The Rise of Emmanuel Mudiay, Kind of

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Since getting drafted seventh overall by the Denver Nuggets, Emmanuel Mudiay has done nothing but rise. 

Last years draft class is already flexing their muscles as one of the best ever.

From top picks like Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell to quieter selections like Bobby Portis and Myles Turner, the 2015 Draft is looking to be one that has an incredible impact on the league for years to come. There are stars, starters, role-players, and glue-guys galore spread throughout and with this just the first year for these rookies, we still have plenty of time to enjoy seeing these guys ball out.

With such a stacked draft class, there are undoubtedly going to be a variety of stories to come out surrounding the players selected in 2015. Kristaps Porzingis meteoric rise in the New York Media, KAT becoming the future for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Jahlil Okafor’s immaturity have all gotten plenty of attention this season, perhaps even stealing some of the spotlight from the deeper parts of the draft.

Oddly enough, the stories mentioned above, as well as the D’Angelo Russell-Nick Young saga in Los Angeles, have overshadowed one of the most interesting stories coming out of the draft- Emmanuel Mudiay.

The 20-year-old, 6’5″ was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but left the country as a toddler for the brighter future of America. That story in itself is incredible and newsworthy, but everything since has been equally as incredible for Mudiay. 

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After initially accepting an offer from Larry Brown and Southern Methodist University, Mudiay decided to back out of his education and accepted a contract to play professional ball in China. Despite a frustrating and injury-plagued season overseas, Mudiay was viewed by many scouts as a fascinating prospect for the draft. 

Not since Brandon Jenning’s had a top-tier player elected to accept a contract to play overseas rather than play a season in the NCAA and with the jury still very much out on Jenning’s status as an NBA threat, Mudiay was seen as a potential barrier-breaker for young athletes. Even more importantly, his size and speed, as well as a quiet and reserved demeanor gave many the idea that Mudiay was the type of player you can build a franchise around. 

With those attributes in mind, the Denver Nuggets took Emmanuel with the seventh overall pick, before proven Division-I standouts like Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, and Frank Kaminsky. The move was of course risky, but with the Nuggets building a strong base around the likes of Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, it was a risk the team felt could pay off. The teams incumbent starting point guard, Ty Lawson, had one foot out the door for the entirety of the 2014-15 season and with some fresh blood at PG, Denver would hopefully be able to drag itself out of the post-Carmelo Anthony era and into, if all went well, the Emmanuel Mudiay era.

Fast forward a few short months and we still aren’t quite sure what that era looks like. 

DENVER, CO - JUNE 26: Emmanual Mudiay smiles as he holds his new Nuggets jersey after a press conference on Friday, June 26, 2015 at the Pepsi Center. The Denver Nuggets held an introductory press conference at the Pepsi Center to welcome 19-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay, the 7th overall NBA draft pick, to the team on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo by Callaghan O'Hare/The Denver Post)
DENVER, CO – JUNE 26: Emmanual Mudiay smiles as he holds his new Nuggets jersey after a press conference on Friday, June 26, 2015 at the Pepsi Center. The Denver Nuggets held an introductory press conference at the Pepsi Center to welcome 19-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay, the 7th overall NBA draft pick, to the team on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo by Callaghan O’Hare/The Denver Post)

In some aspects, Mudiay has had a dreadful rookie campaign. He’s dealt with some injuries and through the first 58 games of the season, was shooting a horrific 34 percent from the field and 27 percent from deep. Turnovers were a major problem throughout that stretch, with the rookie averaging 3.5 per game, including a career high eleven in his debut against the Houston Rockets.

Still though, Mudiay showed flashed of brilliance, particularly on the offensive end. His 11.3 PPG and 5.7 APG over his first 58 games aren’t statistics to write home about, but every now and then Mudiay would pop off for a big game that reminded you of this kids lofty potential. A 26 point and 5 assist game against the Phoenix Suns here, 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting against the Boston Celtics there. Mudiay wasn’t consistent, he wasn’t even close, but there were still enough sparks to get you excited. 

Much like their prized rookie though, the Nuggets got off to a slow start, sitting just outside of the playoff discussion out West until February 26. With still a couple months left in the season and plenty of mileage left in the legs of one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, there were hopes that Denver would be able to make a push and at least enter itself into the conversation around the playoffs. 

Things did not go exactly as planned. 

That night against the Dallas Mavericks, the teams leading scorer and, for the beginning of the season at least, its leader broke his ankle. Danilo Gallinari, in the midst of his best season, tore multiple ligaments in his right ankle, seeing not only his season come to an end but also his teams. Just like that, any hopes of a playoff push evaporated and the attention in Denver immediately shifted towards player development and re-gearing for next year. 

Enter Emmanuel Mudiay. 

The rookie has taken over where Gallinari had left off, increasing his scoring to 14.8 PPG on a still ugly but much improved 39 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. Equally exciting is the fact that Mudiay has begun to solve his turnover problem, only handing it over 2.7 times per game since Gallanari went down.

That drop in turnovers does come at the expense of Emmanuel’s assists, which have gone down to 5.0 per game since February 26, but that could actually be a positive sign for Denver fans. After just a few months in the league, Mudiay may already be beginning to mature and learn to read defenses better, risking less passes through tight passing windows. 

Oh, and he’s also seemingly discovered a clutch gene, or at least a gene that allows him to make some absurdly clutch buckets. 

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Mudiay still has a long way to go. His jumpshot needs to gain mid-range consistency and he’ll need to develop more of a unique style if he wants top climb his way into the already stacked group of the leagues top point guards, but for the time being, Emmanuel Mudiay is someone to absolutely keep an eye on in Denver. 

This is a kid that can get to the basket, lead a team on transition breakaways, and if the second half of his rookie season is any indicator, can shoot with a fair amount of efficiency. His defense isn’t anything to write home about (yet) and his jumper has been consistently missing in the mid-range game, but for the time being Mudiay has clearly staked his claim as one of the most noteworthy players from a draft class filled to the brim with talent. 

 

 

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