Frank Ntilikina is in the conference final. This sentence, we hoped to hear it one day when the French landed in the NBA inflated with hope and promises five years ago now. We imagined that he might succeed in the jersey of the New York Knicks, who had drafted him in 8th position to help the franchise restore its image. It will finally be with the Dallas Mavericks, after crossing the desert from which it was believed that he would only emerge thanks to the intervention of Europe Assistance, drawing a line under his NBA dreams.
It is not said that the Olympic silver medalist became a superstar in a few days. But in the playoffs, meetings and series turn thanks to details and role players. It’s a fact: the relationship between Dallas and Phoenix changed when Frank Ntilikina joined the rotation, when Jason Kidd entrusted him with a real role, beyond the simple figuration which was promised to him. After two first matches lost by the Mavs during which Ntilikina played 6 minutes in total, Kidd reviewed his copy and offered three times 12 minutes, once 8 minutes and once 21 minutes to the French.
Each time, the leader member of the Hall of Fame asked the ex-French Prince of New York to focus all his attention on a mission: to hinder and slow down the backs of Phoenix as much as possible, starting with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The pressure to organize the game and be a competent attacker is gone. Almost everyone has forgotten that Ntilikina was tipped as a possible two-way player, before his creative difficulties redefine expectations around him. Kidd took the side of considering that what Frank knew how to do in attack did not interest him. However, he believed in his ability to activate the itchy hair mode, in the register where he had raised hopes on the side of Madison Square Garden.
“When he’s healthy, Frank Ntilikina can help us on both sides of the field. In game 6 he was very good in defense and he had put in an important 3-point basket in game 4. After that, we don’t Don’t judge on attack, but you can see him defensively. I think he did a very good job for us there,” Kidd said after the game.
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These are just numbers, but they are still telling. When Frank Ntilikina started a streak as main defenseman on Devin Booker and Chris Paul during this series, the two All-Stars shot between them at 11/31. There is of course an important collective effort in Dallas, as we have seen since the start of the season. The one Bill Simmons calls Franky Nicotine, for lack of being able to pronounce his surname correctly, did not muzzle these two cracks in solo. He nevertheless held them well enough and managed these potentially hellish situations quite intelligently. His intensity and his wandering hands were successful, since he notably made 6 interceptions in the last 5 games of the series.
— Tom Compayrot (@Tom_Cprt) May 13, 2022
Obviously, we would love to see Frank Ntilikina regain some of the offensive verve that we saw him deploy at the 2019 World Cup in certain matches. But maybe that’s not the most important thing right now. The 23-year-old point guard is important to the Mavs and it’s already a great victory when you remember where he came from. After his promising start, where the Garden saw him sinter with LeBron James and lock in a few league stars, Ntilikina stagnated and regressed through the often disappointing plans his coaches had for him.
He himself was not faultless in his involvement on and off the field, but he seems to have found the light. At only 23 years old, it is clearly not too late to make a real place for yourself in the NBA.
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