The Mudiay–Ntilikina team-up is on our minds in the last Monday Musings before the All-Star Break.
Knicks record: 0–4 on the week, 23–34 overall
Upcoming schedule: 2/12 @ 76ers (28–25), 2/14 vs. Wizards (32–24), All-Star Break
Jeff Hornacek was not afraid to play his young point guards, with Emmanuel Mudiay debuting last night in Indianapolis. Mudiay mostly played aside Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina. Let’s get into it.
1. We are all witnesses (to the Mudiay–Ntilikina backcourt revolution)
Now that the Knicks are looking toward the future rather than focusing on a playoff push, determining whether Jeff Hornacek is the right the coach to lead the rebuild or not should be evaluated solely by his ability to connect with and develop the Knicks younger players. X’s and O’s aside, Hornacek had been coaching like a man trying to squeeze out enough wins to earn an extension, even as the Knicks continue to slide out of the race.
This short-term thinking had been evidenced by the insistence—before last night’s Pacers game—on giving Jarrett Jack heavy starter’s minutes at the expense of Frank Ntilikina, to the ire of the entire Knicks fan base. Jack is a quality veteran and nice guy to have around, but he should not be the Knicks primary point guard ever again. And after he played just eight minutes in Sunday’s 121–113 defeat to Indiana, it looks like Hornacek may have (finally) gotten the message:
We'll have time to dissect the game on a deeper level, but for now, this is all we can ask for:
Jack – 8 minutes
Ntilikina – 30 minutes
Mudiay – 29 minutes
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) February 12, 2018
2. Jarrett Jack, you are the weakest link
This is progress! Hornacek previously praised Jack for knowing “how to run a team,” but also acknowledged that Frank will be the starter whenever he’s “ready.” So why wait? It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Frank drastically starts to look like a polished point guard in the remaining 25 games, and that’s alright! The Knicks should be emphasizing athleticism (more Damyean Dotson, please!) and versatility over established talent, and Jack offers nothing in those departments.
Jack’s Per 36 numbers are predictably better than Frank (besides three-point shooting), though neither are exactly filling up the box score. But with the Knicks shifting into tank mode anyway, who cares about the numbers?
Of course, the Jack-Frank issue was further complicated with the promotion of Trey Burke a few weeks back and the more recent acquisition of Emmanuel Mudiay at last Thursday’s trade deadline. As bad as Mudiay was in Denver, a recent lottery pick coming off the books next summer is still a worthy gamble, and his combo guard skill set should allow him to work next to Frank (plus they both speak French!).
3. Mudiay’s debut
Mudiay impressed in his Knicks debut, posting 14 points and 10 assists. Him and Ntilikina (12 points, +8) formed the primary backcourt for most the night, which should become the norm. Mudiay instantly provided a fresh energy and new look for the squad:
WHAT A PLAY BY MUDIAY pic.twitter.com/X1bVWAnWej
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 11, 2018
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 12, 2018
4. Two lotto point guards, one backcourt
It’s only one game, but the Knicks have to be pleased by what they saw from the Frank and Mudiay backcourt. As my colleague Matt Spendley noted, the Knicks, with their newly minted Ntilikina–Mudiay backcourt, outscored the Pacers in the second half 47–38 when those two occupied the guard slots.
Wins and losses aside—and it will be mostly losses—managing a four-person point guard rotation will be undoubtedly tricky for Hornacek. But if winning isn’t the priority, there is no justification for playing Jack over the other three young guys the rest of the way. Let the kids play, Jeff (or whomever makes that call). Who knows? It could be fun.
This week for the Knicks: They face the Sixers in Philly on Monday night, and wrap up their first “half” of the season vs. the Wall-less Washington Wizards at the Garden. More importantly, KP has his ACL repair surgery set for Tuesday. By all accounts, he’s attacking his road to recovery with an admirably aggressive mindset, and we wish him the best.