Emmanuel Mudiay says his mentality isn’t different whether he starts or comes off the bench. But his play has been.
Mudiay has looked more comfortable and aggressive in his last two games — both of them backing up Trey Burke — than he did in his 14 starts as a Knick. Mudiay scored his Knicks- high and season-best 22 points in 25 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the 76ers. He agreed with coach Jeff Hornacek’s assessment that he’s been attacking more.
“He’s right,” Mudiay said. “I felt like I was playing downhill basketball. When I do that, I think that’s when I’m at my best.”
The way Mudiay has played off the bench — his only double-double of the season was a 14-point, 10-assist game in his Knicks debut as a backup — might indicate he’s better suited as a sub.
Mudiay has been inconsistent since the Knicks acquired him at last month’s trade deadline from Denver, where his minutes diminished and starts disappeared after a solid rookie season in 2015-16.
Some of his struggles with the Knicks could be the result of having some difficulty picking up the system and developing chemistry with his teammates on the fly. He’s gone through periods in which he’s been indecisive and unsure. Because he’s a point guard, that has led to stretches that were turnover- filled or resulted in the Knicks taking a tough shot out of rhythm.
“It’s my first time being traded,” Mudiay said. “It’s the hardest adjustment as a player, especially when you don’t know the system and everything. You’ve got to get used to new teammates. It’s definitely a different adjustment. Getting a full year or full training camp could help.
“I thought it probably was going to happen a lot faster. It’s teaching me I just got to be patient and stay the course.”
The Knicks, who are one loss from a fourth straight 50-loss season, have six games left. Hornacek said he will continue to play Burke, Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina more than 20 minutes a game in the backcourt
They’re all under contract for next season, but it won’t be surprising if the Knicks try to upgrade the point guard position again this offseason.
Burke has been the best of the three by far and could be the starter next season. In his last three games — all starts — he is averaging 26.3 points and 7.0 assists and shooting 51.5 percent from the field.
Mudiay averaged 9.0 points and 4.1 assists and shot 36 percent in his 14 starts. He also was a minus-108. In his last two games as a reserve, he averaged 16.5 points and 4.5 assists, shot 40.5 percent and was a plus-7.
“You’ve seen his aggressiveness,” Hornacek said. “With all the guys, we have to find the aggressiveness. We want to get to the basket. Emmanuel’s one of those guys who can attack the basket. If he can do that and finish, then it opens up for other guys.”
What made Mudiay’s performance against the 76ers even more impressive is that he has been battling a sinus infection he’s “still trying to shake off.” He missed the previous game because of it and said he didn’t leave his room much during the Knicks’ three-game trip.
Now Mudiay has a couple of days to rest, as the Knicks don’t play until Saturday night against Detroit. It also gives Enes Kanter a couple of days to see if his back improves.
Kanter was fouled hard while going up for a driving dunk against the 76ers and fell on his back. Kanter, who has battled back issues this season, had trouble walking after the game, but he played through it to be an example to his teammates.
“I understand we are now in a tough stretch and not making the playoffs,” Kanter said. “But it shows a lot of character to the young guys. We are still fighting for something: We’re trying to get better for next year. My thing was just don’t quit on them.”