INDIANAPOLIS — Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina have a couple of things in common and already have started to bond. Now the Knicks hope they will build some on-court chemistry.
Mudiay was born in the Congo and speaks fluent French, just like Ntilikina. They’ve already spoken about their experiences as young players in the NBA. Both are 6-5 and trying to prove they can run a team. Now they’ll be doing it as a tandem.
“We’re going to grow together,” said Mudiay, who had 14 points and 10 assists in 29 minutes in his Knicks debut on Sunday in a 121-113 loss to the Pacers. “At least that’s what I know is the plan right now. He’s 19. I’m 21. So we’re both kind of close in age. He speaks French. I speak French. It’s going to be fun, just trying to see how we feel each other out on the court.”
Jeff Hornacek said that for the time being, the plan is for Mudiay and Ntilikina, who had 12 points in 31 minutes on Sunday, to play together off the bench. If it works, they could share the backcourt on a regular basis.
After next week’s All-Star break, Hornacek said he likely will change the lineup. That means there’s a good chance that Ntilikina will replace Jarrett Jack as the starter. Jack’s minutes are expected to be cut regardless, as the Knicks need to evaluate their younger players.
“When we bring in another point guard and young kid in Emmanuel, we have to look at things,” Hornacek said. “We have a couple more games before the break. Then when we come back, we have a few practices before that first game. If we’re going to do something, that will be the time.”
Mudiay and Ntilikina are bigger guards, so they could play together, with Tim Hardaway Jr. at small forward. Mudiay gets in the paint well and Ntilikina is the better defender. Both need to work on their shooting.
“We can build something really great,” Ntilikina said. “We have the same background. It’s just so exciting to have a guy like that and know that we can do a lot of great things in the future together.”
Mudiay, who was acquired on Thursday in a three-team trade, is looking forward to getting a new opportunity after a disappointing three years with the Nuggets. “It’s a new chapter in my life,” he said. “Definitely excited. I almost thought I was going to be here three years ago, so the fact that I’m here now is definitely a good thing. I’m happy to be here. I wanted to be here. So it’s a good thing.”
Picked seventh in the draft in which the Knicks took Kristaps Porzingis fourth, Mudiay averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists as a rookie. But his playing time and production dipped in each of the past two seasons. He came off the bench in all 42 games he played for Denver this season and averaged 8.5 points and 2.9 assists in 17.9 minutes.
“It’s a new beginning,” he said. “We’re young and trying to grow in that aspect future-wise. Definitely excited. Me and Frank have been talking a little bit. So excited to be around those guys and I think it’ll be fun.”
Mudiay said he needed a fresh start and it “was better we went our separate ways.” But he said he learned a lot from his Denver experience.
“Just adversity, how to fight through adversity,” he said. “Coming in at 19 — Frank can kind of speak on that. I see how he’s handling it, too. I talked to him about that. So coming in at 19, you’ve got so much on you, stuff like that.
“Coming out of high school, I was kind of given everything, the easy route. So that was my first time kind of going through something. I think it formed me well. I didn’t hold my head down. I always tried to just control what I could control and work as hard as I could.”