Frank Ntilikina logged just 307 minutes for Strasbourg last season. But Draft Express currently ranks him sixth in the projected 2017 draft class anyway due to his impressive appearances at the 2015 FIBA European Championships U18 and the Basketball Without Borders Camp last February.
The just-turned 18-year-old (July birthday) possesses a very appealing combination of height and length for a true point guard, though a very weak frame at this point of his adulthood. His production at the pro level has been marginal so far, as he hasn’t yet earned a rotation spot, but his performances within his own age group have put him in the NBA radar already.
Ntilikina’s top skill is shot creation for others, mostly out of the pick-and-roll.
He reads the defenders involved in the two-man game very well in terms of using or declining the screen in order to get downhill, while also proving himself able to play with pace, waiting for driving lanes to clear against hedges, hard shows and half-traps.
His court vision and timing of delivery are well advanced for someone his age, as he’s shown he can make pocket passes to big men rolling to the basket, crosscourt passes to shooters spot-up on the weak-side and hit cutters diving baseline to the rim, aided by his great vantage point at six-foot-five.
Ntilikina assisted on 32.7% of France’s scores when he was on the floor in the 2015 FIBA European Championships U18, ranking ninth in that tournament in assist percentage, according to RealGM. Perhaps even more impressive was his 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, as he turned it over just 12 times in nine appearances.
Ntilikina is not as impressive a scorer at this point of his development, though.
He has a diverse arsenal of moves to get wherever he wants on the court; a tight handle to navigate traffic, change of speeds, the ability to go side-to-side in a pinch, between the legs, behind the back and hesitation moves.
Ntikilina has flashed some explosiveness elevating out of one foot on a straight path to the goal unimpeded and a floater to finish over length from the in-between area from time-to-time.
But he struggles to maintain his balance through contact due to his weak 163-pound frame (listed by Strasbourg) and generally hasn’t shown a lot of burst to finish around rim protection or draw fouls regularly.
Ntilikina is a capable shot maker on pull-ups, even flashing some three-point range when he gets to step into the shot. He’s able to stop on a dime, elevate in balance and shows decent touch in his shot but has a low release point, needing to generate a great deal of separation to get his shot off cleanly.
As a consequence of those limitations, his two-point percentage tends to be underwhelming in every event he participates.
Ntilikina also shoots from a low point on his catch-and-shoot jumper and his release isn’t particularly quick but with others creating a look for him, he’s proven to be at least an average open shot shooter with his feet set.
He shot poorly with Strasbourg in his garbage time stints last season but with the benefit of being in the flow of the game, Ntilikina nailed 38.7% of his 31 three-point shots with the French National Team in the Euros U18 last summer and 41.4% of his 29 such attempts in the Euros U16 the year before.
As it tends to be the case with most teenagers, Ntilikina is an uneven defender as of now.
He has agility to shuffle his feet laterally and his thin frame should help him slide around picks quite easily. But he’s looked lackadaisical navigating ball-screens at times and can be easily manipulated by savvy playmakers.
In individual defense, Ntilikina lacks strength and toughness to contain dribble penetration through contact. But when engaged, he can press opposing ball-handlers very effectively and has excellent reach for a point guard (six-foot-11 wingspan, according to Draft Express) to generate steals, averaging 2.9 steals per 40 minutes last summer, while also proving himself a plus contributor in the defensive glass.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara