The FIBA European u18 tournament wrapped up last week, with France being crowned victors. The MVP of the tournament and France’s star was projected 2017 NBA draft lottery pick Frank Ntilikina. After a slow start to the tournament, he came on strong over the last few games and shot 7-of-10 from 3 in the final en route to leading France to victory.
Having only turned 18 in July, Ntilikina is the youngest prospect in this draft, which helps explain his gaunt frame. He has fantastic length for a point guard at 6-foot-5 and a reported 7-foot wingspan, but is only listed at 170 pounds. It is worth noting in my following evaluation of Ntilikina that he has some chance of gaining more athletic explosion than most prospects typically do because of his young age and underdeveloped frame.
Ntilikina uses his length most noticeably on the defensive end. His most impressive plays from the whole tournament were probably the multiple chase down blocks he came up with. It is evident he has a unique combination of length and timing, which is a positive indicator towards his overall ability to make plays on the defensive end. Credit to the always great Tobias Berger Go-To-Guys Youtube channel for many of the clips in this post.
Playing in the half-court, Ntilikina has pretty good feet for a 6-foot-5 guy, and is adept at using his length in conjunction with his quickness to really bother players. He does a good job of responding to the offensive player movements and “mirroring,” and he is often able to come up with steals by simply enveloping unsuspecting opponents. In pick-and-roll situations, he does a great job of “getting skinny” and slithering around considering how susceptible his frame is to getting screened.
Off-ball awareness is an important skill for guards too, and is also an area where Ntilikina really shines. His wingspan allows him to be a constant threat in the passing lanes, and plays like the first in the clip below showcase a freaky combination of length and awareness.
Ntilikina’s combination of physical tools and positive mental indicators combine to make him a very good defensive prospect, but not quite an elite one. Though his frame should continue to improve he will likely always be on the weak side, hurting him in some matchups. Additionally, while Ntilikina has good feet and reactive ability he is not hyper quick-twitchy, and slightly too often can get out-quicked.
If he wasn’t getting out in transition, most of Ntilikina’s offensive production came from the perimeter. Despite shooting 40 percent from 3 across past FIBA tournaments he had previously been billed as a prospect with shooting questions, but his hot shooting in this year’s tourney accompanied by his numbers in club play with Strasbourg thus far should put those doubts to rest. He shot a stellar 17-of-29 from 3 in the tournament, showcasing the ability to make a variety of shots. The lack of quickness that occasionally shows up on defense is much more present in his offensive game, where he is not very explosive.
Off-the-catch, he has fluid mechanics and a nice release. He isn’t a threat flying off of screens, but he looks to be a clear floor spacer without the ball in his hands.
Ntilikina’s off-the-dribble shooting was even more impressive as he made a variety of pull-ups. His release is a touch slow and he doesn’t have the ability to shoot off complex dribble moves, but he is at the very least capable of punishing defenses for going under screens versus him.
Scouting reports that I had heard in the past also failed to match my evaluation of the rest of Ntilikina’s offensive game. He did do a solid job of distributing in pick-and-roll, with a few particularly impressive looks, but was a good not great passer on the whole.
The tendency to pick up his dribble too early helped lead to his 3.3 turnovers per game, as did a lackadaisical approach he displayed on some of his passes.
His handle is solid but he’s not super shifty, and he simply lacked the burst to consistently get in the lane and put pressure on the defense. Here, given an isolation opportunity he just could not turn the corner against his man.
When Ntilikina did get into the paint it was usually with his man keeping pace, and he did not have the body control or explosiveness to finish. His length could theoretically allow him to finish creatively over defenders, but he showed no signs of the type of repertoire of moves one needs to be able to finish over NBA length.
Without shake or burst, Ntilikina is going to really struggle to be a high-level creator in the NBA, and his off-the-dribble shooting doesn’t appear advanced enough to compensate. He can certainly man the point guard spot and take advantage of defensive mistakes, but he could easily be a noticeably below-average offensive player for a guard.
Ntilikina has a coveted intersection of defense and shooting. Playing next to a star wing he can provide a lot of value as a defender, spot-up shooter, and secondary playmaker, or he could even play alongside another point guard due to his size allowing him to guard 2s. This type of versatility and role-player potential makes Ntilikina a valuable commodity, but he is not quite an elite defender or shooter, and the 3-and-D archetype is slightly less valuable at point guard than on the wing.
Put in the right situation Ntilikina can provide an NBA team with a fair amount of value, but he is not a prospect who is going to turn a team around and I doubt he could be more than the fourth best player on a contender. That type of player should start getting looked at in the back half of the lottery, and in a loaded draft like this one he might fall to right around the lottery cutoff on my board.