Trey Burke returned to the Knicks lineup on December 16th and provided an uninspiring 3 points on 1-7 shooting. Burke, the 6-year man out of Michigan is not going to be a part of the Knicks PG debate going forward.
Burke has a knack for scoring. He has put together some impressive games including a 31 point game against the Magic and 29 point game in a win against the Celtics this year. However, his inconsistency leaves him third on the depth chart at point guard for the Knicks.
The other two candidates are Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina.
Just like everything this season, all the story lines have future implications. The Knicks are not in win-now mode. They are focused on developing a team to build around Porzingis, Knox, and the next cornerstone player to be drafted in 2019.
An integral part of any team is the point guard and Emmanuel Mudiay is making a strong case for the PG1 position in the following seasons.
This year, he should have the starting role locked up void of injury or a MAJOR meltdown. He is having his best scoring year yet, averaging 13.9 ppg. That is 1.1 points more than his second highest average, 12.8, that he had his rookie season. Also, his shooting number have all increased. His FG% (.471), 3P% (.333), and TS% (.559) are all career highs.
The TS% percentage is the most encouraging. True shooting percentage measures the efficiency of a players 2-point and 3-point shots, as well as free throws. For reference, Curry has a TS% of .679 and Ron Baker’s TS% was (is it wrong to use past tense?) .376.
However, Mudiay’s assists are below his career average at 3.5 (4.2). This may be a result of the scoring responsibility he has inherited on this team. He is now called on to create offense himself, instead of through his teammates.
For example, in the narrow loss to Cleveland on Wednesday, Dec. 12, Mudiay was called on to take one of the final shots over Knox and Hardaway. He drove to the middle of the lane, tried to draw contact and missed the floater. Clearly, Mudiay has assumed some clout on this lineup and his teammates trust him with the ball in his hands late in games.
Mudiay and the Knicks responded with an emphatic OT win two days later against the Hornets. Mudiay, with 34 points, quite possible solidified his starting position.
Mudiay’s impressive offense is significant is because Frank Ntilikina is showcasing his skills and pleading his case for the starting role as well. At this point, no matter how Ntilikina plays the rest of the season, Mudiay should retain that starting job because he has earned it with gaudy offensive numbers, a 3-ball threat, and by commanding leadership of the offense.
The one questionable thing about Mudiay is the low assists numbers he is putting up, regardless if the team is depending on him for more points.
The Knicks have 19.8 assists per game and that is DEAD LAST in the NBA. If Mudiay is going to strengthen his candidacy for the #1 PG spot, he needs to start moving the ball around and getting his teammates open looks.
Ntilikina’s performance the rest of the way still should be paid close attention to. After catching three straight DNP’s in early December, Franky has responded well. Since his return to the line up, he has averaged 9.3 points per game on .429 shooting and he is shooting .429 from downtown.
He has continued his hounding defense, and he is getting more spot-up 3 point attempts which helps with the percentage. However, his mid range jumper has impressed especially because he’s creating that shot for himself off the dribble. Also, he is not shying away from driving to the basket.
Two things stick out in his return though. His assist numbers are down and his turnover have slightly increased.
As for the assists, in October he had 3.6 APG. In December along with his return, he has 2.3 APG. His most since coming back are 4, but he had 7 assists in back-to-back games 10/31 and 11/2.
Fizdale pulled him from the lineup to get his head right. He was sending a message to the second year guard that he did not necessarily like his play. That play was defense and assists, which was Ntilikina’s game back in France. So, when Ntilikina dawned the line up after sitting out three straight games, he has acquiesced Coach Fiz and is now trying to become this new American model of PG that includes dynamic shooting, especially from deep. This has forced Ntilikina to shy away from the dimes and focus on the buckets.
That, in turn, increased Ntilikina’s turnover numbers because he is more focused on driving to the basket, so altering his game a bit will understandably come with a learning curve, thus inheriting more turnovers.
Hopefully, Fizdale understands that learning curve and does not ever bench Frank again. It is the wrong message to send to his 2nd year guard.
Mitchell Robinson’s return may help Ntilikina. Frank and the 7’1 rookie have some blossoming chemistry in rolls to the basket. Ntilikina sets up Robinson well while rolling to the hoop, but Robinson has struggled with the finish. As the two young Knicks play together more, that play will become electric due to Robinson’s length and Ntilikina’s knack for passing.
The fact of the matter is that Mudiay deserves the starting role the rest of the year and Ntilikina has proven he deserves to be in a NBA line up. The rotational role he is in right now will help him really hone in his style of play and balance the passing with the shooting. He’ll also continue to become a better defender.
Both guards need to pass better and get more assists; 30th in the NBA for assists is abysmal no matter how poorly the players around the point guards shoot. If the two players continue to play well, the summer could ring in an exciting roster battle for the #1 PG spot if the Knicks decide to sign Mudiay in for the long haul. Mudiay is a restricted free agent in 2019.
Featured Image: Clutch Points