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The Reinvention of Emmanuel Mudiay?

Michael Conroy-Associated Press

In his first month under David Fizdale, Emmanuel Mudiay has been resurgent…but will it be enough to warrant a new contract?

Following his seventh overall selection in 2015 and four middling seasons split between Denver and New York, Emmanuel Mudiay might finally be making some headway toward shedding his “bust” label. One of the prominent members of the Knicks’ ‘former lottery pick reclamation project’ club, Mudiay has been consistent for New York since his ascension into the starting lineup. Considering he had missed much of the start of the season with an ankle injury, Mudiay’s emergence has been surprising to say the least.    


One of the biggest knocks on Mudiay over the course of his young career has been his shooting woes. Prior to this season, Emmanuel had never shot over 40% from the field; last season, Mudiay ranked 102nd out of 103 qualified point guards in real plus-minus at -6.05. Worse yet, he has never been a serviceable 3-point shooter, and has hovered around 31% in his NBA tenure. In a guard-dominated league, Mudiay’s inability to consistently initiate offense, finish at the rim, and hit open jumpers has imperiled his NBA career.  


In David Fizdale’s introductory press conference, he called out Mudiay by name, pledging to help him reach his potential. In his first 15 games this season, Mudiay has improved his shooting numbers across the board. His field goal percentage is up to 49.2%, including 60% within five feet (he shot 50.6% at the rim in 2017-18). Unfortunately, his shooting percentage is still dragged down by an anemic number from behind the arc: despite improvement over his career marks, Mudiay is still hitting on just 33.3% of his attempts from deep (league average is 35%). In a league run by sharpshooting athletic guards, Emmanuel Mudiay may not be able to fit that universally desired mold.

Though he has gotten starting duties of late for David Fizdale’s Knicks, his role is still largely undefined. Unlike Mudiay, the rest of the Knicks guards have carved out their niches: Frank Ntilikina is the defensive specialist, Trey Burke and Allonzo Trier are talented iso scorers, and Damyean Dotson is developing into a rotation-caliber 3-and-D player. According to Fizdale coming into the season, Mudiay is the team’s best passer, though ‘good passing’ most likely will not be enough to keep a player in the league. Of these four guards, Mudiay has arguably been the least impactful this season.

By many metrics however, Mudiay is one of the Knicks’ most effective orchestrators from the guard position, though that is not the biggest of compliments considering his competition. Consulting his on-off splits, New York does post a higher assist percentage with him on the court (50.2%) than off (46.2%), as well as a better offensive rating (118.6 to 108.6). More recently, these numbers could be skewed due to his playing time with the starting group. By traditional statistics, Mudiay trails Tim Hardaway, Ntilikina, and Burke in average assists, while averaging the fourth most turnovers with 1.6. 

 

This is the rub for the player Coach Fizdale affectionately calls “Mud” - he has not distinguished himself amongst his peers. His career-high 17.8 PER is fifth on the squad, though his career-high true shooting percentage (the stat that measures the combined efficiency of 2-pt., 3-pt., and free-throw attempts) ranks behind just Trier among Knick guards. He has proven key in two games during the Knicks’ recently snapped three-game win streak, however. In the Knicks’ wins against New Orleans and Memphis, Mudiay averaged 22 points, 3 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. In stretches, he carried the offense with both his scoring and his passing, and that is the potential that encourages teams to keep giving Mudiay his chances. 

 

That, in short, has been the problem over the course of Mudiay’s four years in the league: consistency. He has always demonstrated the ability to look red-hot for a few games, and then he’ll be invisible for the next stretch of the schedule. He carried the Knicks to victory over the Pelicans and Grizzlies, but had just nine points (on a lowly 4-13 from the field) and two assists in the Knicks’ loss to the Pistons on Tuesday night. To add insult to injury for Mudiay, it was Trier and Dotson that kept the Knicks in it down the stretch. Though Mudiay is a restricted free agent, he should not return to the Knicks next year (barring explosive improvement) with younger, more promising prospects languishing on the bench.

 

This season, Mudiay is fighting for his NBA life, and he probably knows it. In the final year of his rookie deal, he needs to convince front offices that he can hack it in this cutthroat league, and demonstrate some growth after four largely unimpressive years. He shows flashes of brilliance, but he still has too many holes in his game to be strongly considered as an asset moving forward. He has markedly improved through the first month of the 2018-19 season, though he has improved from a borderline rotation talent to a player worthy of regular minutes. If he hopes to find a home next season, he will have to continue to grow before he finds himself overseas again. 

Edited by Robert Hess.

SQuiz
For what team did Emmanuel Mudiay play in his lone season in the Chinese Basketball Association?
Created 11/28/18
  1. Beijing Shougang Ducks
  2. Qingdao Double Star Eagles
  3. Guangdong Southern Tigers
  4. Zhejiang Guangsha Lions

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