DONGGUAN– Rudy Gobert has now got some “bragging rights” over his Utah Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell following the historic win of France over Team USA in the World Cup quarterfinals. However, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year will leave trash talk aside for now since he can imagine how much this defeat hurt his teammate.
“I don’t think that’s the way I am,” Gobert said. “I like to talk a little trash. But this kind of competition….I just lost to Australia. I love Joe but I wanted to stop him. It hurts. I think this experience is going to make Donovan better. We have to go hard when we go for the national team, but we also have to go that way with Utah. I’m excited for both.”
Gobert had an enormous impact on the triumph of his team over the USA. He scored 21 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and delivered three blocks en route to registering a game-high 36 PIR. His team was +26 with him on the court.
The win itself is motivation enough but was there any extra following Miles Turner’s comments that Gobert is the DPOY “according to some”
“I saw it. I see a lot of things every day. At the end of the day, I do what I have to do on the court and I try to help my team win every time I step on the court,” Gobert said with a smile.
“Huge win. They are a very talented team. We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was. They didn’t’ give us anything easy and we stuck to the plan. We did a great job as a team, communicating. We got the right stops when we needed them. We didn’t give them the shots they wanted. Once we got the rebound, we ran. It was a team effort.”
“This win won’t mean much if we don’t win the gold. But it will go down as one of the biggest in my career and one of the biggest for French basketball,” Gobert added.
The 2019 FIBA World Cup has arguably benefited Frank Ntilikina as much as anyone. The New York Knicks’ 2017 first-round pick took the court for Team France after a lost second NBA season, featuring injuries that compromised most of his 2019.
Wednesday marked Ntilikina’s latest performance and France’s most important game yet, with a trip to the next round on the line against Team USA. In the spotlight, the 21-year-old guard delivered on 11 points, one rebound, three assists and one steal on 5-for-9 shooting and one made three-pointer. This included a clutch outside shot in the game’s final minutes to keep France ahead of the Americans.
It pushed Ntilikina’s tournament averages forward. While his current line is not indicative of a star in the making, the numbers are promising for not only French supporters, but the Knicks:
▫️Game tying 3P with 4 minutes left in the game ▫️Scored 5 of 11 points in France's 4Q 11-0 run▫️+22 in 25 minutes@FrankLikina | @nyknicks pic.twitter.com/s3ICdL4QBl
Are the basic points, rebounds and assists too different from his NBA averages of 5.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists? No, but he looks more comfortable posting these numbers than the two uncomfortable seasons with the Knicks, with confidence seen through these games and noted by the ESPN2 broadcast Wednesday.
Perhaps coinciding with that confidence, Ntilikina’s field goal percentages have taken a huge jump from the 35.4 percent shooting and 30.5 on three-pointers in his first two years. Making a late-game jumpshot over an All-Star guard like Kemba Walker helps that.
As ESPN’s Jonathon Givony noted, Ntilikina benefited from this change of scenery. No longer was he under the spotlight of playing as a former first-round pick not living up to gaudy expectations, but filling a role, and well, for a team capable of winning the FIBA World Cup.
Frank Ntilikina benefiting from the change of scenery and showing that it's far too early to give up on him becoming a useful NBA player. Such a versatile defender. Made some huge pullup jumpers in the 4th quarter. Just turned 21 years old six weeks ago.
Ntilikina is not the Knicks’ headliner and, at this point, will not become the Knicks’ headliner. Not all high draft picks become superstars, but long-term NBA contributors. The World Cup has shown his capability of this, with quality defensive play, leading with the basketball and making shots when necessary. This is not someone to force into a lead offensive role, which New York’s David Fizdale tried early in 2018-19.
Instead, Ntilikina is proving his worth as the glue of a team with talented players, including Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum.
It takes the Knicks realizing this and giving the Frenchman a chance to make this situation work in Year Three or before that fourth-year team option arises in late October. There is no guarantee that will happen, with a deep roster of 14 other guaranteed contracts and a glut of guards to play, making a breakthrough difficult.
If the New York Knicks do not want Ntilikina, though, someone will. The World Cup has showcased him enough to cast some previous doubts aside, highlighted by shot-making ability and taking a role on a winning team. Couple those together, and it fits for a potential NBA title contender or a team just willing to expand his role.
Either way, Ntilikina looks like an NBA contributor. His 2019-20 is still important towards the long-term outlook, but the FIBA World Cup has been a terrific trailer for what will happen over the next seven months.
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