Mudiay has been an abject gaffe with the Knicks through 16 games. Does he have it in him to fix the major flaws in his game and find a permanent home in New York?
On draft night, if you’d asked who would be the All-Star in three years, Kristaps Porzingis or Emmanuel Mudiay—the latter whom the Knicks dealt for at the trade deadline—you’d get a mix falling mostly on the side of Mudiay, picked three slots behind the Knicks’ Porzingis. But if you asked whose career was downward spiraling, I’d bet the rent money the majority of NBA stakeholders, fans, and analysts alike would utter Porzingis. How times have changed; sixteen games into Mudiay’s stint as a Knickerbocker, it’s proven to be a bumpy ride. After earning the starting point guard spot, Mudiay has, without a doubt, made an impression.
The Knicks may get what they need out of the deal, but if the most beneficial attribute Mudiay adds is tanking, then he might find himself out of the NBA as soon as the conclusion of his rookie contract.
Some players, like Trey Burke, use the G League to get back into the NBA after a disappointing start to their career, others fall off and never get back on, like Anthony Randolph, for example.
Can Mudiay save his job, not just on the Knicks, but in the NBA? Let’s evaluate his play with the ‘Bockers.
Stop shooting so damn much
If Mudiay wants to show his potential, then the first thing he should focus on is demonstrating his basketball I.Q. Specifically, he should own up to his limitations. He isn’t a shooter, and he’ll have to come to terms that his shooting may never be a plus. In his entire career, Mudiay has never shot at 46 percent in a given month. Dennis Schröder, a fellow slashing point guard, has one this season while leading a tanking team, and Mudiay’s replacement, Jamal Murray, already has three this year (NBA Stats).
Emmanuel’s field-goal percentage for midrange jumpers is 35 percent, and shots in the paint (non-restricted area) are even lower at 32.6 percent this season.
Watching him play, it’s not difficult to tell why. After a screen allots him space to drive, Mudiay sprints to the basket, only to be blocked by the defense. He then puts up a close, but highly contested shot, dropping the probability of him making it, and subsequently falling to the ground. It says a lot about his decision-making. In a nutshell, this is him on roughly half of his offensive possessions:
Think our young General Mudiay has to retire after this one pic.twitter.com/INx3pQgM8d
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 19, 2018
Ask any Denver Nugget fan about the last three years; when Mudiay drives to the basket he becomes his own worst enemy. His seemingly constant case of vertigo and then failing to get back on defense leads to plenty of 4-on-5’s. In particular, during crunch time minutes of the Knicks’ previous game against the 76ers, his fatal flaw showed itself, allowing for an easy three on the other end. It allowed Philadelphia a two-possession lead, thus lending to their comeback victory. In essence, the contest against Philly was perfectly exemplifies Mudiay’s game: it’s really a mixed bag with only Mudiay holding himself back.
Driving to the hoop but then dishing out to the open man is Mudiay’s best bet if the Congo native wants to use rushing the paint as an offensive weapon. His reckless abandon toward the basket led to two “and-ones” in the same quarter at the hoop. Those are great but examples of outliers—it may not happen again this season. If he hopes to be successful, Mudiay should focus on kick outs as defenses collapse. Often times, his passes never arrive because he realizes that the shot isn’t there approximately three steps too late and ends up tallying another turnover, but if he were to pass to the open man the moment defensive rotations begin, he’d put his team into a much more advantageous position, like so:
Nice dime from Mudiay to B-Easy for the corner trey
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 20, 2018
Whether the big man rotating over to help the guard contain Mudiay is assigned to a posted Kanter or Kornet is stretching the floor until Porzingis returns, it could spell nothing but dividends for Mudiay. If he capitalizes on the first few moments of a rotation, the big gets the ball down low or they simply pass to the open perimeter player if a close out occurs. Facilitating ball movement is a key tenant of pure point guard dogma, and that may be the key to changing Emmanuel’s approach to the game.
Further, serving as the primary ball-handler shouldn’t hinder Mudiay’s impact on the court in other areas. As a 6’5”, 200-pound point guard, he carries the same mass as veteran wing Courtney Lee. And Mudiay is no pushover either. When he wants to rub elbows, he can bang with any guard hoping to bruise a delicate floor general:
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) March 18, 2018
With a 6’8” wingspan, Mudiay has the length to guard almost anyone who wears the title of point guard. (Ben Simmons may be a different story since the passing lanes were open, but Mudiay’s willingness to be tough when focused could serve as a strength.) The myth that “defense is about effort” instead of specific skills, tendencies, and learnings, doesn’t help Mudiay at all, but with some added work in the offseason or a lesson from fellow Francophone Ntilikina, Mudiay could step up his lackluster defense a ton. Thus, turning a weakness into a strength.
His defense can also lead into his offense, allowing transition opportunities. He excels at passing down court, fast break or not.
Tremendous throw ahead pass from Mudiay to O'Quinn. Forces IND to take a timeout. pic.twitter.com/X1ZGpqz3un
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 11, 2018
If Mudiay can push the ball up court, whether it be for a cherrypicking Kyle O’Quinn or just to start the offensive possession with the defense off-balance, it would show the Knicks, and other teams around the league, he means business when it comes to running an offense.
If there were a set of skills Mudiay should work on this summer, the first would be his approach to driving to the basket. It’s an ability not every guard in the NBA has, but certainly he needs to refine it. Today, his methods aren’t very useful to his team. It’s his greatest strength but also his greatest weakness.
Mudiay needs to work on his defense. It’s no secret. Watching film, running defensive drills, and just being more focused on the other side of the ball are all attainable ways for Mudiay to make himself a better two-way player. In the age of versatility, a player who contributes on both sides of the ball speaks volumes to his productivity on the hardwood.
The likelihood of this is low, but Mudiay should look to work with someone such as Kobe Bryant on being a guard with excellent footwork in the post. Weighing in at 200 pounds and standing 6-foot-5 is enough to know that he holds a size advantage over the Kyle Lowry‘s of the NBA. And, to be honest, that’s the only advantage he has. Still, if he could utilize his size in the way that big men have by backing down smaller opponents and then shooting over top or kicking it out to the open man, it could serve to carve a niche for him in the NBA.
It’s a game of three-pointers, that’s true. You can’t win a decent amount of games taking mid-range jumpers, but the last thing on Mudiay’s list should be working on his jumper. It’s not there. Unless there’s something mechanically wrong that would instantly increase his field-goal percentage by at least five points, he should look to shoot as many threes as Kyle O’Quinn, to put it bluntly.
All in all, Mudiay has his work cut out for him. The change in scenery may have seemed like an opportunity to revive his career, but it appears he was purposely put in a hopeless situation. With the way that he’s been playing, he’s the best man to lead the Knicks tank. Unless Mudiay can fix his game, and fix it soon, he’ll go the same route as Burke did, or maybe even farther.