Knicks president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry, coach Jeff Hornacek and trainer Anthony Goenaga huddled for 20 minutes at practice for a meeting regarding Frank Ntilikina. The French point guard went through solo drills on the court after practice as the regime looked on, chatting.
Ntilikina had a contact-less practice Thursday. It appears the 6-5 rookie will miss his fourth straight preseason game when the Knicks finish up the exhibition schedule Friday against Washington.
That will mean Ntilikina, suffering from a bruised right knee wrapped in a big blue sleeve, will go into the regular season next Thursday in Oklahoma City with just one preseason game under his belt.
Along with Ntilikina, Hornacek indicated Kristaps Porzingis probably will also sit out the preseason finale because of his sore right hip. But the 7-3 Latvian got in enough games during the European Championships that his rust is not a concern.
“I don’t know if either one of them plays at this point,’’ Hornacek said. “We’ll find out more [Friday]. The swelling in the knee has gone down [with Ntilikina]. There’s still some soreness. We’d like to get him back as soon as possible, but he’s a young kid, so we have to make sure we’re doing the right things for him.”
It’s been a disappointing preseason for the Knicks’ No. 8 pick, especially with two guards they passed up in the draft — Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas) and Malik Monk (Charlotte) — excelling.
Ntilikina played the preseason opener, shot 1-of-7 for five points and collected three assists. He looked nice on defense and running the offense, but his durability is now a major concern as a rookie with a slight build.
Rushing Ntilikina in a preseason game is not something the organization prefers, especially now that it has become clear Ramon Sessions will start the season as starting point guard.
“I think when you start playing regular-season games, then the hope is guys know how to play when they’re a little sore as long as they’re not making it worse,’’ Hornacek said. “I think in exhibition season, we’re a little more cautious.’’
Porzingis hasn’t played since the first half of the Nets game Sunday. He was shut down in the second half, then missed the Houston game Monday.
Having Porzingis playing against Washington would be a boost to solidifying their starting lineup in the final tuneup, but the Knicks have four or five practices before the season opener against Carmelo Anthony’s new team.
“It would be helpful, but it is what it is, so we have to do that in practice,” Hornacek said. “We have four days to practice before the Oklahoma City game, so hopefully we can get a lot done there with the group. If we can’t do it in games, we’ll have to do it in practice.”
The rocky preseason is not unlike last October, when two starters, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, were out for most of it. But that was when the Knicks were in a different place, desperate to make the playoffs. Now management seems content to gain a strong lottery pick amid their full rebuild.
There were three starting slots open entering training camp following the Anthony trade. Hornacek would not say what he has decided but admitted, “Things are starting to fall out a little bit, [but] there’s still some things we’re going to have to decide on.’’
Hornacek is leaning toward a three-guard lineup of Sessions-Tim Hardaway Jr.-Courtney Lee. Essentially, Lee, who has come into camp in excellent shape and played vibrantly, would be Anthony’s replacement at small forward. However, Hornacek said he won’t go small if an opponent boasts a starting 3 with size.
Enes Kanter, picked up in the Anthony deal, has appeared to have beaten out Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O’Quinn, though it’s not official. (Noah is out the first 12 games on a drug suspension.)
Kanter, 25, has been too forceful on offense with his offensive rebounding and inside aggressiveness and is more seasoned than Hernangomez. Hornacek also suggested Kanter makes a better tandem with Porzingis.
“Kanter brings that toughness, that hard rolling to the basket,’’ Hornacek said. “That’s something that — if KP’s out there — that might be effective. If our guards can hit him on the roll and get to the basket, then they are going to have to do something, and they can’t really leave KP. So that hard rolling will be critical for us to do.’’
A Hardaway-Lee pairing hasn’t looked badly on defense. Lee was the team’s starting shooting guard last season after signing a four-year, $50 million pact.
“I think defensively they’re able to scramble and help each other out and they can switch,’’ Hornacek said. “There’s going to be teams that that can be rough to do. A big guy at the 3 spot, Tim and Courtney are only 6-5. They got a 3-man like Gordon Hayward’s size, it can be awfully tough. We might have to do something different. We don’t have to go with the same starting group every single night. There might be nights where we have to change it. But hopefully the top 10 guys that stick out are in the rotation.’’
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