Atlanta Hawks: Frank Ntilikina would be an excellent roster fit

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images /

If the New York Knicks move on from Frank Ntilikina, the Atlanta Hawks would be an excellent fit for the second-year guard.

As the Atlanta Hawks continue to rebuild and remodel the roster, the trade market becomes an intriguing place to acquire young talent. With several mid-level contracts, multiple first round draft picks and expiring contracts, the Hawks could use their roster to acquire a young piece who’s fallen out of favor, or operate as a facilitator for a larger deal.

One player who fits the mold is New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina.

Ntilikina, the ninth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has seen minutes vary throughout his New York Knicks tenure, highlighted by a DNP-CD against the Washington Wizards on Monday.  Despite the Knicks winning 29 games last season, Ntilikina finished with only nine starts and floated between both guard positions as a rookie.

This season has been no different for the French guard.

So far, Ntilikina has played 61 percent of his minutes at point guard and 39 percent at the off-guard spot, per Basketball-Reference. He’s played in 23 games and started just 14. Several teams have expressed interest, with as many as five teams interested in Ntilikina, creating a stir that he might be available.

For the Atlanta Hawks, Ntilikina is not only a good fit for where the Hawks are on the contention timeline, but he’s an excellent roster fit for a team that could use a bit more talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Sitting at 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency, the Hawks could use some help on that end of the floor. Outside of veterans Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon, the Hawks could use help on the defensive end. In their most recent ranking, rookie guard Trae Young ranked dead last out of 442 players in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic.

Through his first 100 games in the NBA, Ntilikina has shown an advanced defensive acumen. As a rookie, he was one of the league’s best players in defending the pick-and-roll.  When you combine his defensive intelligence with his great size — he’s 6’7″ with a 7’0″ wingspan — you have a potential perimeter force on the defensive end.

In terms of a roster fit, Frank Ntilikina would be the yin to Trae Young’s yang.

For all the positives on the defensive side of the ball, Ntilikina has struggled as an offensive option. While he can handle the ball, he doesn’t have traditional point guard creation skills. From a viewer’s perspective, it doesn’t seem fluid with Ntilikina as the lead ball-handler and lead creator. It comes and goes with him just getting to the rim, too.

The biggest wart on his list of weaknesses is his shooting. Most good players have the ability to either shoot or pass and right now, Ntilikina has struggled to do either at a high level. As a rookie, he shot under 40 percent and is doing the same thing this season, only with 25.7 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Ideally, Ntilikina could evolve into a player similar to George Hill. Hill thrived as a creator in spurts, while also serving as an off-ball option in Indiana. It hasn’t clicked yet for Ntilikina, but the upside of a long guard who can space the floor, operate the offense and defend multiple positions is a valuable one in the league today.

Placing him on the same roster as Young allows them to play off of each other’s weaknesses. Young’s ability to shoot and create has stood out so far this season and that would take pressure off Ntilikina alongside him. As for Ntilikina, it gives the ability to thrive as an off-ball shooter and defender.

From an on-court fit, Ntilikina and Young fit together perfectly on both sides of the ball. However, how much will he cost in a trade?

It remains to be seen if New York is even looking to cut the cord right now. With several teams interested, there hasn’t been anything from the Knicks’s side about moving the second-year guard. In terms of assets, the Hawks sit somewhere between the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic in terms of pieces that could interest the Knicks in a trade.

It must be noted that the Knicks are in pursuit of Kevin Durant and other high-level players in 2019 free agency, so more likely than not, they’re looking for a deal that could keep their books clean for this summer. It’s a rather daunting task. One option could be to take Courtney Lee‘s contract to help New York’s free agency efforts and lower the potential return.

While we talk about Frank Ntilikina, it’s merely speculation at this point. New York has not made him openly available, but hasn’t shut anything down either.

The Atlanta Hawks have several needs on the roster and while the team is building itself through the draft, it must also send out feelers when a young player that fits could be on the market. Sometimes, a young player doesn’t fit a roster and could just use a change of scenery.

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If Frank Ntilikina fits that description and is available in a potential trade, the Atlanta Hawks should not only be sending out feelers, but they should be pushing to land his services as he fits perfectly alongside Trae Young, into their young core and with their future window.