By John Schmeelk
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A day after trading away a young player with upside still on his rookie contract in Willy Hernangomez, the Knicks acquired one in Emmanuel Mudiay.
The Knicks sent Doug McDermott and a second-round pick (acquired from the L.A. Clippers) to the Denver Nuggets for a player that was the seventh overall pick in the same draft that the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis.
It’s a trade with very little risk and a chance for some legitimate value if Mudiay can turn his career around. McDermott was due to be a free agent after the season and was unlikely to be re-signed with the Knicks eyeing cap space in the summer of 2019. The second-round pick is likely to be in the middle of the round and doesn’t have much value.
Mudiay’s first few seasons in the NBA have been a struggle. What he has done so far in 2017-18 marks the first time he has gotten his field-goal shooting above 40 percent and his 3-point shooting above 32 percent. He’s currently shooting .401/.373/.808.
In addition to his poor shooting, his court vision has never been a strength. Despite his tools, Mudiay is not considered a strong defender and reportedly hasn’t spoken to the Denver media all season. The strong play of Jamal Murray had pushed Mudiay to the fringe of Denver’s rotation.
But Mudiay is still 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds. He is still a good athlete with the ability to get into the paint and score. He still has another year left on his contract and will be given a second chance with the Knicks. It might not amount to anything, but acquiring him was definitely worth the risk of a second-round pick and McDermott.
Frank Isola reported the Knicks had a chance to acquire former Scott Perry draft pick Elfrid Payton from the Orlando Magic, but wisely refused to deal Frank Ntilikina. Orlando later traded Payton for a second-round pick. Mudiay was a better choice simply because of his contract. The Knicks control his rights next season, while Payton is a restricted free agent this summer.
The addition of Mudiay to Ntilikina, Trey Burke and Jarrett Jack gives head coach Jeff Hornacek an additional challenge of juggling minutes at point guard. In reality, all the minutes at the one should be dedicated to Ntilikina and Mudiay, with Burke getting a little run as well. Hornacek has struggled to find adequate time for the young players on the roster all season.
Mudiay and Ntilikina have the size to play off the ball as well, but it’s important to let them have the rock in their hands. They need to play point guard to improve the skills unique to that position. They also have better tools than Burke, which gives them a better chance at long-term success. Burke can shoot better than both, but is undersized and without elite quickness. His ceiling is likely that of a backup point guard.
After bumbling the development and the trade of Hernangomez, the Mudiay trade was a smart one. The Knicks added an asset with future upside without surrendering anything of much value. They now have a few shots at finding a future point guard between Mudiay, Ntilikina and Burke. It’s a small victory in an otherwise lost season.
Here are some other quick takes from the trade deadline:
— Given the other returns on Thursday, the two second-round picks the Knicks received for Hernangomez were actually commensurate with what other teams received. Teams were very stingy about moving first-round picks. That doesn’t mean the Knicks should have traded Hernangomez, especially given how they handled his development this season. They would have been better off holding on to him and letting him play and develop with some of the other young players on the roster. They didn’t have to trade him given where the market was.
— I understand why the Knicks didn’t trade Courtney Lee. With his skill set and modest contract, it was reasonable to expect back a late first-round pick with a ton of protections. They can now look to move him again this summer at the draft or during the free agent period.
— On the other hand, the Knicks should have been willing to trade Kyle O’Quinn for just about anything. He will opt out after the season, and other than a potential one-year deal, he is unlikely to be in the Knicks’ plans at the risk of taking up cap space in 2019. Luke Kornet, who played well in his debut, could have take the reserve big man minutes, along with Joakim Noah.
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