The value of the Euro is very high in the eyes of Phil Jackson, as he’s beginning to stack his roster in his own vision. Whether it’s a Porzingis, or a Hernangomez, a Kuzminskas, or now a Ntilikina, Jackson is forming his own version of the United Nations at Madison Square Garden.
Frank Ntilikina is the latest European player to join the Knicks following Thursday night’s draft. The 18-year-old Frenchman was selected eighth by New York, which essentially kick starts the Knicks’ youth movement.
As the threat of dealing Kristaps Porzingis has seemingly dissipated, it looks like Jackson is trying to build from the ground up, relying on grooming and molding the youth in his own image. The Knicks selected two European players among his three picks, noting how coachable and versatile those types of players are — compared to American born-and-raised players who seemingly run things and force teams to fit their vision and not the other way around.
“Sometimes it’s the ability for players to grow up in a system of play that they adapt to … and fitting into that style. A lot of the times in our college ball here, without making a lot of claims, a lot of it is about our college ball adapting to who the players are and our college game becomes more a style of what you can do offensively,” Jackson said, noting a big reason why Ntilikina is a Knick if because of his versatility and ability to take directions. “[American players are] just given a lot of room to play whatever one-on-one or whatever ability they have, whereas the European players are schooled into a system and how to fit into it.”
The Europeans already on the roster — and the drafted newbies — have the ability, mindset and versatility to do just what Jackson expects of them. And for the legendary ex-coach but struggling executive, this could be his best chance to finally shape a roster and succeed his way.
He just asks for patience.
“The reality is we have to grow a team together,” Jackson said after selecting Ntilikina. “I think we have to start growing our own kids.”
The Ntilikina pick was followed by the selection of Houston senior guard Damyean Dotson at No. 44, and then another Euro player in Serbian guard Ognjen Jaramez at No. 58.
Assuming he never receives an overwhelming no-brainer trade offer for Porzingis, Jackson will produce three European players who could be part of their core for the future and they’re all 23 and under.
Porzingis is 21, Willy Hernangomez is 23 and Ntilikina 18. Mindaugas Kuzminskas is 27, but this upcoming season will only be his second in the NBA.
This green movement means that Jackson and the Knicks are not so subtly trying to phase out franchise cornerstone Carmelo Anthony.
The maligned forward is 33 and will be entering his 14th NBA season. Whether it’s with the Knicks, who have publicly been trying to get the All-Star to remove his no-trade clause, or with another team remains to be seen. But in Jackson’s mind, he’s clearly over the Anthony era and would like to move the forward so he can cleanly commence with the kid movement.
The Knicks are 80-166 under Jackson’s watch and have missed the playoffs four straight years. By not moving Porzingis and selecting an 18-year-old with his top pick, it’s clear Jackson wants to rebuild with his kind of players — and Anthony certainly does not fit that bill.
Jackson’s past two drafts have shown his vision for this team, as four of the six players they drafted or acquired through trade were foreign-born, including Kuzminskas, a Lithuanian, and longtime Jackson Triangle disciple Sasha Vujacic of Slovenia.
All the foreign-born players fit Jackson’s mold, most recently Ntilikina, who is 6-foot-5 and versatile enough to play both guard positions in the triangle offense. Ntilikina also has an affinity to play defense and put his impressive (and growing) 7-foot wingspan to good use.
“What I will bring to the Knicks actually is a lot of hope. I’m a player who will trust the process, work hard and definitely try to be the best player I can be,” said Ntilikina. “I’m a team point guard and shooting guard. I’ll just try to make my teammates be better every day.”
He added that he’s looking forward to working with Porzingis especially, as the Knicks begin to grow with youth, coachability and versatility.
“We’re both European [and] we both have a good IQ,” said Ntilikina. “And playing pick-and-roll with him will be great. I just know that I will play great with him.”
The pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with Porzingis could eventually prove to be a problem for the league, but for now, Jackson doesn’t want to add any undue pressure on the rookie and won’t force the lead guard role on him just yet. Jackson is fine with letting him, and the budding team, grow … slowly.
“He does some really nice things. He reads his teammates well, follows directions — he’s very good at that. He’s a good role player. I think he’s a good fit for us,” Jackson said, adding patience will be of virtue for all. “It takes time to rebuild with youth.”
The 71-year-old Jackson has all the time in the world, as he’s not going anywhere — much to the chagrin of most Knicks fans. So, it’s up to the tortured, yet ardent, fanbase to allow such time for a total reconstruction.