Ready to get on the defensive, Ntilikina could join the Mavericks at the right time

When he was a potential target in the 2017 Mavericks Draft, Frank Ntilikina was also known as French Frank.

This is because the Strasbourg native had an impossible last name to pronounce.

FYI, it’s NIL-uh-KEE-nuh.

“The T is silent,” he said.

OK, with that detail sorted out, the 6-4 goalie can move on to more pressing matters.

Like squeezing.

Known for his work as an all-court defenseman, Ntilikina has fallen under the radar for the past two seasons with the New York Knicks, who picked him with the eighth pick overall in 2017, just ahead of the pick. of Dennis Smith’s Mavericks. Jr.

He has a reputation for being a defensive player who cannot shoot very effectively. But last season’s small sample size would suggest differently, at least on set. He hit nearly half of his 3-pointers (23 of 48) within minutes for the Knicks.

It came after shooting just 31.1 percent from a 3-point field in his first three seasons, when he had significantly more playing time.

But one of the keys to Ntilikina is that he just turned 23. He’s entering his fifth NBA season, but he’s still not peaked.

“You look at his defense, it’s amazing what he can do with his length,” said coach Jason Kidd. “And then on the offensive side, I think he’s starting to get a little more comfortable shooting the ball.

“But he’s still young. I know we call some guys at 23 or 24. But he entered the league at 18. So I think we brought him at the right time in his journey to be successful for him. We were lucky to have it.

It’s the defense the Mavericks wanted more than anything when the Knicks decided not to land Ntilikina’s rookie final season, making him a free agent.

Ntilikina is hoping to help make the Mavericks a better defensive team, maybe even a top defensive group.

“This is what we are looking to become, definitely,” he said. “It comes from practice, but it carries over into the game. Being a very good group and bringing that competitiveness to training is going to help us take the next step in this season. We try to improve together and see where we can learn from each other and teach each other. “

That means it’s the job of Ntilikina, along with Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Sterling Brown, to establish defensive courage in practices against Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis.

“This is the side of the ball game that we can improve on to achieve our goals,” said Ntilikina. “Focusing on that side of the ball is good for us. “

Ntilikina, originally from Belgium but who moved to Strasbourg at a young age, considers France his homeland.

He also considers a few Mavericks to be good friends. Kristaps Porzingis was with Ntilikina on the Knicks for two seasons. And Reggie Bullock too.

“Frank is awesome. He has a good frame of mind, a good head on his shoulders, ”Porzingis said. “He was in difficult situations where he was not playing. He was a high draft pick. And when you go through that stuff, you mature a lot and when you go through some adversity it helps you.

“He’s always a training guy, always in good shape. Every time you let him play, he’ll leave 100 percent out. And that’s the type of guy you want on a winning team.

Bullock said: “He’s a great defender. He’s a great teammate. I felt like he probably didn’t make the most of his opportunity while in New York. They called him the prince for a reason. Now, he’s a prince here in the southern part. Glad to have him here and help me get through a few nights (covering opposing goal scorers). He’s going to be a great asset.

It is unclear how important a role Ntilikina will play, but her desire has never been questioned.

And he’s thrilled to be playing for a coach who has been one of the best pointers in NBA history.

“He’s one of the best players in my job ever,” Ntilikina said of Kidd. “I really want to choose his brain. For me, personally, in the next stage of my career, I think it’s a very good situation for me – to see where this team was last year and to be alongside Luka.

Courtesy of FIBA

Speaking of Dončić, France’s Ntilikina team is the one that beat Slovenia’s Luka team in the semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics in August.

After this match, Ntilikina looked for Dončić and offered him a few words of encouragement.

“During the competition, he broke records,” said Ntilikina. “I (said) I know you are disappointed with the loss, but you can be proud of what you have been doing throughout this competition. It was not easy.

“For me, it was just something to tell him to be proud and to hold his head up.”

Now the two are teammates and the Mavericks will likely have Ntilikina as one of the playmakers behind Dončić.

“With Luka being the main ball player, 82 games is obviously a lot,” said Ntilikina. “You get physical games, physical players, so having a lot of options with lots of running backs who can play with or without the ball is going to make us special.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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