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  • Odd Men Out: The Future of New York’s Defiantly Long-shot Guards

Odd Men Out: The Future of New York’s Defiantly Long-shot Guards

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration
Burke, Mudiay, and Dotson have all worked hard to find room on the Knicks’ roster this season. Who deserves to stay with the team in the foreseeable future?

The New York Knicks are in a full-on tank mode, and the saddest part is the league can’t even reprimand them for being among the slough of teams because it’d be damn near impossible for them to be any worse than they’ve been—and expecting them to be better isn’t realistic.

Still, one silver lining the Knicks have had in the midst of this patently tragic season is the backcourt attached to the roster. Tim Hardaway Jr. has struggled with consistency, but his showings of brilliance elicit hope for his future. Frank Ntilikina’s hardships have been attributed to a tumultuous rookie season and his potential is his greatest asset.

However, as for the rest of the guard corps, big question marks begin to emerge from the periphery. For the time being, Hardaway Jr. and Ntilikina are the Knicks future in the backcourt, but what of Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, and second-round selection Damyean Dotson? With the draft rapidly approaching, and projections suggesting an even more guard-heavy roster, the aforementioned three are in for a dogfight. And in terms of a long-term vision, how will these three fit around Kristaps Porzingis, Ntilikina, and Hardaway Jr.?


Trey Burke, electric offensive force

For the majority of his time at Madison Square Garden, Burke has been a solid lead guard for the Knickerbockers. His hot-ish February of 13.4 points per game on 52.9 percent shooting over eight games has earned him some leeway, but he’s gone ice cold since. Over the last five games, the former lottery pick has scored 8.2 points per game and shot 25 percent from three and 39.6 percent from the field. Four of five of those games were on the road, where the Knicks have been abysmal.

Generally, Burke has been reliable, and his offensive skill set is something the Knicks have been praying for in a point guard. Things may have gone sour for him in both Utah and D.C., but it is conceivably easy how he could end up running the offense for the Knicks in the future given his quick first step with the ball.

How does he fit in with the current mainstays? Well, Ntilikina and Burke have shown that they can make up for each other’s weaknesses on the court. As we previously detailed, Burke could be instrumental in Ntilikina’s development into a shooting guard. Among Frank’s two-man lineup configurations that average more than 10 minutes per game, the dual lineup with Burke has the highest field-goal percentage and plus-minus rating, per NBA Stats. While Burke and Hardaway share Wolverine chemistry, the potential of a Burke-Ntilikina-Hardaway set portends high offensive capabilities.

At this time, Burke is the most qualified backcourt player to start at the 1. His dip in productivity and his whopping 115.3 defensive rating raises doubts, but a quick look at his rivals on the Knicks’ roster double the argument, at least on the offensive end. Burke’s contract is partially guaranteed next season. After that, the Knicks would be paying pennies on the dollar for a player whose role is to be a passable veteran to run the show while Ntilikina develops.

Emmanuel Mudiay, disorienting athlete

If Burke’s post–G League ride as a Knick has been a roller coaster, then Mudiay’s has had the trajectory of the aircraft on Snakes on a Plane. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.8 rebounds for the Knicks, but shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 17.2 percent from three. … Yuck. It gets worse: His 2.4 turnovers per game and 53.8 percent at the rim accentuate his glaring deficiencies. Even rookie Ntilikina is shooting 57.4 percent at the rim, according to Basketball-Reference. The quickness and innate tenacity to drive to the hoop, a trait the Knicks had been hoping to find in a point guard, seems more like a weakness in Mudiay. Often times, he falls down after a botched driving layup, causing 5-on-4 fast breaks for the opposition.

Although he’s got the physical tools to play more than competent defense—quickness, wingspan, and strength for a guard—he leaves much to be desired. Emmanuel can get lost easily defending guards, and ball-handlers have a way of exploiting his lack of defensive fundamentals. His 113.8 defensive rating says a lot where simply watching Mudiay on the court falters.

Even during his brightest spot, like a 20-point game against the defending champs, Mudiay posted a plus-minus of -22 while shooting 8-of-15. Obviously, Steph Curry wasn’t impressed either with the former Nuggets guard.

Mudiay has had his share of success, though. He somehow ended 7-of-14 against the Milwaukee Bucks after a slow start and a second quarter where he gift-wrapped back-to-back possessions with humiliating turnovers. A smart, unselfish third quarter showcased his potential: full-court outlet passes and quick cuts to the basket.

If his bright spots are exposed as only anomalies, the next season could be Mudiay’s last as a Knick. His scoring statistics do not give any indication of his progress, yet he shows no signs of slowing down trying to get buckets in New York. In other words, the Beasley Approach won’t end well for Emmanuel. If Mudiay utilizes his talents in other ways, for example opting to pass out of the drive instead of putting up a garbage, low-percentage shot, he could stand a chance at carving out a spot for himself ahead of the illustrious combo-guard Ron Baker in their contract years. Mudiay is on the books until the end of the 2018–19 season, and if he doesn’t show more progress soon, the first leg of his career could mirror that of Burke’s.

Damyean Dotson, thrifty wing

No one expected Dotson to have much of a rookie year. Already 23, Dotson being a gem in the second round was unlikely. He wasn’t even consistently on the roster until late January, and solid G League stats mean nothing in the NBA. In fact, his NBA stats tell very little about him as a player. For a large chunk of the season Dotson was the victim of Hornacek carelessly inserting him into lineups for short periods, so, analysis is to be taken with a grain of salt since a lack of time on the court even hinders the eye test.

The general consensus was that Dotson would develop into a 3-and-D specialist if he were truly an NBA-caliber player. So far, that hasn’t been the case exactly. Over the past 10 games that he’s had playing time, Dotson has shot 36 percent from the field, shot 20 percent from behind the arc, and averaged 2.2 points in 7.9 minutes. It sounds gross, but more advanced statistics tell a much kinder tale. During the same stretch, he’s posted a 103 defensive rating and a 104 offensive rating, giving him a net positive of 1.0, per NBA Stats. In addition to his solid defensive rating, Damyean has consistently been a positive in the plus-minus category. It may seem complicated, but his high effort and natural defensive prowess allow him to focus on the small role he’s been entrusted with. Altogether, he hasn’t let his team down, nor has he played hero ball in an attempt to earn playing time on the court. Dotson’s limited number of possessions—garbage time minutes, weak opposition, opposing backup shooting guards—skews the statistics in his favor slightly, but the idea of his role has never been to be a starter.

Dotson’s contract has him making a little over $4 million total over the course of three years with the caveat of a non-guaranteed final year. For what the Knicks are paying, Dotson’s rookie year production is highly palatable for both parties if he doesn’t mind the possibility of being buried on the depth chart behind Courtney Lee and Ntilikina, since the latter’s move off the ball. Dotson is no spring chicken, but if he can develop a better offensive game, he could play valuable minutes coming off the bench in the best case scenario.

For the first time since Linsanity, the Knicks have something to look forward to at point guard. The backcourt is crowded with hungry guards, some looking for second chances and first timers looking to see if they have what it takes to stay in the NBA. The Knicks may be short on talent at the moment, but if there’s one thing they don’t lack it’s an ambition in their backcourt. Game to game, each guard is battling for a spot on the 15 man roster.

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