(Editor’s Note: To kick off our coverage of the 2015-16 NBA season, we’re profiling the most intriguing player of all 30 NBA teams. What makes them intriguing? It could be their talent, quirkiness or the unknown, it doesn’t matter. Follow The NBA’s 30 Men of Intrigue series here with us at TSFJ, as our friends and family join us for another awesome basketball campaign.)
Emmanuel Mudiay (There I Go)
2014-15 Denver Nuggets: 30-52
I have been hearing the myth and witnessing the legend of Emmanuel Mudiay for five years.
This is what happens when one of your fraternity brothers just so happens to coach Mudiay's high school and AAU team. This is what happens when one of your best friends has watched the No. 2 ranked class of 2013 recruit play since middle school. This is what happens when you personally watch the Kinshasha (Congo)-born point guard out-perform everyone on the floor at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit (which included guys like Karl Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow) in Portland.
The myth and the legend become a reality when you realize that the 19-year old is now being asked to be the leader of men in the NBA for a beleaguered Denver Nuggets squad, and that the task at hand doesn't seem to be too big for him. Match that responsibility with the realization that Mudiay is still figuring out how to play the game of basketball in his prototypical athletic body of 6'5" and 200 pounds.
Then he says things like this while providing a self-assessment, courtesy of SB Nation.
"I'm an athletic point guard that just loves to make his teammates better, get his teammates involved, score as well. I'm going to defend, do everything I can to make the team win. I'm a winner. I just want to win as many championships as I can. That's one thing that I want to bring to this city."
Then he does things like this while looking like some quasi-blend of Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.
Yes, I'm aware of the comparisons that were just conjured up while watching the highlights from the first preseason game of the year. Westbrook. Irving. While we're here, you might as well add John Wall, Dame Lilllard and any of the other insanely talented young point guards that Mudiay now finds himself looking up to. Comparisons are what make our basketball minds spin, and the Nuggets' new young talent will have every opportunity to immediately prove himself.
However, what makes Mudiay so intriguing is that for the first time in his career, he'll actually have a chance to ply his craft without acrimony, nuisance or criticism hanging over his head. Mudiay's path to Denver means that the Nuggets will be Mudiay's fifth team in five years that he's had allegiance to. Two high schools (including Prime Prep, the Deion Sanders' backed school that dealt with eligibility issues as an institution) in his three years, a commitment to and de-commitment from the SMU Mustangs (due to said eligibility issues in high school), a one-year contract with the Guangdong Southern Tigers (with only 12 games played) and finally being selected 7th overall by the Nuggets in 2015. As talented as Mudiay is, he's still a teenager, and I imagine he's glad to finally have some stability in his life for the first time in years.
From Grace Prep to Guangdong, Mudiay's ability to get by defenders, attack the rim, pull-up from mid-range and find open shooters and slashers while on the move have always been on full display. It's these skills that made many scouts believe that he, not D'Angelo Russell, should've been the first guard chosen in the 2015 NBA Draft.
There are three things that must be mentioned regarding Mudiay before we continue:
- Mudiay is a good on-the-ball defender. He is a terrible defender when his man doesn't have the ball.
- Mudiay palms the ball like crazy. He will be called for traveling like crazy until he fixes this.
- Mudiay's shooting form will make basketball purists cringe. He's shoddy from the free-throw line (shot 57% from the line in China), and he might never be an excellent perimeter shooter.
The good thing about those weaknesses is that they're all fixable in the long run. Mudiay's an above-average athlete who could still get stronger and fine-tuned as he reaches his 20's. Mike Malone is known as one of the best defensive minds in the NBA, and developing his point guard into an anchor defensively will go a long way into the success of the Nuggets. Couple all of this into the fact that Mudiay's probably going to play 30-35 minutes a night and be asked to lead Denver's offense, and we could be looking at the obvious choice for 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year.
For Mudiay, I imagine all he wants is some tranquility in Denver, all while he tries to figure out how to become his generation's next superstar.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”