WASHINGTON — Jeff Hornacek acknowledged that making Emmanuel Mudiay the Knicks’ starting point guard after only three games with the team might not have been the right move.
Hornacek indicated that it was an organizational decision to name Mudiay the starter over Trey Burke and rookie Frank Ntilikina to see what he could do.
Mudiay was inconsistent, if not disappointing, in his 14 starts, and Hornacek made a switch Sunday, starting Burke and Ntilikina in the backcourt for the first time. The move worked as Burke led the Knicks to a 101-97 win over the Wizards.
In his first start in three years, Burke scored 19 points, including four in the last 35 seconds, to help the Knicks (27-47) earn their fourth victory in 23 games.
With the Knicks down 95-94, Burke drove, scored and was fouled. His three-point play with 35 seconds left gave them the lead for good.
“It feels good to be back in the starting lineup, running a franchise,” Burke said. “I’m going to look forward to build off of it.”
Eight Knicks scored in double figures. Courtney Lee, who was replaced by Ntilikina in the starting lineup, scored 13 and Michael Beasley had 12. Ntilikina struggled, shooting 1-for-6 and scoring two points in 21 minutes.
Mudiay, who was acquired from Denver on Feb. 8, played his best game in several weeks. He had 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.
The Knicks are in the evaluation portion of the season, which was why Mudiay had been starting. Hornacek said the Knicks already had a feel for Burke and Ntilikina.
“We all knew that we wanted to look at him,” Hornacek said of Mudiay. “That’s why we traded for him. Is it good? Maybe after the fact, you say, ‘We put him in a tough situation.’ Some guys can just pop in there and go right to it.”
As a starter, Mudiay averaged 9.0 points and 4.1 assists and shot 36 percent from the field. The Knicks went 3-11, and Mudiay was a minus-108.
Hornacek said he wasn’t as troubled by his offense as his defense. “He’s done a good job for us,” he said. “One thing we wanted to get on him about is to pick up the defense. He’s got the size. He’s got the strength for it, just to put that full effort out. This league is full of great point guards. We have to have guys that can put some pressure on those guys when they come off pick-and- rolls.”
What this season has shown is the Knicks still need a point guard. Burke has played well and should be the starter going into next season unless the Knicks find a better one in the offseason.
If the Knicks, who currently own the NBA’s ninth-worst record, pick around that spot, they could be in position to draft Oklahoma’s Trae Young or Alabama’s Collin Sexton. They also could look for a point guard in a trade or through free agency.
“As we go forward, we’ll change lineups. Who comes off the bench, who starts, it doesn’t really matter,” Hornacek said. “We’re trying to get the young guys enough playing minutes that they can all have that experience and try to grow from playing.”