(Photo via Sportal.com.au)
Emmanuel Mudiay spent most of his time atop mock draft boards just one year before graduating high school, right up there with Jahlil Okafor as the two best prospects being projected for the 2015 draft class.
The most reputable scouting services also agreed of the high ranking in the class for Mudiay. Rivals.com and Scouts.com, two of the main authorities in scouting of high school athletes in the United States, both ranked him as the 2nd best prospect coming out of high school in 2014.
Then Mudiay made a major decision that affected his basketball career and changed his standing in his class. Mudiay, who had committed to play for Larry Brown at SMU decided to play in the professional league of China to help his family financially. A decision that at the time seemed like a no-brainer for him considering his circumstances.
From a basketball perspective, the point was made that playing professionally against grown men who have years of experience would better prepare him for the NBA and that his play, if he excelled, would have more credence than those competing in college in the eyes of NBA scouts and executives. Well, as it turned out that didn’t happen.
Mudiay did play well in his rookie campaign in the China professional league, but due to injury only played in 12 games which didn’t help his stock by compiling less game film to dissect. Mudiay averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and shot 47.8 percent from the field. Impressive stat line for an 18 year old rookie playing in a foreign land against seasoned players, many of which came right from the NBA such as Will Bynum (Mudiay’s teammate), Metta World Peace, Hamed Haddadi and Micheal Beasley, to name a few.
Despite not experiencing any major set back in his development nor any change to his physical tools when Mudiay returned from China he saw his stock drop from that top ranking he held before he left the United States.
Mudiay returned in time to take part in team work outs and inerviews. Mudiay was still 6’5, had a 6’8.5 wingspan, 8’4 standing reach and even added some solid muscle to his 200 pound frame making him an imposing figure for an NBA point guard even at the age of 19.
Mudiay’s scouting report from high school was still on point: Incredibly strong, quick, great height, girth, strength and athletic ability for a player at the point guard position. He was the total package of physical tools with his rare combination of size, strength, quickness and being an explosive leaper.
— raining3s (@raining3sdotcom) June 20, 2015
Yet, when the NBA draft came Mudiay’s name was not called in the top 2 as the ranking out of high school and early mock drafts had projected.
The Philadelphia 76ers picking 3rd and New York Knicks picking 4th both needed point guards and both passed on Mudiay.
At 6 and Mudiay surprisingly still on the board the Sacramento Kings who also need a young point guard also passed on Mudiay and went with Willie Cauley-Stein, a player many had going much later in the draft.
It wasn’t until the Denver Nuggets at 7 that Mudiay is taken, a team that already has a pretty good point guard in Ty Lawson.
So why the drop?
The two best and well-mannered explanations is that the draft was just top heavy with elite talent at the top that NBA teams simply liked better and the game is moving away from ball-dominant prototypical point guard like Mudiay.
The same elite talent at the top, such as Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Rusell and Willie Cauley-Stein were ranked below Mudiay out of high school and leaped over him while he played in China.
Surely, those players could have developed in that last year to move up in the rankings, but a better reason is that their development was more widely viewed playing for big college programs and having their games televised to the masses in the U.S. Nobody in the U.S has interest in the happenings of the Chinese Basketball Association or interested in getting up early to watch games considering the 15 hour time difference in China.
The game has changed as the last four teams left in the NBA playoffs who depended on spacing and excellent outside shooting supports that point.
Mudiay is not a very good shooter at this point of his career. Mudiay shot 34.2 percent from behind the arc in China which is about average by NBA standards but biggest red flag of a poor shooter is his 57.4 percentage from the free throw line which is poor for any player, especially a guard.
While Mudiay hasn’t had great success so far with his perimeter shot, his shot is not broken by any means. Mudiay doesn’t have a Chris Dudley or Joakim Noah type of delivery; it is actually pretty mechanically sound most of the time. Most of the time being the key phrase as the issue so far is that Mudiay is inconsistent with his delivery, at times bad and at times sound. That is fixable, yet teams at the top didn’t agree.
Here is a look at Mudiay’s shooting form. Video is from a pre-draft workout shown by City League Hoops TV on YouTube.
While suspect outside shooting is definitely a concern, but if you factor it in with the entire package of ability, skills and physical tools, Mudiay still appeared to be a player worthy of one of the top 3 picks.
Summer league play in Las Vegas started on July 10th and the beginning of the “How did a team pass on this guy” narrative officially began.
— raining3s (@raining3sdotcom) July 13, 2015
So far in 2 games Mudiay has been special for the Denver Nuggets. Mudiay consistently has been penetrating defenses with ease and hitting open men all over the court, like a true point guard does. The most impressive part of Mudiay’s passing is his ability to penetrate deep in the lane, congested with defenders around him and still find open shooters camped out behind the 3-point line.
Mudiay’s size stands out immediately. At 6’5 he dwarfs most point guards at summer league assigned to guard him, both in height and girth. When a bigger guard is placed on him, he blows by them without an issue.
What else stands out with Mudiay, especially in a league filled with players being aggressive offensively in order to get the attention of team scouts, hoping for an invite to training camp, is that he doesn’t look for his own shot, instead constantly probing for the open teammate. Mudiay ranks 3rd in Las Vegas summer league play with his 7 assists per game average; however, that 7 assists doesn’t tell the correct story as he has put the ball on the money for many more assist opportunities.
Even though Mudiay doesn’t usually look for his own shot, he does score when it’s there and it will be there often with him spending so much time in the lane creating havoc on defenses where they will be forced to send the 6’5, 210 pound load to the line or watch him finish on top of them. I’ll add that when he does finish it can come from either hand.
Mudiay only got the line once on Friday against Atlanta but shot 7 free throws on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. Mudiay finished with 19 points on Sunday against the Kings and leads the Nuggets summer league squad averaging 15 points per game.
Mudiay’s much criticized outside shot has been off when shooting from distance, shooting 11 percent on 9 shots from 3, but it’s looked good when shooting from within 15 feet, most notably in his step back shot which he’s displayed a few times. Mudiay is shooting an efficient 52.3 percent from the 2-point area (11 for 21).
You check off all the boxes with Mudiay: strength, size, length, skills, ability and from all indications is a great young man, yet teams that needed a player like him, inexplicably passed on him and the more you see him play the more it becomes harder to explain.
Now this is not a colossal plummet from the top of the projected draft board, such as the magnitude of Aaron Rodgers drop in the 2005 NFL draft, being Mudiay only fell from the top 2 to 7; nevertheless, it is a drop that I believe will go down in NBA history as one of the biggest whiffs on talent evaluation for those teams that passed on him, viewed much in the same way as that 2005 NFL draft when 23 teams regrettably passed on Aaron Rodgers, many for players we don’t even remember.
Mudiay has returned to the top of the rankings in a way, this time as the best player out of this year’s summer league bunch, right up there with Jahlil Okafor which looks eerily similar to how those 2 were ranked out of high school.