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Frank Ntilikina is the unsung hero in the Dallas win over the Spurs

It was a weird game, but one Frank Ntilikina can feel good about.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news? The Dallas Mavericks starters didn’t look like they cared about playing the Spurs. They had that “we’ll win no matter what” look on their faces. Because of that, the Spurs jumped out to a 25-5 lead in the first quarter. The good news? The Mavs bench got a chance to save the day.

Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber will (rightfully) get most of the credit. Brunson was a steady presence on offense for all four quarters, and Maxi protected the rim with ferocity. But the unsung hero of the gritty win is Frank Ntilikina.

It was unclear how much Frank would play when the Mavs brought him in. Would he get cut after training camp? Would he be the 15th man? Would he be a fixture in the rotation? Thanks to some injuries (and health and safety protocols), Frank got bumped up in the rotation against the Spurs and made the most out of it.

There was nothing gaudy about The French Prince’s stats last night. He finished the game with six points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field and four rebounds. He didn’t record a steal or a block. But Frank brought energy. He was lively the second he stepped onto the court, and he didn’t let the Spurs off easy. He contained ball-handlers, used his length to be a pest, and capped off quality defensive possessions with strong rebounds.

Frank’s always been a good defender, though. We knew this about him. The question marks have always been about his offense. Last night, he wasn’t great on offense — but he knocked down two of his four 3-point attempts which is incredibly encouraging. Not only did the threes go in, but they looked good! His jumper is fluid.

I need to be honest with you guys. I lied to you earlier when I said Frank’s numbers weren’t gaudy. The man was +24 in his 14 minutes of action. If that isn’t gaudy, I don’t know what is.

Obviously, plus/minus is a flawed stat. But sometimes it’s at least a little telling, and that’s the case with Frank’s plus/minus against San Antonio. The Mavs looked great when Frank was on the court.

After the game, I asked Jalen Brunson what he thought about Frank and his contributions:

“Frank is great,” Brunson said. “Frank did a great job coming off the bench and giving us that spark. He’s been in the league for a long time, and he’s seen a lot. He’s been in situations, so he’s not new to this. But to see what he did, coming into this team, and doing what he did tonight was special, and we applaud him for that.”

That’s high praise from someone who’s a bench star in his own right.

I don’t expect Frank to ever get a ton of minutes, but if he can give Coach Kidd 15-20 minutes of solid guard play night in and night out, that’ll help the Mavs big time. He fills a lot of the Mavs’ holes.

Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.