have an extra gear they can shift in and out of, I wonder how that will affect him against elite speed and length. And that included games I watched where he really struggled against pressure. Frank’s handle, in particular, became wild when that occurred.
If you have a hard time getting around his competition of guards regularly while driving off the edge, then he’s someone that might need to be a temporary 2-guard, possibly long-term. Ntilinkina does already have a good aspect of his game where he can contribute off of the dribble and can be developed to be more aggressive in ISO situations off the catch.
With Ntilikina and his ceiling, I preach patience, a lot of it.
Fit with Phoenix
Let me start by saying Frank Ntilikina would be a helluva reach at No. 4, but if they were to trade back and collect more assets from a team eager to snatch up Josh Jackson or De’Aaron Fox — looking at you Sacramento and Orlando -- he starts to make a lot more sense as that type of option.
Not only would he fit the timetable of keeping Bledsoe around, if that’s what McDonough sees, but he also goes right alongside the franchise’s cornerstone in Booker as a defensive partner long-term. Let's face it, he’s 18 and is going to need a ton of time to refine his overall skillset. This is a gamble, a big one if the Suns take it, and you better be positive about his role on this team.
He would be taken and molded into the third or more likely fourth option in the Suns’ offense for the foreseeable future. And that’s even after Bledsoe’s traded next summer, which would have to happen, longest you can go is the 2019 trade deadline.
Ntilikina’s craftiness is what he will have to rely upon to be an assertive scorer against the best of the best. Well, the thing is, he’s not that assertive.
Far and away, he was the lowest in free throw attempts in this draft class and the mystery is still out there on his ability to finish through contact. Even in the half court, he was passive and looking for chances to dribble and pop for a mid-range instead of taking advantage of his size.
In a system Earl Watson wants to run here in Phoenix, transition will be crucial. Ntilinkina still gives me pause as to whether he can hold his own on that end. He’s a point guard who will be going through all of his reads before he decides what to do, I don’t know how good of a fit that is with a team that wants to get up and down — and that could make Ntilinkina uncomfortable as the sped up game was pretty shaky.
After taking a project in Dragan Bender last season, if McDonough sees a similar arc happening, why not take the risk on the Frenchman? However, I’d be cautious and temper my expectations on him as an overall prospect.
Sure, his length and defensive potential makes him a great player to buy into a system and become elite on that end, but he’s missing that offensive trait. Burst is what separates the best guards, Ntilinkina is usually pushing the envelope at cruise control.
I must say, though, that he will carve out an immediate role as a perimeter stopper on aggressive scoring guards, and improve once he adds more muscle to his frame. Like Jonathan Isaac and OG Anunoby in this draft class, the offense you should let come along and take advantage of their elite defensive intangibles.
For a Phoenix fit, Ntilikina, Bledsoe, and Booker would be able to interchange while the 2017 draft pick is brought along rather slowly I’d imagine. Looking toward the future, Ntilinkina gives the Suns elite size at the 1 spot, while giving Booker someone he can rely upon to shoulder the defensive load and stay out of his way as the alpha dog scorer.
If McDonough and Co. want to build a team with defensive versatility, which is the smart move, then my fifth-ranked point guard and No. 12 overall prospect on my big board would be an accepted selection. With this selection, though, be calm Suns fans because it will take the time to mold something that could be a major advantage on both sides of the floor down the line.
Would you be happy with Frank Ntilikina?
This poll is closed
Yes, at No. 4
Yes, but in a trade back