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Mavs Film Room: What Ntilikina Brings Alongside Luka

The Dallas Mavericks recently signed former New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina. What will he bring alongside Luka Doncic?

DALLAS - The New York Knicks held high hopes for the level of player Frank Ntilikina could develop into throughout his NBA career. Now, the Dallas Mavericks will take a chance to see if he can hit his stride elsewhere. 

Since being selected eighth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Ntiliknia never averaged heavy minutes or even a full-time starting role. He topped out at 21.9 minutes per game as a rookie.

After averaging over 20 minutes per game for each of his initial three seasons in the NBA, he was relegated to just 9.8 minutes per game in 2020-21. He averaged just 2.7 points, 0.9 rebounds, and 0.6 assists as a result.

Ntilikina has struggled to display much development on offense so far in his NBA career. The Knicks evaluated the risk-reward of giving him minutes over other options and determined that Ntilikina's defensive impact did not outweigh his offensive limitations.

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The Mavericks will be taking a chance on a change of scenery, potentially promoting greater results for Ntilikina. Playing alongside an elite creator in Luka Doncic could simplify what is needed from Ntilikina arguably as much as possible. 

Before getting too into Ntilikina's limitations, it's important to identify the intriguing elements of his game to understand why the Mavericks are taking this chance. 

Elite players will end up making great plays at times, and even the best of defenders will fall short. The best that can be done is to make plays difficult by disrupting the player's rhythm looking to create.

Ntilikina has shown both the willingness and ability to engage top players tightly on the perimeter and to use his 7-foot-1 wingspan to do what he can to make the offensive player uncomfortable. 

When defending at the point of attack, it's pivotal to have a guard who is determined not to 'die' on screens. Ntilikina makes it a point to get through ball screens and remains active throughout plays, even when a re-screen is used.

Much of the focus on Ntilikina's defensive impact is placed on what he can do when he's guarding the ball, and rightfully so. However, he provides plenty of value in other situations that do not end up making it onto the highlight reel, too. 

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When a team applies significant pressure on the ball, there is a lot of importance placed on the backline of the defense to make quick reads and have proper timing. Dallas lacks a disruptive presence to fill the low-man role.

Ntilikina has the athleticism and length to pressure more prominent players attempting to finish in the paint after making the low-man rotation. It's not common to find a guard who can time such sequences on-point and make a legitimate impact on the outcome of the play when doing it. 

It can be a challenge to combat off-ball screening actions, particularly when they occur within the flow of a possession. Ntilikina has shown to be an attentive player in such situations while also having the tools to recover.

Regardless of his role on defense, Ntilikina is simply going to contribute helpfully. The Mavericks need defenders who have the versatility to be disruptive guarding the ball and also when playing off-ball, which he certainly provides.

There are significant limitations to what Ntilikina provides offensively when he's not spacing the floor as a spot-up threat. For as disruptive as he can be on defense, the Knicks decided that his lack of an offensive skill-set was too much to favor over alternative options.

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The positives for what Ntilikina brings offensively are almost exclusively limited to his catch-and-shoot production out of spot-up. He shot a staggering 47.9-percent on catch-and-shoot attempts from the perimeter last season but took just 48 of them.

Some questions are worth asking regarding the sustainability of Ntilikina's rapidly improved catch-and-shoot results, too. Experiencing a 15.8-percent increase in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage from season to season on substantially fewer attempts isn't necessarily the reliable indicator.

A general rule of thumb has been, if Ntilikina has to put the ball on the floor, shoot off the dribble, or make a passing read, more often than not, it will not end with a positive result. That's especially the case when in a high-stakes situation like the playoffs.

Ntilikina has a skill-set that works almost exclusively when spacing the floor alongside a superstar offensive talent. It's essentially the only context in which his offensive limitations are not too significant to outweigh the defensive impact he can provide. 

Specifically, from the Mavericks' perspective, Luka Doncic is the type of player to bring the best out of Ntilikina's spot-up shooting while benefiting from Ntilikina's on-ball defense. If a defensive stopper is needed, he's the one to turn to for Dallas.