Does mystery man Frank Ntilikina have NBA-ready numbers?

Originally Published: June 20, 2017
By Neil Johnson | ESPN Analytics

Frank Ntilikina Elyxandro Cegarra/Getty ImagesFrank Ntilikina remains something of a mystery, but our numbers suggest he could be an NBA star.

In a league currently obsessed with both point guard play and youth, it should be no surprise that Frank Ntilikina has found his name near the top of most NBA draft boards. The 6-foot-5 native of France is one of the youngest players in this draft at age 18, and he is coming off a season in which he was the youngest player to get rotation-level minutes in the French LNB Pro A league and in the Basketball Champions League.

As with other potential lottery picks who played internationally, it can be hard to contextualize Ntilikina's performance overseas and translate it to the NBA. Only 18 NBA players since 2000 have come from France, though four French players were drafted in 2016. Information on these players has improved, but -- unlike Australia's NBL, which produced soon-to-be-drafted Terrance Ferguson --the LNB Pro A league in France isn't particularly accessible for Americans.

Still, there is value in evaluating his numbers. Let's start with Ntilikina's numbers for Strasbourg of the LNB Pro A league. Though he's still playing -- Strasbourg is in the championship round -- for the sake of this piece the numbers provided are through the quarterfinal round, which saw Ntilikina put in more than 650 minutes of game time. Here are his tempo-free numbers, with the percentiles based off of all players with 200-plus minutes.

While looking at this table, we see an above-average player in the league -- and keep in mind that Ntilikina is by far the youngest player in this league. The next-youngest player to receive at least 200 minutes was Jonathan Jeanne, who is a full year older and played less than half the minutes Ntilikina did. Ntilikina's net rating is exceptional, but the fact that he started about two-thirds of the season makes me wonder whether he's benefiting from sharing the court mostly with the rest of the starting five.

Given that Ntilikina is a point guard, you would hope to see better assist and turnover rates, but the exceptionally low usage rate shows he likely was not the player orchestrating Strasbourg's offense. According to Synergy Sports, the majority of his offensive looks came from spot-up shooting, which occurred 24.7 percent of the time.

While nothing might immediately grab the eye here, there also aren't any red flags. Ntilikina is starting on a team that made it to the league championship, which is a positive. He has a low usage rate, meaning there hasn't been much opportunity for him to prove himself one way or the other, yet he's still putting up above-league-average box plus-minus and net rating numbers, which is a good sign.

Let's now take a look at how he has performed in the Basketball Champions League, where the competition is a little more diverse.

Again, Ntilikina was the youngest player in the league to receive rotation minutes. To see his box plus-minus rating improve from his LNB numbers, while his net rating decreased, is actually a good sign. Strasbourg finished third in its group in the Champions League, against tougher competition than it played in the domestic league, and did not qualify for the playoffs. Ntilikina played more minutes per game in the BCL and saw his usage rate go from nonexistent to about league average. His assist rate and turnover rates were both better in this league than they were in LNB Pro A. While Ntilikina's numbers are better across the board, remember that he played about half as many minutes in this competition because there are roughly half as many games.

Given Ntilikina's contributions at the professional level, it's reasonable to be optimistic about his NBA potential. Although he's a little thin, his 6-5 frame gives him the flexibility to develop into a shooting guard as much as a point guard and helps his chances of staying in the league. He has been getting minutes on a professional team the past two seasons and has shown steady improvement.

In comparison to the rest of this class, he's younger than everyone but Ike Anigbogu and Markelle Fultz yet has more professional experience than everyone except a few 21-year-old international players. Ntilikina might be somewhat of an unknown to NBA fans, but league executives are optimistic about his potential for what appear to be sound reasons.

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Neil Johnson

ESPN Analytics

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