Gregg Popovich once started a 19-year-old point guard out of France, watching Tony Parker bloom into a six-time All-Star and a four-time NBA champion with the Spurs.
The Knicks only can dream for now that Frank Ntilikina might approach that level of impact in the NBA, but the rookie point guard did make a good first impression on Popovich when the teams met last week in San Antonio. “I thought he looked solid,” Popovich said of Ntilikina before the Knicks’ 100-91 loss to the Spurs on Tuesday. “I thought he looked confident. He looked solid. He didn’t look fearful at all. He wasn’t overly impressed with “I’m in the NBA now, or whatever.’ He played. He seemed like a pretty comfortable guy.”
Jeff Hornacek said Ntilikina was “under the weather” and played him only 15:37 on Tuesday night,
but the No. 8 overall pick logged a season-high 32 minutes — registering nine points with a career-best 11 assists — in the Spurs’ victory last Thursday over the Knicks.
“From a coach like that, we all know it’s hard to impress him. So I’m really thankful,” Ntilikina said when asked about Popovich’s compliment. “It’s motivating for me to keep working on my game, keep working on my abilities to be even more comfortable on the court.
“(Parker) was one of the first international players coming into the NBA, very young. I mean, he shows an example, shows how to figure it out, obviously. He’s like a role model.”
Popovich added that he’d “never heard of” Ntilikina ahead of the draft because the Spurs usually pick “27, 28, 29 every year,” leaving the scouting part of the job to longtime GM R.C Buford. But Popovich believes players such as Parker paved the way for Ntilikina, Kristaps Porzingis and the current generation of European players thriving in the NBA.
“I think so. There have been so many people come over and be successful from other countries that it’s just not an oddity,” Popovich said. “I think a lot of people gain confidence from other people’s success, just knowing that it could happen. I’m sure the Knicks did their homework, figured what kind of insides this guy had, what kind of fiber he had. You do all your intel. That obviously came out pretty good or they wouldn’t have taken him, I guess. I think it’s much easier. When they come there’s probably another foreign kid someplace on the team. We’ve all got them. And it’s made the NBA even better. It’s good stuff.”
IN DA FACE!
Ron Baker suffered a left orbital fracture while being dunked on by the Pelicans’ star forward Anthony Davis during the Knicks’ victory on Saturday in New Orleans. The second-year guard was inactive for Tuesday’s game and was being fitted for a face mask, the team announced.
“He’s going to have to wear a mask but he doesn’t have it yet so he couldn’t play,” Hornacek said of Baker, who is averaging 3.2 points and 2.1 assists in 14.6 minutes per game over 17 appearances this season. “I think he was just trying not to give up – trying to foul the guy maybe. It looked like he went in front of Anthony Davis and Davis’ left hand hit (his face), so that happens in basketball.
“I don’t think Ron was trying to avoid him but he still got hit. Ron’s a tough kid and he’ll continue to play. He wanted to play that game and he wanted to practice today and when he gets that mask, he’ll be right back to playing.” … Hornacek said Tim Hardaway Jr. (stress injury in lower leg) “is progressing along,” but no further timetable was provided.