Frank Ntilikina needs to become a better outside shooter. It’s that simple, according to the Knicks brass.
As the team gears up for another draft with a certified top-five pick, Knicks executives still proclaim high hopes for their past two lottery picks: Ntilikina and rookie Kevin Knox.
Judging by the lukewarm praise Wednesday from team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry, the Frenchman seems to have a longer way to go. Ntilikina averaged 5.7 points this season on 33.7 percent shooting.
In his second season after former president Phil Jackson took him with the eighth pick, Ntilikina played in just 43 games — just two after Jan. 27 — because of a groin strain. Perry ran the Sacramento draft in 2017 and took budding point guard D’Aaron Fox at No. 5.
“Frank, he was saddled by injury half the season,’’ Perry said in a season-ending state-of-the-Knicks interview with The Post.
“That was unfortunate for him. The kid is highly engaged. This will be a big summer for him. He’s still  years old. When you talk about both of them together, it’s such a rush to judgment on young players. I say this all the time. Kevin Knox is 19. We can’t close our eyes, snap our fingers and make him 23. If you can do that, let us know how.’’
Ntilikina will be 21 on July 28 — and if he’s still a Knick on that date is questionable. The Post has reported the Knicks will be active trying to deal him on draft night. They could need some extra salary-cap space, as he stands to make $5 million next season.
“Frank has shown he has ability to be a plus-defender in this league — guard multiple positions,’’ Perry said. “We’ll continue to work on him to develop his confidence to be able to make an open 3-point shot. That’s the goal for him. He’s got to be able to do that — to stand out there and make an open 3-point shot. He knows that. He’ll work toward that this summer and see what happens.”
In his two seasons, Ntilikina is shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range in a 3-point- crazy NBA era. This season, Ntilikina’s long-range shooting dropped to 28.7 percent.
This is also an age when point guards are expected to produce points — not just assists. Dennis Smith Jr., whom the Knicks acquired in late January, has an explosive athletic burst Ntilikina lacks. But the Knicks can envision 6-foot-6 Ntilikina as a defensive shooting guard.
Meanwhile, Perry was enthused with how Knox closed the season, improving his 3-point shot and showing more strength on drives to the hole while absorbing contact. Earlier in the season, Knox, who finished shooting 37 percent after being selected ninth last June, looked lost on those forays to the hoop.
“For us you see certain signs,’’ Perry said. “You saw that Kevin became more consistent toward the end. Does he have room to grow? Of course. There’s still hurdles he has to get over. But being around him every day, he’s not only said to us but shown us he’s willing to put the time in and work on areas [where] he’s weak. He’s got to get stronger. He could do so much weight training but age has to kick in too for him.’’
The best news is the team’s two most recent lottery picks have shown a strong work ethic.
“One thing we know about those guys is they’re workers and acknowledge their flaws and weaknesses,’’ Mills said. “They’re open to us trying to help them and point them in the right direction to become better and attack things that are difficult for them right now.”
Published at Thu, 18 Apr 2019 04:30:27 +0000