LAS VEGAS — Emmanuel Mudiay didn’t make a good first impression with his play for the Knicks last season, but he’s making one on David Fizdale.
Mudiay is not playing for the Knicks’ Summer League team, but the point guard is in Las Vegas, working on his game and learning Fizdale’s system.
“I’m just trying to pick up on some of the stuff that he’s teaching,” he said. “I’m considered one of the young guys as well, so just coming out here trying to learn as much as I can and just show that I’m really invested. I want to learn as much as I can.”
After the Knicks acquired Mudiay from Denver in a three-team deal at the trade deadline, he struggled to find his way with his new team. The No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft, he averaged 8.8 points and 3.9 assists and shot only 36.8 percent from the field.
After watching video, Fizdale said Mudiay, who has regressed since his rookie season, looked “uncertain” and “tight.” Mudiay has been working with the coaches and training staff since May 1, so he should be more comfortable.
Fizdale said the coaches have been working on “some technical stuff’ with him, including getting the hitch out of his shot and making him a better finisher and a more reliable defender. “There’s something there,” he said. “An explosiveness, there’s a physical presence there at that guard position that he brings that I like the idea of me trying to reach in there and dive into it.”
The Knicks have taken chances on low-risk, high-reward players lately, including Trey Burke last season. Burke was trending downward after a strong rookie season in Utah in 2013-14, but the Knicks brought him to training camp. He spent the first four months in the G League before the Knicks signed him, and he had an impressive finish to last season. Burke averaged 12.8 points and 4.7 assists in 36 games for the Knicks and could be their starting point guard this season.
Newly signed Mario Hezonja, taken two picks ahead of Mudiay in 2015, is the latest player brought in by the Knicks with the hope that a change of scenery, different voices and a new system will have positive results.
Fizdale said Mudiay was well-coached in Denver by Mike Malone, a one-time Knicks assistant.“I see a guy who was drafted high in the lottery,” Fizdale said. “It didn’t work out in his first destination. But a lot of people would’ve drafted him where they drafted him. It’s not a lot of stuff that’s wrong. It’s just trying to put him in a position to highlight his attributes and put him in a position to be successful while at the same time adding little things to his game.”
When the Knicks acquired Mudiay — they gave up Doug McDermott and a second-round pick — they also were in talks for Elfrid Payton, but he was an expiring contract. They liked that Mudiay still had another year left on his deal so they could get a look at him and decide whether he’s a part of their long-term future.
Fizdale said he will play the point guards, including Frank Ntilikina, together at times. Ntilikina likely has longer staying power than Mudiay. The Knicks could try to trade Mudiay in-season to get something in return or just let him walk after the season, when they plan to clear money for free agency and a shot at Kyrie Irving.
Mudiay said he wants to prove he’s better than people are saying. He believes he will do that with the help of Fizdale, a former assistant with the Heat when Miami reached four straight NBA Finals. “He’ll help a lot,” he said. “He’s been around some of the best of the best, if not the best in the world. I think his knowledge of the game and everything that he does — he’s really detailed — so that helps a lot, being more detailed. He can break down the game.
“He was a development coach at one point too, so the fact that he’s hands on really helps. He gives me a lot of confidence.”
Roster roulette rolls along
The Knicks still could make changes to their roster.
Fizdale said they have talked about adding another veteran to this young team. The Knicks need players to help the young players in this developmental season. They have 13 players who are 25 or younger.
“There’s still time to do some things and plug some gaps with some quality leadership and veteran leadership,” Fizdale said. “But at the same time, you got to be right with that. You can’t bring in a guy who is looking for more than we can give because that could end up tearing your locker room apart.”
The Knicks are banking on 30-year-old Lance Thomas to continue to lead them. But their two oldest players, Joakim Noah (33) and Courtney Lee (32), appear to be on borrowed time. The Knicks plan to shed salary for next summer’s free-agent market, and Lee and Noah each has two years left on his deal.
After signing free-agent forward Hezonja, the Knicks have $2.1 million left of their midlevel exception and the $3.4 million biannual exception for free agency.
“We’re going to be real specific with who we surround these kids with,” Fizdale said. “Make sure they’re quality people, high-character guys who come every day and do their job. Guys that aren’t trying to eat the young. Try to put people around that’s going to help develop these guys.”
Robinson signs, plays well
The Knicks announced they have signed second-round draft pick Mitchell Robinson to a multi year contract that includes team options, Newsday confirmed through an NBA source. According to ESPN, which first reported the deal, it is a four-year deal worth $6.5 million, with the first two years guaranteed and team options for the next two years.
The 7-foot Robinson was a mystery entering the draft. He enrolled at Western Kentucky last season as a freshman but was granted a release before leaving school to prepare for the NBA Draft. Despite his inactivity, his potential made him worth the No. 36 overall pick.
That was on display in the Knicks’ 90-85 loss to the Jazz on Sunday night. Robinson had 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 11 rebounds and two blocks. In the Knicks’ 91-89 win over the Hawks in Saturday’s opener, he scored nine points, shot 4-for-8, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots.
During his senior year in high school, Robinson averaged 25.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and 7.1 blocks.
Speaking of the signing, he said, “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NBA. [General manager] Scott Perry and [Knicks president] Steve Mills kind of made it happen for me. Now I’ve got to show them why they signed me. It felt great — a kid from a small town [Chalmette, Louisiana], it was a big dream for me. It feels amazing.”
Despite the long absence from competition, Robinson has gotten back into the swing of things easily. “I sat out the whole year, but I just got right back and jumped in and didn’t really show any rust,” he said. “It’s pretty great . . . The only thing I mainly have to focus on is getting in shape more. Everything else fell into place.”
No. 1 draft pick Kevin Knox led the Knicks with 19 points, point guard Frank Ntilikina had 17 points and six assists and Allonzo Trier added 15 points.
— GREG LOGAN