The New York Knicks began snagging former lottery picks with Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke last year. What can we expect from them this year?
In a weird way, there’s a positive vibe around the New York Knicks. There’s a new regime leading the way and the influx of young talent has fans daydreaming about what could be if everyone reaches their potential. Kristaps Porzingis’ injury puts a damper on things, but that just means the Knicks can supplement the young talent with another lottery pick.
Expectations are a major reason why all seems well at Penn Plaza. The expectations going into this season are reasonable. Playoffs are out of reach despite the debilitated Eastern Conference. Outside of Kristaps Porzingis making a miraculous return to the court far earlier than anyone expects, this team lacks the talent to make that long-awaited run to the playoffs. But that’s not what this season is about. The expectations are that the Knicks will develop the talent on the roster to complement Porzingis — and perhaps another star in 2019.
Two players who could be part of the future are Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay. Both are reclamation projects entering their first full seasons in New York. What are the best case scenarios for Burke and Mudiay and what expectations are more grounded in reality?
Burke came to New York prior to the 2017-18 season, but he didn’t actually come to New York. He went to Westchester first. In 26 games with the Westchester Knicks, Burke averaged 26.6 points and 5.3 assists per game. His shooting numbers were up as well. But that had to be because of the weak competition of the G League, right?
Wrong, apparently. Burke signed with the New York Knicks in January and played in 36 games. He had one of the more productive stretches of his career and most importantly, he shot the ball well. His effective field goal percentage was a career-high .552. This was a major step forward for Burke.
Additionally, Burke showed flashes of brilliance and it’s easy to see why he was a lottery talent way back in 2013. In a tough overtime loss in Charlotte, Burke lit up the box score with 42 points and 13 assists. It wasn’t enough to overcome the Hornets in overtime, but he looked more like Michigan Trey Burke than the version of him that struggled through two seasons with the Jazz.
Best Case Scenario
For Burke, the best possible thing to happen to him would be if he develops chemistry with Mitchell Robinson in the pick-and-roll. That’s one of the better aspects of Burke’s game and he is looking for a new running mate. Burke and Porzingis had a connection developing prior to KP’s injury, but now Burke is looking for the Andre 3000 to his Big Boi.
In a perfect world, Burke will begin taking more shots at the rim and beyond the arc. The largest chunk of Burke’s shots came from the midrange last season — 43.2 percent to be exact. He did shoot 53.6 percent on those shots, so he was relatively efficient. But it’s unlikely that he sustains that shooting percentage.
In all likelihood, Burke is the second-unit point guard and he helps prop up a unit that may have some trouble with shot creation. Burke is adept in the pick-and-roll game. Even though he may take more midrange than today’s analytics community would like, he will be valuable in the Knicks rotation. It’s unlikely that his shooting percentages from last season are sustainable, but as long as he doesn’t revert back to his younger days, he’ll be fine.
His defense is still a work in progress, but he plays hard and becomes a passable defender. He’ll get victimized on switches from time to time, but that’s bound to happen. He’s on the floor to score. If he plays average defense, David Fizdale will be thrilled.
Emmanuel Mudiay feels like the forgotten man in the backcourt. Frank Ntilikina is definitely part of the future. Whether that’s as a point guard is still up in the air, but Ntilikina is certainly above Mudiay on the totem pole that is the Knicks. Fellow reclamation project, Trey Burke took his opportunity and ran with it. Mudiay took his opportunity and fell to the floor after missing a layup.
Fizdale famously said in his introductory press conference that he was going to get to work with Mudiay. As much of a bust as Mudiay may appear to be, he’s only 22-years-old. He still has youth in his corner. His career is far from over and he has a clean slate with Fizdale.
"I'm just really excited to see these guys." – David Fizdale takes a moment to address the players in attendance pic.twitter.com/DhU8yhBJ73
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 8, 2018
Best Case Scenario
If Fizdale’s vision to make Mudiay tough to defend comes to fruition, it will be because Mudiay begins knocking down shots. His inability to score from the outside has always held him back. He shot a pitiful 19.6 percent from three in his 22 games with the Knicks last season. Even if he upped his three-point percentage to a respectable 35 percent, it would help open up much more in his game.
If he does this, he’ll challenge Ntilikina and Burke for serious minutes at the point guard position.
After watching him struggle through 22 games last season, it’s hard to imagine Mudiay taking a gigantic step forward this year. Even with Fizdale guiding him, Mudiay’s never lived up to any of the hype he came into the league with. He’s never shot the ball well during his career and this has held him back significantly. It’s hard to expect much from a player who has shot below 40 percent from the field and slightly above 30 percent from deep in his three-year career.
The realistic expectation for Mudiay is that he becomes a fringe rotational player who spells Ntilikina and Burke in the backcourt. If the Knicks end up trading either Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., Mudiay will see more time. But don’t expect a complete turnaround from the guard entering his fourth year in the league.