Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ 2017 lottery pick, was held out again while the Westchester County product the franchise bypassed that draft year, Donovan Mitchell, got a chance to be a hero.
Before his parents and 200 friends and family from the tri-state area, Mitchell lit up the Garden in his homecoming for 30 points in 29 minutes in a 137-116 rout by the Jazz on Wednesday night.
“Life comes full circle,’’ said Mitchell, whose father Donovan Mitchell Sr. works in the Mets’ front office. “It’s pretty special to play here. I was more relaxed than last year — playing before Latrell Sprewell and Willis Reed [on celebrity row].’’
As the Knicks began their six-game homestand disastrously, Ntilikina missed a 24th straight game with his groin injury. He said he will need one more five-on-five practice with the Knicks on Thursday before he returns — which is expected to be for Friday’s home contest against the Nuggets.
Or perhaps Ntilikina sat out again Wednesday because nobody wanted to see the rusty Frenchman battle the sizzling Mitchell, who was taken five spots after Ntilikina by Utah at No. 13.
Mitchell and Ntilikina became friendly as members of the same draft class and they did a camp together last summer. Mitchell was only going to pump up the maligned Frenchman.
“The kid is really good,’’ Mitchell said. “People don’t see that. He’s a great defender and one of the hardest guys I had to go against last year. He shut me down last year when I played here. Once he starts figuring it out on offense, he’ll be really good. He’s my guy. I have his back.’’
Mitchell, the 2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up, is averaging 23.6 points in his second season and likely leading Utah (42-29) to another playoff berth.
Mitchell had one monstrous right-handed driving dunk in the first half and kept burying 3-pointers against the Knicks’ nonexistent defense, which gave up 74 points in the first half. The Knicks fell behind as many as 37.
“He’s a nightmare to guard,’’ Knicks coach David Fizdale said.
Mitchell made 12-of-20 shots, went 5-of-9 from behind the 3-point line and sat during fourth-quarter garbage time.
New Knick Dennis Smith Jr., who was picked ninth by Dallas in that same 2017 draft, also sat out with a bad back while Mitchell destroyed the Garden.
“I worked out the day before the draft,’’ Mitchell said. “Based on my workout I didn’t think I was getting drafted [by the Knicks]. They had their eyes set on Frank and I knew of Dennis. I wasn’t one of the biggest names. There’s always going to be a ‘What if?’ But I’m happy [with Utah].’’
The Knicks were pitiful in dropping their league-worst record to 14-58 before more empty seats than usual. Since their home victory Sunday over the Lakers, the Knicks have lost by a combined 57 points, including Monday’s 128-92 train wreck at Toronto.
“We just got punched and they did not miss a 3,’’ Fizdale said. “We did not execute our defense to take away the 3.’’
Kevin Knox scored 27 mostly garbage-time points and Mario Hezonja added 23. Ntilikina is expected to go through a five-on-five scrimmage with the Knicks on Thursday.
The 20-year-old guard took part in a scrimmage with the G-League Westchester Knicks on Tuesday, but it was determined not to be ready. The Knicks certainly could have used another point guard Wednesday with Smith and Kadeem Allen (illness) also out. Ntilikina hasn’t played since late January.
“I made a lot of progress during five-on-five action,’’ Ntilikina said. “It’s a good feeling. … It’s been a while. I need a little more rhythm and more intensity practice. I just want to go through another five-on-five with me being free with my movement. Doing conditioning is not the same thing as doing five-on-five. It’s a new sensation — like coming back from the summer.”
Ntilikina has played just 41 games in his second season, which has been no better than his disappointing rookie year. There are strong indications the Knicks will make Ntilikina available on draft night in June.
Asked if his final 10 games this season could determine his future, Ntilikina, who is shooting 34.8 percent, didn’t seem concerned.
“It might be important to you but for me I just want to play basketball,” he said. “All that showing and stuff is for you guys and the fans. For me I hate being on the side not playing basketball. For me it’s important to play even if it’s 10 games.”
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