Denver was the wrong fit for Emmanuel Mudiay. Will the New York Knicks be any different? That’s still up for debate.
Bust. It’s one of the cruelest labels an athlete can receive. The newest member of the New York Knicks, Emmanuel Mudiay, has carried the weight of that word for some time now. The former 2015 lottery pick needed a fresh start, and the Knicks were just the team to give it to him.
Kyle Lowry was traded by two different teams before he found the perfect fit with the Toronto Raptors as their franchise player. Isaiah Thomas finished third in the league in scoring and fifth in the MVP voting last season becoming a folk hero with the Boston Celtics.
The questionable decision to trade Willy Hernangomez to Charlotte for two second-round picks left the Knicks without their 23-year-old former All-Rookie performer. Even if he’d fallen out of the rotation, this was a tough pill to swallow.
The pressure was on the front office to find another youngster with potential to replace KP’s buddy. The choice was reportedly between two point guards — former Scott Perry pick Elfrid Payton and Mudiay.
Despite Perry’s ties with Payton from their time together in Orlando they chose to go with Mudiay. Payton is a free agent at the end of the season and Mudiay has one more year left on his rookie deal. Also, per Frank Isola of The New York Daily News, Orlando wanted Frank Ntilikina in return for Payton. There would’ve been riots in the streets over that one.
The Knicks went with the smarter deal, but their new point guard has a long way to go to prove he’s worthy of staying in New York beyond when his contract expires after the 2019 season. Mudiay’s been one of the most inefficient players in the league during the past two and a half seasons. He had one of the worst rookie seasons in NBA history.
It starts with the sharing. Mudiay doesn’t exactly play well with others. He didn’t combine to form a positive net rating with a single Denver rotation player (via NBA.com). Not one. A point guard who averaged nearly 20 minutes per game didn’t make any of his teammates better.
If the 21-year-old could just cool it with the turnovers, he’d be a better floor general. He averages 4.8 turnovers per 100 possessions for his career. As a rookie, he was in the 10th percentile in turnover percentage and now in his third season hasn’t improved very much. He’s in the 18th percentile (via Cleaning the Glass).
It’s hard to be a point guard when you can’t take care of the ball and you struggle with your shot. While he was a rookie, he made just 45.5 percent of his shots in the restricted area on 286 attempts. The former McDonald’s All-American made only 30.8 percent of his 253 mid-range attempts (via NBA.com).
This year he’s a whopping 50 percent in the restricted area in comparison to 33 percent from the mid-range. Surprisingly, his three-point shooting has been the best of his career. Mudiay has made 13-of-22 (59.1 percent) of his long balls from the corners and 37.3 percent of his threes overall. He’s made 22-of-57 (38.6 percent) off the catch.
When he’s been wide open, he’s been money. Mudiay has made 21-of-48 threes with no defender within 6 or more feet of him. That’s good for a 43.8 percent clip. In his first two seasons, no defense didn’t mean anything. Even when he was wide open as a rookie he was just 33.7 percent and 34.6 percent as a sophomore.
It’s hard to imagine a guy who struggled so mightily with his shot ever becoming a marksman. Even as a high school phenom we were told things like he was a “limited outside shooter” and he needed to “work on his shooting mechanics.”
Maybe he has; maybe he hasn’t. But it needs to get better. He needs to get better overall. If he doesn’t it won’t matter where he goes. Nowhere is going to be the right fit. Not even the Knicks who could use a young prospect to develop right now.
Many people are worried that the acquisition of Mudiay means trouble for Frank Ntilikina. People even speculated that Frankie Smokes could be a candidate for the G-League. The Knicks already have three point guards (Jarrett Jack, Trey Burke) so where does that leave those guys in the rotation? On the surface, it doesn’t look like the ideal fit for Mudiay.
But Jeff Hornacek believes that Mudiay can play with Ntilikina. Apparently, he isn’t bothered by the fact that Frank can’t shoot either and is also prone to turnovers. A head coach who believes in Mudiay is a start. Especially this head coach. Hornacek was a big fan of two point guard lineups in Phoenix and he’s shown small signs of doing the same in New York.
Playing off the ball would be something new for Mudiay. According to Basketball-Reference, 86 percent of his playing time has been at the point guard position. That number has been at 91 percent this season. Denver didn’t think he could play off the ball.
Mudiay was second on the Nuggets in usage percentage his first two seasons. He was first this year before the trade. It might be something new, but what he’s been doing hasn’t been working. Maybe that means that New York will be the right fit. If Jeff Hornacek challenges Mudiay to be something different. It all depends on how the new guy responds.