Knicks start Emmanuel Mudiay at PG Thursday night in victory over Magic

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Friday, February 23, 2018

Emmanuel Mudiaystarted at point guard for the New York Knicks on Thursday night as the club pivots to giving younger players more playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Mudiay started in place of veteran Jarrett Jackon Thursday, scoring eight points and handing out four assists in the Knicks' 120-113 win over the Orlando Magic.

With New York (24-36) out of playoff contention and Kristaps Porzingis sidelined following ACL surgery, the club will use its final 23 games to evaluate younger players.

Hornacek said this week that younger players such as Mudiay, first-round pick Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke will play more often over the remainder of the season.

Burke led the Knicks with 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting against the Magic. He also handed out six assists in 30 minutes off of the bench as New York snapped an eight-game losing streak. Ntilikina played 30 minutes and helped the Knicks slow Orlando down on defense in the second half.

Mudiay, who was acquired via trade earlier this month, said Wednesday that he'd value the chance to start after falling out of the Denver Nuggets' starting lineup this season.

"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," Mudiay, selected seventh overall in the 2015 NBA draft, said. "Thank God for it. I just have to take full advantage."

Hornacek choosing to start the 21-year-old Mudiay rather than Ntilikina is perhaps an indication that the coaching staff doesn't believe Ntilikina is ready to handle a starter's role.

Hornacek said Wednesday that Ntilikina, 19, had felt knee pain in recent weeks as his body grew accustomed to the NBA schedule. The coach also said Ntilikina felt significant fatigue at times recently, which is common for a rookie.

The Knicks will likely use Mudiay and Ntilikina in the same back court at times. They also believe Burke, 25, can play both guard spots alongside Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, and Mudiay. Hornacek said Tuesday that he may change his lineups occasionally to see which groupings thrive together.

In addition to the young guards, wings Damyean Dotson and Troy Williams and big men Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks will likely play more often in coming games.

New York is looking to evaluate its younger players to see if they can be part of the club's young core going forward. The Knicks also hope to add an elite young player in the 2018 NBA draft. While no one in the organization would ever acknowledge it, playing younger players also may give the Knicks a better chance to lose games more often down the stretch and land a top pick in the NBA's lottery system.

In addition to Jack, who didn't play Thursday after starting 56 games for New York, other Knicks veterans such as Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas may see a reduction in minutes to give younger players more playing time. Thomas played 25 minutes in Orlando and his defense was a key factor in the victory. Lee had 10 points in just 14 minutes, less than half of his season average (32 minutes per game).