SAN ANTONIO — Knicks rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina has passed a number of memorable markers in his first year in the NBA. But none will be as special as playing Thursday against Spurs veteran Tony Parker — the French point-guard pioneer.
“I’m playing against the best French player in history,’’ Ntilikina said Wednesday in Chicago. “It will be a challenge playing against him. I never met him but talked to him a bit [after the draft] about the transition and defense in the NBA, a little bit about everything.’’
Ntilikina, the eighth pick in the 2017 draft, will seek Parker out after Thursday’s game at AT&T Center. He has yet to play for the French National Team other than the 18-and-under version, so he and Parker have never been teammates.
During the European championships last summer, Ntilikina followed the Knicks’ advice and decided to train with their coaches in Tarrytown. This summer, there’s no national team action for France.
Because of their heritage, the 19-year-old Ntilikina has heard Parker comparisons. Parker, like Ntilikina, was born in Belgium before moving to France. Ntilikina has different attributes, known as a defense-first point guard while Parker is reputed as a terrific penetrator. Penetration is one of Ntilikina’s weak spots.
“I think our play is different, but it’s an honor being compared to the best French player in history,’’ Ntilikina said. “Been watching him play [for a long time]. One of the best point guards in European Championship history.’’
Starting point guard Jarrett Jack will give Ntilikina a Parker primer. At age 35, Parker’s numbers and minutes are down — 9.4 points, 4.4 assists — but he’s still the Spurs floor general after last season’s injury-wracked season.
“Crafty, always pushing the pace, tough going to his right hand,’’ Jack said, citing Parker attributes. “He’s got the footwork of a big man when he gets in the paint. I’ll let him know things I’ve learned from playing against Tony for my 13 years and see what he can do.’’
While Ntilikina had a solid defensive game against Chicago’s Kris Dunn, making a couple of brilliant steals, he was also on the court for part of the Knicks’ late-game collapse against Chicago on Wednesday. He missed a key jumper in the final two minutes. Regardless, Ntilikina likely will get some more valuable lessons Thursday in the Alamo City from a French legend.