Improved MUdiay key for knicks
When Emmanuel Mudiay cut down the right side of the lane, closing in on the rim on a fast break late in Sunday night’s game, and took a pass from Trey Burke, he spotted the Grizzlies’ Garrett Temple moving in front of him. With the game still in the balance and a decision to be made, Mudiay chose confidence.
He went right at Temple and over him, slamming in a dunk unlike anything he’d shown in his time with the Knicks, drawing a foul on the play and putting the game away. “I just saw him sizing me up,” he said. “So when Trey gave me a good pass, I just jumped, and the rest is as it happened. But I went in there with a dunking mentality.”
“It was ferocious,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said after getting soaked by his team to celebrate a 103-98 win over the Grizzles in his return to Memphis against the team that had fired him a year earlier. “It was the stamp on it, the exclamation point. He just wanted to bring it home so bad. Just a big-time basketball play.”
Enes Kanter was among the Knicks who celebrated the dunk wildly, later noting, “I didn’t know he had that. I didn’t know he had bounce like that because I’ve never seen it in practice. But I was very hyped.”
Maybe the only member of the Knicks who wasn’t overly hyped about it was Mudiay. He rarely speaks more than a few words — which is a few words more than he spoke in his final months in Denver last season before being dealt to the Knicks. He had gone silent there, unhappy with the criticism and his struggles on the court.
He got a second chance in New York, and when Fizdale took over this past summer, he promised to try to get Mudiay — who had been selected seventh overall in the 2014 NBA Draft — right again.
It didn’t exactly get off to a flying start, with Mudiay inactive for the first six games and then held out by Fizdale in the seventh game until the final minutes of garbage time, which was followed by a game in which he never got off the bench.
But in Fizdale’s ever-shuffling lineup, Mudiay’s chance came. He slowly was added to the rotation and then inserted into the starting lineup on Nov. 14 in the Knicks’ 15th game. The results have been eye-opening; Mudiay is averaging 14.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as the starting point guard. And after the Knicks lost the first four games with him installed at the point, they have won an improbable three straight over Boston, New Orleans and Memphis.
For Mudiay, the ascension comes in no small part because of the confidence that Fizdale has shown in him. “Yeah, it’s helped me,” he said. “It’s helping the whole team. He’s giving everybody confidence. So you see us making plays and actually having fun playing with each other.”
“He has my total confidence,” Fizdale said. “Big part of his deal was just, can I rebuild that? There really wasn’t a lot of stuff that we had to tinker with his game. Maybe with his shot a little bit here. But it was just rebuilding his spirit. It’s back and I’m really proud of the way he’s putting forth . . . this, really leading that first group.”
Just how much confidence the team has in him long-term is another question. The Knicks have taken fliers on reclamation projects such as Mudiay, Burke, Noah Vonleh and Mario Hezonja, hoping to find something in the former lottery picks, but they must decide just how much faith they have in them. The Knicks’ plan has been to clear cap space for next summer, and while some such as Burke and Vonleh have small cap holds, Mudiay has a $5.76-million cap hold that the Knicks will have to renounce to open a possible max salary slot.
Mudiay insists he isn’t worried about that or anything else and is just thinking about Tuesday night’s game in Detroit.
“We’re not looking at it like that,” he said. “We’re just trying to get better every day. That’s how we’re looking at it . . . There were some ups and downs early, but it’s a new team, so we just try to stay together as much as possible.”