Examining if Knicks should bring back Frank Ntilikina for 2021-22 NBA season


Frank Ntilikina treated image, black jersey with orange X behind head

In this series, we’ll look at whether or not Leon Rose and the Knicks should let these players stay — or let them walk. We’ll focus this time on Frank Ntilikina…

CONTRACT: 4 years / $18,689,218 rookie contract expiring this summer.

Why should Ntilikina stay?

Despite another season of sporadic playing time in 2020-21, Ntilikina was able to show off some improvement over last season. The fourth-year point guard shot a career high clip (47.9%) and rate from three, though on much fewer overall attempts.

There’s something to be said for continuity and specialization. Ntilikina is the longest tenured Knick on the roster, forging through multiple coaching changes and no room for error. He’s got a high-level NBA skill in his defense, and can be called upon to guard some of the league’s elite, so long as it’s not cold for a 20-second stint.

There’s no real risk in signing Ntilikina back to be your fifth guard, a “break glass in case of emergency” defensive option who has continually improved every year and is just turning 23 years old. Letting him walk for nothing now would only compound the loss of not adequately developing him these past four years.

Why should Ntilikina go?

On the other hand, these past four years have shown only marginal, and even inconsistent improvement from Ntilikina. His uptick in three-point shooting was met with regression from two-point range, and his defense is still susceptible to quicker guards.

That’s not a big deal as much as what it’ll cost to retain Ntilikina. The Knicks can sign him to a $7 million qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent, thus allowing Leon Rose to match any offer sheet he signs. $7 million is about what Derrick Rose made last year, and there’s little reason to strap yourself with Ntilikina’s cap hold if there’s little reason to match a competitive offer from a team willing to actually play him.

Is Ntilikina a fine prospect to have sitting in the fifth guard spot? Yes, but the price is likely to be too high. Fifth guards can be found for the veteran’s minimum, and shouldn’t be getting third guard money.

Story continues

What’s the right move?

Perhaps the best thing for both parties is to move on. Ntilikina can find a team willing to give him a consistent role and playing time, while the Knicks cut their losses and cap space in pursuit of bigger things.

There is a scenario where Ntilikina returns, but only if he draws minimal interest and is willing to take a smaller deal to stay a Knick. This is pretty unlikely, but he’s been a familiar face and fan favorite at Madison Square Garden through these rocky years, so some might hope this comes to fruition.

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