A lot has been made about the depth of the 2017 draft class, both in overall talent, and at the point guard position in particular. Recently, we have brought you scouting reports for the trio of guys that most consider to be the top talents, and the Dallas Mavericks' likely primary at targets at the position in Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith Jr.
However, considering the teams’ reversal of fortune in recent weeks, many NBA Mock Drafts, including Yahoo’s The Vertical, ESPN, and CBS Sports, have the Mavs picking a bit later in the lottery, and thus heading in a bit of a different direction.
The new direction is that of 18-year old French point guard prospect Frank Ntilikina, of the French LNB Pro A. It’s also a direction in which we would suggest Mavs GM Donnie Nelson is all too happy to pursue.
First, let's deal with the Mavs at the moment. They are 31-43. The playoff race? Forget that. The real race is in the other direction. Dallas is presently the ninth-worst team in the NBA, record-wise, one game ahead of Minnesota to be the eighth-worst team. There is obviously value in drafting in the No. 8 hole over the No. 9 hole; the ping-pong balls will say it is so.
Slowly but surely this week, we're seeing a concession to realities from coach Rick Carlisle. Seth Curry sat a game. Dwight Powell played 14 minutes in a game. Jarrod Uthoff scored a basket in a game. Tonight, Dallas is at Memphis, but Rick is already glancing forward, faced with a mid-week back-to-back next week at the Kings and the Clippers and saying he'll rest vets during that stretch.
I've seen a lot of remarks about how "this is a six-player draft'' or an "eight-player draft.'' I say it's too early to know all that. Better to simply recognize that drafting 8 is better than drafting 9, especially if Dallas can achieve that in an Organic-Tanking way.
And along that path: We should recognize Frank as being a worthy target in this range.
The youngest prospect in this year’s draft, Ntilikina (born in Belgium to Rwandan parents) is widely regarded as the best prospect in European Basketball, and has all the tools that NBA scouts and GMs covet.
At 6-5 175 pounds, he has elite height, as well as a frame that will easily support some added muscle. Ntilikina is also a silky smooth athlete that has a chance to get more explosive as he develops into his NBA body.
Perhaps the most captivating attribute to scouts about his physique though, is his 7-0 long wingspan. This freakish attribute allows Ntilikina, much like Giannis Antetokounmpo, to disrupt passing lanes, block and contest shots, and rebound at a very high level for his position.
Outside of his physical attributes, he also has a very strong feel for the game, and is extremely mature for his age.
Defensively, especially in the half-court, he has figured out how to utilize these elite physical tools, along with his great feet and instincts to become an above average defender. He can make plays off the ball as well, making him a truly well-rounded threat on that end of the floor.
Eventually, with a little polish and coaching, he there is every indication that he has the ability to become an elite perimeter defender in the NBA.
On offense, outside of Malik Monk, Ntilikina might be the best three-point shooter of this year’s class. At SIG Strasbourg this year, he has shot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, and 47.3-percent from the field overall, while only playing about 14 minutes per game.
He has the ability to get out and run in transition, and finish at the rim, while also possessing the court awareness, vision, and unselfish nature to find an open teammate for a better look.
Ntilikina also excels in the pick-and-roll, which is a staple of Carlisle’s offensive scheme. He can make all the reads, deliver quick and accurate passes off the roll, or knock down a jumper if the defenders leave him open on the switch.
In short, Ntilikina (pronounced "Nee-Lee-KEE-Na'') has a chance to earn the label of somebody who "can do it all.''
When given enough minutes in the FIBA U18 tournament, he led his team to a championship, and took home MVP honors after consecutive outings of 23 points, 9 assists and four rebounds in the semi-finals against Italy, and 31 points, four assists, and three rebounds, on 11 of 16 shooting against Lithuania in the Finals.
Despite all of his physical and mental tools however, Ntilikina is still listed by Draft Express, The Vertical, and ESPN, among others, as no better than the fourth-best point guard prospect in this year’s draft. From what we understand, "assertiveness'' is the biggest thing he has to work on. But ... he's 18.
Outside of Markelle Fultz, I think it is extremely difficult to project which one of these guys will rise above the rest. However, there’s no doubt that Ntilikina is near the same plateau with Smith Jr., Ball, Fox, and Monk as far as upside is concerned. In fact, considering his age, it’s entirely possible that he could end up being as dynamic as most any of them.
The Mavs have deep international connections, France included. They know the player. And now that we're starting to know where Dallas might finish in the lotto race, we can start to know that Ntilikina is a viable target.