Offensive troubles might be plaguing New York Knicks young guard Frank Ntilikina, but that isn’t deterring teams around the league from showing trade interest.
According to the Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, there is league-wide curiosity in the 20-year-old, most notably from the Orlando Magic.
In the midst of a rebuild, Ntilikina is a perfect project for Orlando, who is still in search of a franchise point guard. At 6-foot-6, his offensive game is as raw as they come averaging 5.9 points over his first 109 career games. Yet his defense has shown vast improvement since making his NBA debut last season.
That aspect of his game though isn’t doing enough to hammer down regular playing time in New York even as he’s moonlighted between the 1 and 2 spots in the lineup. Especially because there has been a logjam in the backcourt.
Through the first 23 games of the season, Ntilikina is averaging 23.1 minutes per game while playing behind the likes of Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Damyean Dotson.
Change is right around the corner for the Knicks, who are poised to bring in some big names next summer thanks to two max-salary roster spots that are expected to be available. The cap space could yield stars along the lines of forward Kevin Durant or point guard Kemba Walker.
Targeting a true, established floor general would make Ntilikina, among others, expendable, which means the current interest in the young guard right now could present a golden opportunity for the Knicks to position themselves further with the future in mind.
What could the Knicks get in return?
If the Magic are the most aggressive at working out a deal, the Knicks could attempt to fill out a supporting cast ahead of the 2019-20 season and the expected arrival of those big free agents.
One unlikely scenario could see the Knicks try and package Ntilikina and the expiring contract of Courtney Lee and ask for shooting guard Evan Fournier in return. The 26-year-old Frenchman has averaged 17.1 points per game since the start of the 2016-17 season.
Slotting Fournier into the 2 could move Hardaway Jr. to the small forward position, a spot he was expected to take over after the team traded away Carmelo Anthony.
In a perfect world for Knicks fans, that would mean they could be looking at a starting lineup that features Fournier, Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis and (hypothetically) Durant and Walker.
That kind of depth would allow rookie forward Kevin Knox to methodically acclimate to the NBA and give the Knicks a best-possible idea of what kind of professional talent they’re dealing with.
A more realistic deal would be taking the expiring contract of Jerian Grant along with a first-round draft pick, allowing the Knicks to keep as much cap space open as possible compared to the $17 million per year deal Fournier brings.
At the end of the day though, this is a player with a high ceiling that has less than two NBA seasons under his belt. With head coach David Fizdale’s desire to develop New York’s youngest and largest projects as the centerpiece of the organization’s new process, it likely would have to take a lot for the Knicks to part with last year’s eighth-overall draft pick.