LOS ANGELES — Emmanuel Mudiay’s body and game are a work in progress.
Since being acquired by the Knicks in a three-team trade last month, he has put all of his efforts into learning the plays and his new teammates and getting in better shape.
Mudiay concedes his body still needs work and said he will take his conditioning to “another level” during the offseason, but he looks forward to showing improvement in all areas during the final six weeks of the season.
“This month should be the month I get a lot more comfortable with the whole system,” Mudiay said before recording nine points and seven assists as the Knicks opened a four-game road trip with a 128-105 loss to the Clippers on Friday night. “I’m still trying to learn a lot of the plays. I’ve been running the plays I’m more comfortable with. And Coach has helped me out from the sidelines.”
Mudiay came to the Knicks from Denver a little out of shape, according to coach Jeff Hornacek. He wasn’t playing much, so his conditioning was lagging. He’s been running sprints after practices to get in better condition and prepare himself for logging heavy minutes as a starter. He has averaged 24.7 minutes in six games with the Knicks after averaging 17.9 with the Nuggets.
“It’s getting better,” Mudiay said. “That’s a part of my game, especially during the offseason, I’m going to take it to another level. I came in in good condition in Denver, but the minutes wasn’t what I expected so my conditioning went down a little. But now it’s getting back to kind of where it was at.”
The Knicks viewed the trade for Mudiay as low-risk, high-reward. He is under contract for one more season and wants to prove himself after struggling to make an impact with the Nuggets, who took him with the seventh pick in 2015. He went from a starter as a rookie to having his minutes almost cut in half this season but said he’s rejuvenated with this fresh start and plans to take advantage of it.
The Knicks are giving him that opportunity. They’re playing younger with Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke getting most of the backcourt minutes, and Mudiay has become the starting point guard.
He has shown some of the things he was knocked for in Denver — inconsistent shot, not a great finisher or defender. But he can get into the paint, has good vision and can set up teammates for easy baskets. He entered Friday averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists in six games since the trade.
The Knicks want to see how he meshes with Kristaps Porzingis, who already had torn the ACL in his left knee when he was acquired.
Mudiay had one of his best games of the season Monday against Golden State, finishing with 20 points and seven assists. It was his first 20-point game since Nov. 9. He shot 3-for-5 from three-point range a day after working with Hornacek. Before that game, he was 0-for-13 from outside the arc as a Knick.
Hornacek wouldn’t take the credit. He said Mudiay’s improved conditioning should lead to an overall improvement. “It could have been me, it could have one of our other coaches, it could have been just him making shots,” Hornacek said. “I think the biggest thing for him was his conditioning. He didn’t play a lot in Denver. He kind of fell a little bit out of shape. He really worked on that conditioning. I think that extra running helped him more than anything.”
Hornacek said he already has talked to Mudiay about becoming a better finisher and expects that aspect of his game to improve as well.
“That’s probably going to be a summer project for him,” Hornacek said. “Some of it is when to shoot with more arc and more spin. I think he tries to finger-roll some of them, which doesn’t give you a spin off the backboard. That’s stuff he’ll end up getting better at.”