Through the first two games of the preseason, Emmanuel Mudiay had done little right, missing nine of 11 shots from the floor, turning the ball over four times in just over 30 minutes and looking about as lost as he was before the Denver Nuggets gave up on the former lottery pick last season.
But where the Nuggets buried him, in the Knicks’ plans, he got a promotion. It is just preseason, a time for experimenting, but Knicks coach David Fizdale inserted Mudiay into the starting lineup at point guard Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The results were similar for Mudiay: two points on 1-for-7 shooting with six assists and two turnovers in a 106-100 win at Madison Square Garden.
For Fizdale, the mandate from above to make this a player development season has been taken to heart, and maybe no project is more challenging than the quartet of former lottery picks who were discarded and picked up by the Knicks: Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Trey Burke and Noah Vonleh.
The real future of the team may rest on the ability of Fizdale and his staff to get the most out of the draft picks from this season and last, but if the Knicks can get some production out of any of the potential left behind by the four former lottery picks, it would be a coup for him and for the front office.
Burke started the first two games at point guard and played well, but Fizdale was hoping to find a way to get something out of Mudiay.
“I thought he played a lot more loose, more aggressive,” Fizdale said. “He didn’t do everything right, but I really liked how he kept our pace up. I thought he guarded well this game. He really got some good looks for people. Like I said, in open space, the kid can really pass the ball. It’s understanding when to go and when not to go. But I was really happy with his effort tonight.”
Mudiay said: “Any minutes I get, just go out there and play hard. I really can’t make no excuses — off the bench or starting. Just go out there and play hard. I’ve got to continue to be of that type of mindset.”
Fizdale said before the game: “Trey’s played great. Trey and I talked today. He’s been fantastic and everything and he also wants to get Emmanuel going. So his unselfish mentoring, understanding how he can help a guy, he’s been great with that.’’
Fizdale added, “I think [Mudiay] is probably pressing a little bit, trying to do everything right. He had great practices and I thought he had some flashes in the last game and a couple in the first game, but I just told him to go back to having fun. And don’t look over at me. Don’t worry about if he’s getting taken out of the game or any of that stuff. I just want him to play free and relaxed and be OK with making a mistake.”
The Knicks are crowded at point guard with those two and last year’s lottery pick, Frank Ntilikina — who has spent time at point guard, shooting guard and small forward in the first two preseason games — as well as Ron Baker, who is healthy again.
They are all under contract, but in Mudiay, Fizdale said he sees athleticism and just wants to bring out the player who once was so highly regarded.
“A lot of it is [mental],” Fizdale said of the development process. "Where they are and how much they’ve healed from whatever they went through, whether it was self-inflicted or team-inflicted.
“But I try to assess them for where they are with their game, honestly. And I try to go back into the film and look at what they did with their previous teams that fit our system. As much of that film as possible and then evaluate that and see if it fits . . . And then wherever they’re short, where they can get better at, I try to attack that area. I try to develop the skills that are going to help us win first. And then we’ll round out the rest of it year by year as they develop.”
Notes & quotes: Mitchell Robinson was held out with a sprained right ankle and Fizdale said he is day-to-day. Courtney Lee is sidelined with a sprained neck . . . Tim Hardaway Jr. had 21 points. Enes Kanter added 20 points and 15 rebounds. Kevin Knox had 12 points, shot 6-for-19 and grabbed 10 rebounds.