Emmanuel Mudiay’s time in a Nuggets uniform had its ups and downs, but the hope he brought back to the Mile High City should not go overlooked.
When the Denver Nuggets selected Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, it seemed like a no brainer. D’Angelo Russell was taken second by the Lakers, Kristaps Porzingis went fourth to the Knicks, and Mudiay just fell into the Nuggets lap with the seventh pick. Nuggets nation couldn’t be more ecstatic to have a fresh face of the franchise along to go with the teams new head coach, Michael Malone.
The team even started a new slogan using the phrase “Its a New Day” to describe the upcoming season and Mudiay was at the forefront of the teams new identity. The Nuggets even shipped off disgruntled point guard Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets to pave the way for Mudiay, and it just so happened that Mudiay’s first game in a Nuggets uniform was against the Rockets.
Mudiay was the third youngest Nugget to make his debut at 19 years of age and was coming off a season where he played professionally in China. Mudiay was originally going to play at SMU for head coach Larry Brown, but chose to play overseas and gain more experience playing professional basketball. It seemed to have paid off as Mudiay immediately impressed out for the gate for the Nuggets averaging 12.8 points and 5.5 assists at the end of his rookie season. The biggest issue that arose from Mudiay’s rookie season were his shooting numbers and the “hitch” he had in his shot. Mudiay shot just 31 percent from three and just 36 percent from the field during the 2015 season. The inability Mudiay showed to finish at the rim and inability to make consistent jump shots was definitely a cause for concern that carried into the 2016 season.
During the 2016 season, Mudiay’s numbers barely changed from his rookie season and his three-point percentage actually got worse during his sophomore season. Still, Mudiay would show flashes of greatness and it’ll be hard to ever forget the game in which he scored 24 points in the first quarter against the Celtics.
Mudiay’s turnover numbers went down during his second season, but so did his assists numbers dropping all the way down to 3.9. After a couple of ankle injuries, Mudiay ended up playing just 55 games for the Nuggets last season and started just 41. Mudiay’s starting job was lost to veteran Jameer Nelson and even started to give way to Jamal Murray near the end of the 2016 season.
It even seemed as if the Nuggets were going to deal Mudiay during last offseason’s NBA draft when the team had a potential deal in place to acquire Eric Bledsoe from the Suns in exchange for Mudiay and the Nuggets first round pick.
— theScore (@theScore) June 22, 2017
The trade obviously never came to fruition though and the Nuggets entered training camp with a battle between Mudiay and Murray as to who would be the teams starting point guard. Murray would ultimately win the battle, but Mudiay still earned praise in camp as to how much his game had improved and most notably his jump shot.
“All the areas that we gave him to work on: tightening up his handle, doing a better job of finishing in traffic at the rim, becoming a more consistent jump shooter … being in better shape … I mean all those areas, he’s come back and he’s improved upon. So, he’s had six very good practices…” –Nuggets Head Coach Michael Malone
The shooting numbers Mudiay’s put up this season certainly reflects the work he’s put into it as he’s up to 40 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the three-point line.
Mudiay’s most memorable game as a Nugget may have actually came earlier this season in a 102-94 point victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on November 9th.
Mudiay scored 21 points on 8-10 from the field, and was an efficient 4-4 from behind the three-point line. The game showed us the Mudiay the Nuggets drafted three years ago, but the short spurts of great success have been overshadowed by all the other issues that have haunted him over the years.
Games like the Celtics and Thunder games are what gave Nuggets fans flashbacks of the player they drafted three years ago to be the teams franchise player. But, the inconsistencies of Mudiay’s play this season made the Nuggets front office feel like he was expendable. Mudiay’s trade value certainly took a hit this season, and the fact that the Nuggets acquired a veteran point guard in Devin Harris and a second round pick should be viewed as a success.
A change of scenery for Mudiay may ultimately be what’s best for him and could potentially give his game new life. With the improvement Mudiay’s made this year in his shot, he’s already taking strides to growing as a player and is still just 21 years old. The Knicks will be in full tank mode with the loss of Kristaps Porzingis, and that should allow Mudiay to get a boatload of minutes for the rest of the season. The New York city market is definitely one that can swallow you, but a guy like Mudiay may have the mindset to survive there. We caught up with Mudiay at training camp before the season started and he discussed how much his mentality has changed for this season.
“(It’s) just my mentality. I know I can always play, so it’s just the fact that, yeah, know to stop thinking so much and letting people into my head.”
Not letting people into his head will big a big thing for Mudiay to deal with in New York, but he’s proven this year that he has the ability to power through it. This trade should leave no hard feelings between the Nuggets and Mudiay, and should be viewed as a situation that benefits both parties. Mudiay definitely brought the life back to Nuggets basketball, and we wish him nothing but the best as he starts a new chapter of his career with the New York Knicks.