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New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina pauses on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

New York Knicks coach David Fizdale kept second-year guard Frank Ntilikina on the bench during Tuesday’s 109-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a decision he tried to justify after the game:

Ntilikina was also held out of three games earlier in the month but had been earning regular playing time for the last eight contests before being benched on Christmas Day.

He is averaging 6.3 points and 2.6 assists per game this season in 31 appearances.

Unfortunately, he lost his starting job in November and has been inconsistent off the bench.

Over the last five games, Ntilikina is averaging just 3.6 points in 18.4 minutes per game, shooting 6-of-28 from the field and 2-of-11 from three-point range. This has brought his shooting percentage down to 34.6 percent for the season.

Despite his struggles, Fizdale called the 20-year-old “very important” to the Knicks while also mentioning the lack of confidence. This echoes the recent comments from team president Steve Mills on Ntilikina.

“Frank is a young, young player,” Mills said Friday, per Steve Popper of Newsday. “There are a lot of things that he continues to get better at from a defensive standpoint. We’ve got to find a way to work with Frank and allow the confidence on the offensive end of the floor to sort of live within him all the time.”

On the other hand, Chris Iseman of The Record noted the problem with the latest strategy:

The guard was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, ahead of productive guards like Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Smith Jr., but he remains raw and inconsistent so far in his two years at this level.

Although the Knicks aren’t giving up on him just yet, the benching shows the team is at least concerned about his level of play.

Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke took over the minutes at point guard with Ntilikina on the bench.

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