Everyone was excited when Emmanuel Mudiay unexpectedly fell to the Denver Nuggets draft day 2015. I do mean everyone. This was the moment of respite and hope from the shadows of the Brian Shaw era and the beginning of something new — a new hope. Nuggets play-by-play man Chris Marlowe even branded him “New Day” Mudiay.
On February 8th, 2018 the Nuggets traded Mudiay and a second-round pick to the New York Knicks in a three team deal with the Dallas Mavericks that netted the Nuggets Devin Harris and another second-rounder. Just under three years after he was drafted.
How did we get from there to here?
Mudiay was always going to be a project. Rather than going to college, Mudiay skipped enrolling at Southern Methodist University and instead went to China to play straight out of High School. While there, Mudiay sprained his right ankle and only played 13 games. Instead of going back to college or staying in China, Mudiay entered the 2015 NBA Draft as a highly-touted enigma. A player who had enormous talent coming out of High School in Dallas but was by no means a known commodity.
His potential SMU coach in 2014 was Larry Brown. Brown raved about Mudiay at the time and loved his length and athleticism saying:
“You need a great point guard. First and foremost, I think it starts with them defending the ball. Emmanuel’s 6-5, he’s long, he’s athletic. I think he can keep the ball in front of him. He’s a pass-first point guard. He’s an extra rebounder. He’s not a great shooter, but, in the NBA, you have so much time to work on your shot and improve your game, his shot’s not broken. I think it’ll get there. I think he has it all.”
“… in the NBA you have so much time to work on your shot and improve your game“. This is the biggest and most vexing problem that Mudiay presented once he miraculously fell to the Denver Nuggets in the 2015 NBA Draft. He was, so to speak, the “rookiest of the rookies” with very little actual basketball time outside of high school and that handful of games in China. Would Mudiay have the time to show out in the league while still trying to improve his game?
After starting with a 23-point flourish in his debut against the Houston Rockets in 2015, it was largely a tale of poor shooting and — to the chagrin of many — turnovers. Yet, after a very rough mid-season extended slump his rookie year, Mudiay rebounded and even had a miraculous, game-winning half court shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of another moribund season for the Nuggets. There was hope that the signs of improvement were beginning to show. New season, new hope, new day Mudiay.
Heading into the 2016-17 NBA season there was an expectation that — while no one expected Mudiay to have solved all his problems in one offseason — there would be signs of that NBA leap you hear about so often. When the game becomes slower, they adjust to life in the highest level of basketball and begin to get it. Many in the media who cover the Nuggets, myself included, anticipated this very thing.
Unfortunately, from the opening tip of the 2016 regular season you could tell it wasn’t going to happen that way for Mudiay. It seemed like he had worked on all the wrong things in the offseason, hadn’t improved the high dribble that often led to steals by the opposing team, and to the great consternation of many, he looked like he wasn’t getting better. It was troubling, and unfortunately, didn’t improve.
Last year was troubling on many fronts. Mudiay was out of place, was disengaging with the media and by mid-season wasn’t playing at all. It was startling and pointed to something that no one really wanted to confront; that not only did Mudiay not get better … he got worse.
After initial promise in training camp and preseason — Mudiay was legitimately better in these exhibition games — the Nuggets were encouraged enough to let veteran Jameer Nelson go and “ride” with the young point guard combination of Jamal Murray with Mudiay off the bench. There was even a legitimate debate about whether Mudiay should start over Murray. However once the regular season got underway it became abundantly clear that not only the Nuggets couldn’t have Mudiay starting, he couldn’t even anchor the second unit as point guard.
Soon, Mudiay was racking up DNP-CD’s (did not play; coach’s decision) and had his point guard duties taken by non-point guard Will Barton.
It was time.
So much athletic talent. So much promise. Sometimes you need a change of scenery to get yourself over the hump. Currently, Brooklyn Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie is on his fourth team and is showing the promise that made University of Colorado fans so happy during his time there. It can happen, and one hopes that it does for Emmanuel Mudiay. I’m rooting for him.
Dallas by way of the Congo, Mudiay has been through things we can only imagine. This is a test for the young guard, but it’s one he can overcome. One hopes that, in New York Mudiay achieves what his almost-coach Larry Brown aspired for him.
I know I’ll be watching.