As the NBA season is one week away from officially returning, we caught up with the editor-in-chief of The Knicks Wall, Ryan Punzalan. He talks to us about his optimistic stance regarding the Knicks’ future, as well as what lies ahead for France’s own Frank Ntilikina.
Parlons NBA : Being a Knicks fan has been quite difficult for a long time now, as the ball club’s constant struggle doesn’t match the pedigree of the franchise. How do you keep the faith?
Ryan Punzalan : Honestly? I have no idea. The Knicks have been quite putrid for the majority of my life, yet there’s something about them that I can’t stop enjoying. They’re bad, but they’re enjoyably bad. And when they’re not enjoyably bad, there’s a player or coach that you end up gravitating towards. In the 90s, we had the Pat Riley/Jeff Van Gundy teams that had insane rivalries and intense playoff runs. The 00s had an awful streak of bad contracts, bad teams, and bad management, yet fans were watching Stephon Marbury and Wilson Chandler drain buckets. Then you have the current iteration of Knicks that are finally lovable from all around. Knicks fans keep faith by finding one thing that keeps them going and I know I’ve had to do that for almost the last 30 years.
Obviously the Knicks are in rebuilding mode around new, young, exciting players. How optimistic are you regarding the future? Is this the most optimistic you have been in a long time?
For the first time in a while, I can honestly say that I’m optimistic for the future. The biggest difference between this regime and previous ones: The culture. With the addition of David Fizdale and the duo of Scott Perry and Steve Mills, there’s a sense of confidence and assurance that hasn’t really been around for a long, long time. I know there’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk, but as it stands now, the front office has said the right things, done the right things, and even reassured they’re going to be sticking with the right things.
One of those young exciting players is Frank Ntilikina. I know you’re a big fan of his. In your opinion, where does he stand right now as a player? Does he remind you of a particular player?
I absolutely love Frank Ntilikina and have been a big fan of his since they drafted him. As he stands now, Ntilikina shows flashes of being an above-average offensive player with an elite skillset on the defensive side. Last season, Coach Hornacek pushed the sense of winning basketball games early by playing Jarrett Jack and even Ramon Sessions, giving Ntilikina sporadic minutes throughout the first half of the season. A minor injury didn’t help Ntilikina’s case, but the lack of opportunity as well as the rise of Trey Burke really hurt Ntilikina from a developmental standpoint. However, he always was exceptional on defense and had a hint or two of being able to make plays on the offensive side. But now, he’s definitely going to be one of the main pieces for this offense moving forward and he’ll need to show confidence scoring the basketball. If he can drain the jumper that defenses are giving him, he’ll be able to create more off-the-dribble which would then allow him to give other players a better look at an open shot or even allow him to be more aggressive and drive to the hoop.
If there’s a particular player that he reminds me of, is Avery Bradley. If I’m not mistaken, Bradley, in his early seasons with the Boston Celtics, struggled with any resemblance of an offensive game, yet was a lockdown defender. It was until his third or fourth season that he became a sharpshooting three-point shooter and an all-around type of player.
How does America perceive Frank? And most importantly how do New York fans perceive Frank? I get the feeling he’s quite popular among your fanbase.
I still feel like Frank Ntilikina is relatively unknown outside of the New York City area. He hasn’t been getting much exposure in marquee matchups with the exception of his scuffle with LeBron James. Besides that, he hasn’t gotten the minutes and opportunity to shine on the big stage. That being said, New York fans are on two sides when viewing Frank: They either love him so much (myself include) or they think he’s nothing more than a defensive role player, and that’s it. We’ve gotten a lot of pushback when we post TOO many Frank things, but there is a big population that absolutely enjoys all of the pro-Frank content we have produced and shared. But that’s the amazing thing about Knicks-fans: They’re extremely passionate about their opinions and will do anything to share that sentiment with other fans.
According to you, what’s Frank’s ceiling in this league?
In a fantasy world, Frank’s ceiling is Chris Paul, but that would be unfair to Chris Paul. (Kidding.) That’s tough because I don’t think anyone really knows what Frank’s ceiling can truly be. He will always be an elite defender, but we know he can score the basketball in various ways, but just hasn’t had the opportunity to put all of it together. If I had to take a guess at the present moment it would be a consistent, Avery Bradley. I would love for Frank to be an offensive juggernaut that would potentially turn him into an Eric Bledsoe-type player, but he just doesn’t have the offensive-aggression to get there, yet.
French people obviously want the utmost success for Ntilikina, as we somewhat see him as Tony Parker’s successor (not so much because of his playing style but because of his precocity and potential to reach the same level of excellence as TP). Do you think he has it in him?
At his current pace, I wouldn’t go as far as Tony Parker, but maybe someone like Nicolas Batum, a solid and impactful NBA player for his career. As mentioned earlier, Ntilikina will need to show more on the offense end in order for him to catapult himself into a Tony Parker-like conversation in terms of excellence. Parker was a gifted playmaker and consistent-midrange shooter throughout his entire career. As of now, I haven’t seen enough from Frank that gets him on the Parker-level, but he can if he puts it all together quickly.
Finally, besides a healthy recovery for Kristaps Porzingis, what can we wish the Knicks for the upcoming season?
All Knicks fan should hope that Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and Mitchell Robinson have some sort of synergy developing throughout the season. And once you get a healthy Porzingis back, you can definitely find out if that four are the building blocks for the franchise heading into a pretty big 2019 offseason. Any signs of progress or improvements as the season progresses is good news and if Ntilikina can establish a positive basketball relationship with any of those players, Knicks fans can safely count on winning Knicks basketball to return to Madison Square Garden sooner rather than later.
The Knicks Wall is a fan-operated Knicks website established in 2013 and currently based out of New York City, NY. Ryan Punzalan is the current editor-in-chief where he oversees all day-to-day operations spanning content, social, and everything in between. Knicks fans around the world can follow The Knicks Wall on Twitter at @TheKnicksWall, on Instagram at @KnicksWall, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/