If you’ve been paying any attention to the Olympics, and more exclusively men’s basketball, you’ve probably had an opportunity to watch France. Aside from Team USA, France’s Olympic squad may have the most imposing cast of NBA players. Led by future hall of famer Tony Parker, France also features Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, Joffrey Lauvergne and Boris Diaw.
That wide range of talent has pushed France to being one of the top-notch international team. Since the 2012 Summer Olympics, France has finished with at least a bronze medal in the last three international tournaments (bronze in 2014 FIBA World Cup and 2015 Eurobasket and gold in 2013 Eurobasket).
So far, France has been able to transfer that past success into solid play in the 2016 Olympics. Although they got mollywopped in the opening game against Australia, France has gone back to normal in recent victories against China and Croatia. As the focus is on that hunt for an Olympic medal, there does remain some questions about the future of that French team
Over the past decade, the duo of Boris Diaw and Tony Parker have stood as leaders of the French squad. Although both players are still shining in the 2016 Olympics, there are questions about their longevity, as both Diaw and Parker are 34 years old. That begs the question, who will follow in their footsteps?
When it comes to a replacement for point guard Tony Parker, it seems that France might already have his replacement in mind. That player is 18-year-old point guard Frank Ntilikina, who stands as arguably the best point guard in the stacked 2017 NBA Draft class. Standing 6’5 with a 6’11 wingspan, Ntilikina is a point guard that combines an imposing frame with an excellent skill-set.
That’s most evident on the offensive end as Ntilikina looks less like a 18-year-old prospect and more like an NBA veteran. For someone so young, Ntilikina displays great basketball IQ on that end of the floor, as he seems to have already mastered the art of the pick-and-roll. Inside of those pick-and-rolls, Ntilikina looks incredibly calculated as he waits for the perfect opportunity to pounce, whether that would be as a facilitator or shooter.
Ntilikina’s work as a facilitator is probably his best skill at the moment, as he’s a terrific passer with fantastic court vision. He’s the definition of a pass-first guard as dishing it off to a teammate seems to be at the front of his mind. That really helps out his surrounding teammates as Ntilikina is an effective facilitator whether he’s driving to the rim or working in simple pick-and-rolls. His prowess in the pick-and-roll is seen in the play below as he throws a perfect pass to the cutting Jonathan Jeanne.
Those skills as a facilitator are also evident when you look deeply at Ntilikina’s stats. In last year’s FIBA U-18 European Championships, Ntilikina had an incredible 3.38 Ast/TO ratio.
Ntilikina’s pick-and-roll play is elevated by his work as a shooter, whether it’ll be mid-range or perimeter. As a mid-range shooter, Ntilikina does a great job of using his handles to create his own shot. After working around that initial screen, Ntilikina does a terrific job of quickly getting in position to launch the mid-range jumper. Although it’s not necessarily the most beloved shot in modern hoops, Ntilikina has quickly established an ability to get an easy bucket with that mid-range stroke.
That success transitions into his work as a perimeter shooter. During that FIBA U-18 European Championship, Ntilikina shot an impressive 39% from beyond the arc on 3.5 attempts per game. While not having the pretties shot, as his shooting stroke kinda looks like a catapult, it’s still very effective. Ntilikina seems to be very comfortable with his jumper, whether he’s working of the dribble or through catch and shoots.
In the film that I’ve watched from Ntilikina, the one possible flaw that stood out to me was how he never seemed comfortable cutting to the paint. Although he’s quick, athletic and has nice handles, Ntilikina really seems more comfortable working in a small box that spreads from the perimeter to around the free throw line. Anything aside from that currently stands as a “no-go zone” for Ntilikina.
Defense is an area where Ntilikina might have the most potential as an NBA prospect. Just by being an athletic 6’5 guard with a 6’11 wingspan, defensive-minded coaches from all over the NBA would drool over what they could do with him. That excitement is elevated by the fact that Ntilikina works his tail off on the defensive end as he puts in strong on-ball pressure while doing a great job of staying in front of the opposition. With those skills and his impressive frame, Ntilikina could definitely be asked to defend multiple positions at the next level.
Although there are some traits that Ntilikina still needs to work on (i.e on-ball cutting), he already stands as a versatile player that’s skilled in a multitude of different areas. How Ntilikina’s able to already be versatile despite only only being 18 is the main reason as to why he’s looked at as one of the best prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft class.
Currently, DraftExpress has Ntilikina as the 6th best 2017 prospect, while ESPN’s Chad Ford has Ntilikina at #5. Although those rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s still a significant example of how highly people around the basketball landscape think of him as a player.
That acclaim is definitely warranted as Frank Ntilikina combines an amazing frame with an extremely versatile game. In fact, it’s a little scary to think of how good he already is despite only being 18-years-old. Because if he already shows the on-court awareness and versatile offensive game of an NBA veteran at this age, imagine what could happen when he actually reaches his physical prime. For those reasons, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing Ntilikina rocking France across his chest in the 2020 Summer Olympics.