(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
Emmanuel Mudiay committed to play college basketball at Southern Methodist but bailed out on that agreement just before the season, opting to sign with Chinese club Guangdong for $1.2 million dollars instead.
Guangdong is one of the biggest teams in that country. It had won eight of the previous 11 championships entering the season, but was also coming off a year in which it failed to make the Finals. The club has three of the 10 highest paid Chinese players, according to Nick Bedard at Basketball Buddha. The 19-year-old Mudiay earned more than every native player, with the exception of superstar Yi Jianlian.
But Guangdong’s expensive investment in Mudiay wasn’t just financial. Each team in China is allowed to activate only two foreigners. The Southern Tigers started the season with Chris Daniels, a journeyman stretch five, as their other import, signaling they had a lot of faith in Mudiay as the premiere addition needed to put them back over the top.
Mudiay appeared in 10 games and did well before suffering an ankle injury in late November that sidelined him for essentially the rest of the season. Guangdong signed Will Bynum as his replacement but did not cut Mudiay loose, nor did Mudiay part ways with the team. He continued to work with the team’s strength and conditioning coach, setting him up to make a return in a tightly contested semifinal series against Beijing.
Based on his interview with Scout’s Evan Daniels, Mudiay approached the experience the right away. He didn’t go in thinking his high level of compensation meant he was entitled to anything, important since Mudiay is very young and a projected top five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Some, who probably never watched a CBA game in their life, assumed he was going to dominate, which could’ve gone to his head head. Mudiay had it together and respected the business.
Mudiay is a scoring guard of ideal size, listed at 6-5 and 200 pounds at only age 19. Whether he’ll be viewed as a point guard or a shooting guard should depend on the team that drafts him. Nonetheless, Mudiay is a lead ball handler who produces best with the ball in his hands.
He’s a well developed athlete for someone his age; lean but agile and bouncy off the ground. That athleticism translates best in transition. Mudiay doesn’t have long strides or sprints up the court with breath-taking speed, but he is quick and runs with fluidity.
The pro game did expose his unpolished decision making but that is expected of a prospect his age. Mudiay often drove into crowds and forced tough finishes, lacking the ideal patience to convert all fast breaks into easy scores. When he did slow down in such opportunities, Mudiay sometimes lacked awareness of opponents around him and turned it over.
Nonetheless, these are things expected to be cleaned up the longer he plays pro ball, as his feel for the game will improve with experience. What stands out is his ability to go from one end of the court to the other with ease.
His quickness is also an asset when he attacks with his right hand in the half court. Mudiay creates great separation driving with his strong hand, both in isolation and out of the pick-and-roll — he has a tight handle and is able to turn on the jets in a pinch. Though that is not to say he just puts his head down and drives into traffic without much thought. Mudiay proved to be well developed working off high ball-screens; able to change speeds turning the corner, re-screening when the opponent went too far under the screen and using hesitation moves when a lane to the basket wasn’t immediately available.
At the basket, Mudiay is able to hang in the air to score around length and showed decent strength in his frame to finish through contact. He converted his 146 two-point shots at a 51.3 percent clip, according to RealGM. That ability to get into the lane and put pressure on the defense also translated into a decent free throw rate: 4.4 foul shots per 36 minutes.
In saying that, he struggles greatly when forced left. Mudiay couldn’t get past or create any sort of separation with his off hand against NBA-caliber athletes, like Sun Yue and Stephon Marbury. He’s able to maintain his balance through contact (and there was a lot of contact) but doesn’t finish as well as he does with his right hand.
When kept in front, Mudiay has shown to be an iffy shooter off the dribble. He sets an uneven base pulling up, doesn’t elevate with great balance, often fails to release the ball at his highest point and will at times kick with both legs. He doesn’t fully extend himself and releases the ball from the front of his forehead.
He can make shots but not enough for defenses to feel uncomfortable sagging off him. Beijing did it quite aggressively in the semifinal series and Mudiay forced some shots early in the clock that were ill advised, especially considering how capable a shot creator he is late on possessions.
Mudiay is not a particularly creative passer but has good court vision for someone his age and reads the floor around him very well. He assisted on 31.7 percent of Guangdong’s scores in his 378 minutes, a mark that ranked him third in the league in assist rate. Looking off an open teammate is not a problem at all with him. Even in transition, he will pass ahead at times or hit shooters running into open spots.
Sometimes Mudiay is too aggressive looking to set up teammates. He turned it over on 16 percent of Guangdong’s possessions when he was on the floor, forcing passes into lanes that weren’t there. Even so, I feel like his pros outweigh the cons in this department.
Upon his return for the final two games of the season, Mudiay shared the court with Will Bynum at times and played off the ball. When he sets his feet right and fully extends himself, Mudiay is a capable shooter off the catch, but that’s all he is at this point, hitting just 13 of his 38 three-point shots in the season. Mudiay also missed 20 of his 47 free throws, which is a concerning sign for his development.
When opponents ran at him, Mudiay showcased a lighting quick first step to attack closeouts and got into the lane in a split second. He also displayed good IQ to swing the ball quickly when a teammate was in a favorable position.
On the other end, Mudiay gets in his stance and locks in one-on-one. He uses his quickness well to move laterally and stay in front of his assignment. Though he’s unable to contain dribble penetration through contact, Mudiay can challenge shots effectively thanks to his eight-foot-four standing reach. His athleticism also made him an asset on the boards, where Mudiay collected 17 percent of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, a mark that ranked him second in the league among point guards.
His issue on the defensive end is on a team level, which is what you’d expect of a 19-year-old. Mudiay doesn’t fight through screens with much intensity and wasn’t very attentive to his help responsibilities. With his six-foot-eight wingspan, he’s expected to be an asset shutting down passing lanes but only collected 19 steals in his 12 appearances.
Mudiay is currently projected as a top five pick, and players selected in this range are often expected to impact winning at the highest level. I’m confident Mudiay will be a quality shot creator in the NBA; he should be able to get into the lane against a set defense and is a good passer at a young age. But whether he’ll be a transcending star will likely depend on if he develops as a scorer, and that’s where the risk lies.
The biggest concern is his ability to space the floor. Mudiay isn’t any sort of threat from outside the paint at this stage of his career. If he doesn’t develop, he’ll take away his team’s flexibility to play an offense where he doesn’t monopolize possession or otherwise limit their ceiling, similar to what we are seeing with Rajon Rondo in Dallas and Michael Carter-Williams in Milwaukee.
Mudiay got to the rim and finished at a respectable rate in the CBA, but defenders contest shots more actively in the NBA. When he faced two NBA-caliber athletes in his last two games in China, Mudiay struggled to create a quality shot when forced left. Defenders in America aren’t allowed to be as physical as Marbury was with him in China but they will look to take him out of his comfort zone just the same.
If Mudiay’s speed doesn’t translate to the NBA and he struggles to convert shots from close range, he might develop into Ricky Rubio type of player: a good pass first point guard who can’t score and needs a specific type of offense and personnel around him to succeed.
If Mudiay’s speed translates and his body fills out more as he goes through an NBA-level strength and conditioning program, he might be another version of Tyreke Evans. Evans is a huge lead guard who gets to the rim at an incredible rate and has very underrated passing instincts. New Orleans has dealt with several injuries this season but Evans has been the one stable presence on a team that is challenging for a postseason berth in a highly competitive conference.
If that happens and his shot develops, however, Mudiay could develop into a do it all point guard like Deron Williams. In his third season in Utah, Williams took 38 percent of his shots at the rim, assisted on 43.6 percent of the Jazz’s scores when he was on the floor, shot almost five free throws per 36 minutes and converted 45 percent of his long-twos and 39.5 percent of his 3-point shots. The Jazz reached the second round of the Western Conference playoffs and went down to a Lakers team that had Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
This is the sort of star Mudiay can become if everything goes to plan.
Mudiay is currently rated as the third best prospect by Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony. With that in mind, we can assume he will be picked somewhere between No. 1 and No. 7. Pending the lottery, Mudiay is likely to be chosen by one of five teams.
The Timberwolves already have a pass first, non-shooting lead ball handler. Rubio has been in the lineup consistently in just one of his four NBA seasons, but Minnesota just signed him to a long-term extension. It’s hard to imagine they draft Mudiay, considering he wouldn’t be a fit to play with Rubio and the team already has Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Martin as long-term options on the wing.
The Magic are also likely to pass on Mudiay. They just drafted Elfrid Payton, who can be considered a different version of Mudiay. Orlando has consistently gambled on drafting players who can’t shoot in their early ages but there would also be some position overlap with Victor Oladipo, who hasn’t developed into an effective player off the ball just yet. A wing who can shoot and a big who can protect the rim are more pressing needs for Orlando and they are likely to go in one of those directions.
The Knicks are at a stage where they can afford to draft the player with the biggest upside, regardless of fit. If their pick falls outside the top two, Mudiay would be in play for them. He’s not a prototypical triangle point guard, though. Mudiay is a smart player and could thrive as a cutter, but his inability to shoot at this point indicates he would take a lot of time to evolve into a productive player in that system.
The Lakers are in a similar position. Jordan Clarkson has done well in a half-season of garbage time, but not so well that the Lakers should pass on talent because they consider that position as no longer one of need. The issue here is that they are expected to make a run at Rondo in free agency, which would subsequently make Mudiay a tough fit.
The 76ers would be the best possible fit for Mudiay. Ishmael Smith is a lesser version of what Mudiay would look like in Brett Brown’s fast-paced, pick-and-roll heavy offense. Brown’s coaching staff didn’t have Carter-Williams’ shot developing at rapid speed but it looked better than when he was at Syracuse. This is probably the program that offers the most hope of Mudiay developing into some sort of threat from the outside over time.
The Nuggets and Kings have some talent at Mudiay’s position, but it wouldn’t be crazy if they selected him.
Ty Lawson has only two more years left in his contract. If Denver wants full value in return, the time to move him is now. Lawson’s had a good season with the Nuggets but also got himself in some trouble off the court, casting a heavy cloud over his future with the team. Transitioning from Lawson to Mudiay at point guard, with Melvin Hunt returning as the coach and running the same type of offense he has these last couple months, could work out just fine. Denver’s roster is in such flux that it’s hard to tell which position they might focus on.
Sacramento still has some money invested in Darren Collison and he played better than anticipated when the team oddly opted to move from Isaiah Thomas. Nevertheless, Mudiay should be an upgrade. George Karl and management envision this team playing at a fast pace and could view Mudiay as the perfect trigger man for such offense.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.