NBA Position: PG
General Information: 18 year old, played for Strasbourg IG in France. From Brussels, Belgium.
Measurables: 6'5", 170 lbs, 7’0" wingspan, 8'4" standing reach.
2016-17 Season Statistics: 5.6 PPG, 1.4 APG, 1.7 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.08 TOPG (33 games played, 18.1 minutes a contest) - 47.6% FG, 65.9% FT, 41% 3P
The class’s most intriguing foreign prospect carries just as much risk and intriguing potential as the rest of his lotterymates. He’s developing the full set of skills you want in a point guard, and stepped up bigtime on the biggest stage he’s played on. His lack of proven experience as the primary ball-handler makes him a risk, but once he transitions to the speed of the NBA game and gets a real chance as the floor general, he could end up a star.
Ntilikina offers evidence of a complete offensive game with little surety beyond the fact that he’s a smart, developing kid. His basketball IQ is great for a 18-year-old, and he consistently made good decisions when he got the ball. He’s capable at attacking, and showed improvement in creating his and the team’s offense as the year went on. His ability in the pick-and-roll is dangerous, both due to his range, his 6’5 size allowing him sight over the defense, and his ability to pick the ball up and get to the basket if the defense hesitates.
He doesn't have the quickest shot, and he'll need to adjust to NBA players who will play close up against a 170 pound player with less-than-great burst, but the foundation to be a great-efficiency shooter is there. There isn’t enough in-game evidence to prove his three-point stroke is a dependable skill (he took 81 of them this year, making 41% of them), but his stroke is mechanical, consistent, and stretches a good few feet from the NBA three line. His role as the team’s secondary distributor also served to utilize him as a spot-up shooter, and defenses were wary of him regardless of his range. When he got hot in the U18 Championships (more on that later), he went full inferno—17-29 from three in the six game stretch. The biggest concern with his shot is his inconsistent free throw percentage… typically a great barometer for a player’s shooting ability, you don’t want to see a point guard hanging around in the mid-60s (65.9%).
His lead guard skills are still very much in development, from his court vision to his timing on passes when he's on the move. His passer willingness isn't a concern; he's in no way a ball-needy player and looks to make the right play or keep the offense moving. His read on what the defense would do to stop him as a scorer and as a distributor was sometimes excellent… and other times, it got him sent back to the bench because he didn't have any leash to be hurting the offense. He rarely showed much creativity with the ball on the dribble, and his own creation ability might be limited until he rounds that out to keep the defense on their toes. But again… that all comes down to getting the ball in his hands.
Trusting low-minute prospects is always difficult when considering Euro prospects who play in a veteran friendly environment. Where his shooting ability was greatly improved (and turned from a weakness into a strength) by forcing him to play off ball, the lack of extended time with the ball hides much. He could become one of the most well rounded point guards in the class, with his rapidly growing feel for the game and pass-first attitude. But in a class of points with enormous impact potentials and impact limiting weaknesses… it's fair to point out Ntilikina's 15.2% assist rate, 18.6% turnover ratio, and 16.8% usage rate in league play. Selecting Ntilikina means banking on those point-guard and shot-creation instincts he flashes becoming what defines him as a player.
His ideal size (6'5) and length are great NBA tools, but while he won't be left behind on the break, he doesn't have the speed or the burst to match the stars at the most star-heavy position in the league. Nothing about his tools will be a serious limit to his game, but his potential isn't in a game-altering toolbox that Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, or Dennis Smith have.
If not for De’Aaron Fox, Ntilikina would easily be the most engaged guard defender in the lottery. Given his short playtime leash, it’s no surprise Ntilikina learned he needed to make an impact defensively, and he consistently gives great effort that many young guards don’t make.
Just like De’Aaron Fox, however, Ntilikina needs to add serious muscle before he’ll be ready to defend NBA guards. The transition from a league where he could really work and opponent with his length and quickness to a league where his athletic ability is equal at best on most nights might be really, really rough on Ntilikina over the first year or two of his career. But he’s got the effort and the instincts to be a great defender as he develops.
The real reason to be hyped about Ntilikina is the U18 European Championship. It’s the best case we have for Ntilikina’s NBA potential; given full control of the offense for the first time in such a professional setting, Ntilikina went to the hospital with the flu… and then came back to lead France to the title, won the tournament’s MVP award, and averaged 15.2 points and 4.5 assists on 31/62 from the field and 17/29 from three. In the final two games, he had 23 points and 9 assists followed up by 31 points on 11/16 shooting… aaannnnd then he went right back to averaging 19-25 minutes per game with Strasbourg. It’s not his fault that his French squad delegates him to a secondary ballhandler role with inconsistent minutes, but that means a lot is riding on one excellent weekend in the U18.
While it’s safe to say there will be more tape on the rest of the players around his draft range, Ntilikina isn’t a secret. The Basketball Champions League puts whole games up on Youtube, so while he doesn’t get a ton of minutes, there’s stuff to go off. And even with inconsistent minutes and his secondary-ball handler role, you can see the impact he makes on both ends. The lack of serious minutes could hide a player who doesn’t want to be the go-to ball handler… or it could have just been holding back a budding youngster playing in a veteran-loving Euro system.
Fit with Sacramento:
All of these lotto point guards (I.E., not Malik Monk) would fit with a Sacramento team desperately needing a young floor general to match with and mold into the young offense. Ntilikina’s strength above the rest might be in his well-roundedness - he’s currently a better shooter than Fox, a better/more engaged defender than Smith or Ball, and certainly a better off-the-ball player than anyone but Lonzo. Ntilikina flashes the complete game the Kings would want in a point guard—ability to play quick in the open court, developing decision making and passing, and the makings of deep range.
He’d also feature in the Kings’ growing collection of length-for-days youngsters who love to fly on both ends of the court. Seriously, think about Ntilikina (6’5, 7’0 wingspan) running with Malachi Richardson (6’5, 7’0 wingspan), Skal (6’11, 7.25”), and Willie Trill (7’1, 7’3”) attacking on both ends of the court. Woof.
In a draft class flush with talented guards, Ntilikina sits squarely in my second tier of prospects, and I have nearly as much faith in him transitioning and thriving into the NBA as I do about the Kentucky guard duo.
Luckily for us armchair scouts, there are full-game vids of Ntilikina’s games on Youtube. Below are some of his bigger performances.
U18 European Championship, December 2016
- Semis v. Italy, December 21, 2016 – 23 points, 9 assists, 5 steals, 4/4 3P
- Finals v. Lithuania, December 22, 2016 – 31 points, 4 assists, 6 turnovers, 11/16 FG, 7/10 3P
Basketball Champions League with SIG Strasbourg, 2016-17 Season