GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Jeff Hornacek sat down with Emmanuel Mudiay at the end of the point guard’s second practice as a Knick. Mudiay wasn’t done with his workout though. He still had some sprints to run.
Mudiay is trying to improve his conditioning because he will see a jump in minutes from when he was with Denver. He likely will replace Jarrett Jack in the starting lineup Thursday when the Knicks face the Magic. Mudiay has been working with the first team in the Knicks’ two practices since returning from the All-Star break.
Hornacek wouldn’t reveal his starters, but Mudiay indicated he would be one of them.
“Definitely means something to me,” Mudiay said. “I’m not going to take it for granted. I came in as a lottery pick so I was kind of handed the spot and stuff like that. So the fact that I’m in that position again, it’s a blessing. Thank God for it. I just have to take full advantage.”
After being taken with the seventh pick by Denver in 2015, Mudiay started 66 games with the Nuggets as a rookie. Since then, his starts and minutes have decreased.
Mudiay, acquired two weeks ago in a three-team trade with Denver and Dallas, didn’t start a game with the Nuggets this season and only averaged 17.9 minutes.
But the Knicks (23-36) are going all-in on their youth movement now. That means more playing time the final 23 games for all their young players, particularly Mudiay and rookie Frank Ntilikina.
Hornacek probably won’t start Ntilikina alongside Mudiay right away. But that’s something he could do eventually. It’s also possible he could change the starting point guard from time to time. Trey Burke also is expected to play more.
The Knicks finally are embracing that they have to develop their young players and see who is a part of their future. But Hornacek was careful to say the Knicks are not tanking but building for the future, especially after losing Kristaps Porzingis for the season with a torn ACL.
“It’s kind of a long-term plan,” Hornacek said. “We all want to win as many games as possible. But still there’s that, ‘OK we know it’s going to take us a few years. Does it put us back a little bit with KP being out?’ Hopefully KP can come back close to the beginning of the season next year. We’re just trying to get these guys that we have better.”
Mudiay is a penetrating point guard who can set up his teammates, which is something the Knicks need. He’s averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 assists in three games with the Knicks.
But the Knicks also need to see what Ntilikina can do with significant minutes. He’s only 19 and if his offense catches up with his defense, he could prove to be a find.
When the Knicks were winning early in the season, Ntilikina was closing games. His defense was critical. But Hornacek went away from that because he felt Ntilikina “hit a little bit of a wall.”
Hornacek also noted that the tendinitis in Ntilikina’s knee limited him, and the Knicks were trying to be smart and not play him heavy minutes.
“He just looked exhausted sometimes,” Hornacek said. “His knee hurt for a while there, and that’s stuff we have to build up. And again, this is going to be a great last 23 games for him because, we’ll see, can he play the 30 minutes without his knees hurting? Part of that is growth.
“He’s young. But these last two practices, we’ve had hard practices, guys are going extremely hard. And he’s looked really good and he’s not complaining about any knee issues so the rest may have done him some good.”
The Knicks signed forward Troy Williams to a 10-day contract Wednesday. The former Grizzly and Rocket is eligible to play in four games. Williams, who averaged 1.3 points in four games with Houston, had several teams interested in him. But he said he chose the Knicks because “their interest level here was a little bit higher than everybody else’s. It was a great fit and great opportunity.”