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Drew’s Clues: The Emmanuel Mudiay Investigation

Is the play of Emmanuel Mudiay sustainable?

NBA: Washington Wizards at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the New York Knicks organization, there two separate but equally important groups. The coaches, who implement the system, and the players, who execute the actions. The results of these actions are measured by statistics. These are their stories. DUN DUN.

I do not know what to make of Emmanuel Mudiay. He is making me and many, many others eat tons of crow as he is proving doubters wrongs in the first quarter of the NBA season — that is the extent of my knowledge. In the preseason, I ripped him for falling on his first shot attempt. Mudi Booty’s play in the preseason gave off “here we go again” vibes of inefficient play, poor defense, and the organization forcing minutes upon him over Frank Ntilikina to justify the front office’s trade. Apparently, Big Fiz Daddy wasn’t kidding when he said, “We gonna get you right.”

Despite Mudiay’s unexpected start to the season, it is still too early to say that “David Fizdale and the coaching staff fixed Emmanuel Mudiay.” This in no way means that Mudiay cannot sustain this level of performance for the remainder of the season or even improve upon his early start to close out the year. Given Mudiay’s track record, we should at least wait until the end of the season before proclaiming the concept, right? I think that’s fair.

But it does feel different. You watch the way Mudi Booty moves and he is definitely passing the eye test in terms of looking like an improved player. I mean, he was draining crazy-ass three-pointers against arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference the other night. (the Raptors are, but let’s stay on target — R.I.P. Davish Krail). Because so much of Mudiay’s early start is difficult to fully comprehend, it’s a perfect time to launch an investigation on the fourth-year point guard.

There will be [insert number] clues examined to determine what’s potentially helping Mudiay look better, are any of these numbers outliers, and has he put together stretches like this before? One quick thing to note, these stats were gathered before the Knicks–Wizards game on December 3, 2018. Let’s begin.

Clue One: Real Plus Minus

I know people are hesitant with the validity of these all-encompassing adjusted plus-minus statistics. Trust me, I get it. Members of the media, NBA statistics people, and the creators do not do the best of job explaining how they should be used, and the people who rely on them readily are quite reductive when using one of the metrics. As I’ve discussed before, adjusted plus-minuses and even the projected versions like DRE should be used as starting points for further research to figure out why Player X is a positive or a negative contributor for a team.

Currently, Pascal Siakam is 14th in RPM, ahead of players such as Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo. Siakam is neither the 14th best player in the NBA nor is he better than Durant or Oladipo; however Siakam is critical to the Raptors success as a role player and his value is reflected in these adjusted plus-minus metrics.

Anywell, off my soapbox and back to Emmanuel Mudiay. Good ole Mudi Booty is 40th amongst 91 eligible point guards with a -0.70 RPM. He has a -0.10 offensive RPM and a -0.60 defensive RPM, ranking 40th and 37th, respectively. You may think that ranking in the lower section of the top half of NBA point guards is nothing to be excited about. If you are not excited, then you haven’t looked into his historical RPM figures. Don’t worry, I’ll list them below with their corresponding rankings in parentheses.

An almost six points per 100 possession improvement does have “Mudiay is going to regress to the mean” written all over it. The question is whether Mudiay regresses back down to last year’s RPM figure, his sophomore RPM figure, or something not as drastic. If he does somehow manage to either maintain this current RPM or improve upon it, then David Fizdale may have to be considered for Coach of the Year.

Clue Two: Game Score

If you’re not familiar with this metric, you can read up on it at Basketball Reference’s glossary. The quick-and-dirty way to approximate how well a player played in a specific game with 10.0 being “average.” Mudi Booty has five games with a game score greater than 10.0 and an average game score of 8.39 over this 17-game sample.

I wanted to see if there were any statistical similarities over his career where he has had similar figures over the same sample of games. During the 2017–18 season, Mudiay played in 64 games, which comes out to three 17-game segments and one 13-game segment. He started off that season with six games with a game score greater than 10.0 and an average game score of 7.7 over the sample. For the following three segments, the 10.0-plus game score totals are two, four, and four, respectively. The respective average game scores are 3.8, 5.2, and 5.7.

During the 2016–17 season, Mudiay played in 55 games, which comes out to three 17-game segments and one four-game segment. He started off that season with seven games with a game score greater than 10.0 and an average game score of 8.25 over the sample. For the following three segments, the 10.0-plus game score totals are three, four, and one, respectively. The respective average game scores are 6.9, 5.8, and 8.8.

And finally, During the 2015–16 season, Mudiay played in 68 games, which comes out to four clean 17-game segments. He started off that season with four games with a game score greater than 10.0 and an average game score of 6.1 over the sample. For the following three segments, the 10.0-plus game score totals are two, five, and seven, respectively. The respective average game scores are 5.2, 9.8, and 8.3.

Outside of Mudiay’s rookie season, the pattern appears to be a relative hot start and fizzles out. This is Mudiay’s best start to a season in terms of average game score over a 17-game sample. With that said, over the past two season, the average game score to start the season happens to be the best of the season as well (excluding that four-game sample to end the 2016–17 season). Let’s keep an eye out and revisit these numbers after Game 34.

Clue Three: Shooting at the Rim

Without looking at the numbers, if I were to claim that Mudiay is shooting better at the rim this year compared to last year with the Knicks, you’re answer would be “obviously,” right? The eye test suggests for that conclusion… well at least for me. So what if I were to tell you that Mudiay’s shooting percentage at the rim this year is the same as last year with New York?

According to Cleaning the Glass, Mudi Booty currently is shooting 57 percent at the rim this season, which is the same exact figure during his 22 games with the Knicks last year. Crazy right? What is going on here? Is the eye test lying? To answer these questions, let’s get to the next two clues.

Clue Four: Mudi Booty Drives

NBA Stats tracking data provides some more insight into Mudiay around the rim. In 22 games last year, Booty averaged 9.5 drives per game, shot 37.7 percent on 3.5 shot attempts, and had a 6.7 turnover percentage. This year, Mudiay is averaging 6.8 drives per game, shooting 52.2 percent on 2.7 shot attempts, and has a 4.3 turnover percentage. Furthermore, Mudiay is shooting 58.0 percent on layup attempts compared to 51.6 percent with the Knicks, per NBA Stats.

When attacking the rim, he is finishing more efficiently and turning the ball over less. Maybe his has to do with drop in his assist percentage? Last year, Mudiay had a 11.0 assist percentage and a 37.8 pass percentage. This year, he’s posting a 9.5 assist percentage and a 37.9 pass percentage. I’m not entire sure this is it because he’s still passing out of drives at effectively the same rate. Either way, Booty is finishing more efficiently when attacking the rim.

Clue Five: He Gets Knocked Down, But He Gets Up Again

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to watch all the available videos of the play type “layup” at NBA Stats for Emmanuel Mudiay. I already know; you don’t need to tell me.

Last year with New York, Mudiay had 64 shots labeled as any type of “layup” on the website. Of those 64 videos, two did not work. Of the 62 working videos viewed, Mudiay hit the ground/fell/got knocked down 23 times, which is 37.1 percent of the time. This year, Mudiay has 50 shots labeled as any type of “layup” on the website. Of those 50 videos, six did not work. Of the 44 working videos viewed, Mudiay hit the ground/fell/got knocked down 12 times, which is 27.3 percent of the time. Given the results and percentages, Mudiay hits the floor at least once in those six broken videos. Under that assumption, the percentage drops to 24 percent.

I would say that it’s safe to conclude that Mudiay is attacking the rim under more control since he’s hitting the floor at a much lower rate than last season.

Clue Six: Midrange Shooting

Cleaning the Glass has Mudiay shooting 59 percent from long midrange shots, which is in the 98th percentile. For his career, Mudi Booty never shot higher than 36 percent from that area of the court. Though his jump shot looks more consistent in terms of his release, expect this percentage to come down exponentially sooner rather than later.

Clue Seven: Playing With Pace

Whether it’s from Twitter, Reddit, the Posting & Toasting comment section, or even Big Daddy Fiz himself, I have on multiple occasions read or heard that the Knicks play with more “pace” with Mudiay on the court. This somewhat annoys me as a stickler for properly defining metrics because “pace” in the context of statistics means an increase in possessions, not “playing faster.”

In the technical definition of pace, the Knicks generate 0.6 less possessions when Mudiay is on the court, per Basketball Reference. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Knicks transition frequency drops 0.2 percent and transition frequency off live-rebounds drops 1.6 percent when Mudiay is in the game. To contrast, the Knicks transition frequency increases 2.1 percent and transition frequency off live-rebounds increases 3.5 percent with Frank Ntilikina is in the game. Therefore, in a technical definition of the term, the Knicks play with more pace with Ntilikina than Mudiay.

With that said, I believe people are actually using pace to mean “playing faster” and there is some data to support the claim that Mudiay plays faster. According to Second Spectrum via NBA Stats (the source of all NBA Stats tracking data), Booty averages 4.91 MPH on offense, which is 59th of 331 players who have played at least 12 games and the fastest on the Knicks of regular rotation players (sorry Ron and Lance). Therefore, in this incorrect, though understable interpretation of “pace,” Mudiay does in fact play faster than not just Frank, but any Knickerbocker.

Clue Eight: Lineup Data

The two main five-man units have monopolized much of the talk surround this team so far. It’s understandable given it’s still too early to discuss the NBA Draft. The main reason why Fizdale switched the Ntilikina, Hardaway, Dotson, Vonleh, and Robinson starting lineup was that they were not scoring well in the first quarter. Despite that lineup posting an overall net rating of +8.1 (106.6 offensive rating) in 94 minutes played, this fan-favorite starting unit had a net rating of -0.3 and a 90.7 offensive rating in the first quarter.

Granted, these numbers were noticeably skewed by the Knicks first game against Orlando, but a 96.3 offensive rating (+5.8 net rating) isn’t a good offensive figure no matter how you cut it. The starting lineup with Mudiay, Hardaway, Hezonja, Vonleh, and Kanter, however, have better ratings, posting a 114.3 offensive rating and a +2.5 net rating in the first quarter. The team defense may suffer, but they are clearly making it up on offense.

But how are the other quarters? Does anything stand out there? How is this new starting lineup performing overall? I have those answers, don’t worry. The starting lineup with Mudiay, Hardaway, Hezonja, Vonleh, and Kanter in 89 minutes playing together has a net rating of -6.1 with the offensive rating being 101.1 with both figures being worse than the Ntilikina, Hardaway, Dotson, Vonleh, and Robinson starting lineup.

The third quarter is even more striking. The Mudiay, Hardaway, Hezonja, Vonleh, and Kanter lineup to start the third quarter has a -15.9 net rating with a 90.4 offensive rating in 40 minutes played. YIKES. The Ntilikina, Hardaway, Dotson, Vonleh, and Robinson lineup in the third quarter has played 31 minutes together, has a 134.4 offensive rating and a +54.4 NET RATING! That’s not a typo, folks. Why Fizdale isn’t looking at this lineup data is beyond me.

But to be fair to Mudiay, this isn’t solely on him. It’s just quite interesting to see how a sweeping change based on the performance of one quarter in one game occured but nothing yet has happened to a clearly worse five-man lineup.

With all the clues presented, this investigation is still open. We all need to see how these statistics shape out as the season progresses. Does Mudiay keep this up until the All-Star break? We do not know. History does suggest that Mudiay regresses as the season progresses, but there are aspects of his game that appear to be fixed that could make his performances more consistent.

This investigation may also need some film analysis on Mudi Booty, so stay tuned for that. But as for right now, let’s not assume that the current improved play will sustain for not just the remainder of this season, but seasons moving forward. It’s been nice to see Mudiay change his perception as a player and I certainly hope he keeps this up.