Maybe it’s the defense. You saw it in the second round against the Phoenix Suns. Jason Kidd, desperate for a wing to give his starters some rest, gave Frank Ntilikina a shot. And Ntilikina was disruptive, to say the least. He was a whirl of limbs and fury, giving Chris Paul and Devin Booker headaches in the Dallas Mavericks’ series win over the Suns.
There’s something about a player who’s an absolute menace on defense. Putting the ball in the basket at an elite level takes a level of physical ability and skill most people will never have. But defense is a blue collar basketball skill. It takes work. It takes study. It takes anticipation. Yes, having height and wingspan help. But mostly, it’s about trying harder than your opponent. So we gravitate to the guys who play defense like their life depends on it.
Ntilikina is one of those guys. Yeah, he’s got the athleticism and the long arms, but he also plays defense like it’s the one thing in life that gives him joy. Frank probably wakes up thinking about stripping the ball from a point guard, or clogging up a passing lane. He probably swats trash away from waste baskets without thinking.
Or maybe it’s just the head band. Studies have shown that players that wear head bands are way more fun than those who don’t. I’m not going to link to those studies here because you should know how to Google something by now. Even if you don’t read the definitely read scientific studies that exist somewhere, you can just feel it. When a guy wears a head band playing basketball, he just seems more fun, more electric.
Maybe it’s his first name. Frank. Guys named Frank aren’t supposed to be cool, but somehow Frank Ntilikina is. Think about some other players named Frank. Frank Jackson. Frank Mason III. Frank Kaminsky. These Franks are not cool. Ntilikina, though, has made Frank a cool name. The other Franks could learn something from him.
It might be that he’s French. To us uncivilized Americans, the French just seem to have a cool factor. They know more about wine and cheese and bread than we do. They’ve got the best art, great architecture, and heady films in black-and-white. They’ve got Boris Diaw. Then again, they’ve got Rudy Gobert, so maybe that’s not it.
Whatever it is, I believe in Frank Ntilikina. Sure, his offense leaves something to be desired. It would help a ton if he had a consistent shot. Maybe he develops that this offseason. Maybe not. Either way, I think he finds a way to be successful.
This is what happens sometimes in basketball. In all sports, really. You find a player that you just want to succeed, that you want to be a bigger part of the team. Maybe their personality just strikes a chord with you, or maybe you see something of yourself in them. Whatever the reason, you become one of their irrational fans.
That’s me with Ntilikina. I believe he’s going to find his shot, and with that ferocious defense he’ll be a key player in the Mavericks’ rotation. And when it happens, I’ll be watching at home, smiling to myself, happy that he finally made it.