“We’re gonna get to work, kid. We’re gonna get you right.” Those were the words directed at Emmanuel Mudiay at Coach Fizdale’s introductory news conference before this season began. Mudiay had struggled so far during his NBA career and was easily one of Coach Fizdale’s biggest projects on the roster from Day 1.
Mudiay was drafted 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets back in 2015 and certainly did not live up to expectations during his time in Denver. Over the course of 3 years he averaged 11.1 points, 3.2 boards, and 4.3 assists per game. Perhaps more telling of his time there was his 2.5 turnovers per game, as he struggled to play the point guard position adequately.
The Knicks acquired Mudiay in a 3-team trade with Denver and Dallas last February after Mudiay had struggled that entire season. His averages of 8.5 points, 2.9 boards, and 2.2 assists had been lower than his career averages to that point, so the Nuggets likely didn’t mind parting with him. He played in 22 games for the Knicks to finish that season and didn’t fare much better either, struggling from the field and being plagued by turnovers and poor decision making.
Entering the new season, the Knicks knew that they had a young, athletic guard with some untapped potential, but nobody knew how it would turn out. Enter Coach Fizdale, who loves to have big, athletic guards.
Mudiay has certainly proved that he is an NBA caliber player this season under David Fizdale. And despite the fact that he is in his last year with the Knicks, he will likely be able to find a place with another team after this season. To be fair, Mudiay has certainly improved from a scoring standpoint, as he’s averaged 14.8 points per game while being ultra aggressive throughout this season. However, he continues to be inefficient playing point guard, as he’s averaging 2.2 turnovers per game with only 3.8 assists per game (basketballreferences.com).
This begs the question, why does Fizdale insist on playing him major minutes? It’s difficult to truly pinpoint why he continues to play so much but if there’s one thing we know Fizdale loves to see from his guards, it’s aggressiveness. Where other players like Frank Ntilikina have seen DNPs from not being aggressive enough, Mudiay seems to have been rewarded for being aggressive, despite his inefficiency from the floor. With the trade for Dennis Smith Jr, Mudiay has been relegated to the bench upon return from his recent shoulder injury. It remains to be seen how many minutes he continues to get when Frank Ntilikina returns to the lineup from his groin injury.
It would be a mistake, as was mentioned in last week’s article, to continue to play Mudiay major minutes when Frank returns. There is close to zero percent chance that Mudiay is with the Knicks next season, so it doesn’t make any sense to sacrifice someone else’s minutes in favor of him. It almost feels strange to advocate not having Mudiay play, as he’s only 22 years old. But with a $12 million cap hold for next season, it’s highly unlikely the Knicks find that reasonable for a backup point guard.
Although this season has been full of losses, making Mudiay an NBA caliber player is a feather in Fizdale’s cap.
Even though Mudiay won’t be back with the Knicks next season, Fizdale has provided him an opportunity to keep his career alive and Mudiay will appreciate that moving forward. Hopefully, when all players are back from injury, Fizdale will reduce Mudiay’s minutes to give others a chance to play the position that will be with the team moving forward.