When I was in South Africa in early August attending the first-ever NBA Africa Game, I of course had to ask the many NBA executives, scouts and coaches present about the Denver Nuggets mysterious new rookie who happened to be born on the African continent: Emmanuel Mudiay.
Now granted, the NBA Africa Game took place after the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League where Mudiay was able to showcase much of his game versus his fellow 2015 NBA Draftees. But to a man the NBA personnel present told me that when the 2015 NBA Draft gets re-drafted down the road, Mudiay will be considered the second best player in the draft and not the Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, who was actually drafted second overall (Mudiay went seventh).
10 games into Mudiay's nascent NBA career, we can already see what those scouts and executives were talking about. Despite Mudiay's bad shooting (and "bad" is being generous given his 31% field goal shooting), he has figured out how to make a positive impact on virtually every game he has participated in. Especially lately. Take the Nuggets last two wins, for example. Against the Milwaukee Bucks at Pepsi Center last Wednesday, Mudiay made just five of his 16 field goal attempts but more than made up for it with 11 assists and some crucial free throws down the stretch, putting the Nuggets in position to win (even if the ending came in lucky fashion for Denver). And the following Friday night, when faced with his starting point guard predecessor Ty Lawson starting for the Houston Rockets, Mudiay delivered 11 assists again in a nine-point victory over the Rockets (and helped defend Lawson into one of his worst games ever as a pro).
More importantly, through 10 games Mudiay's Nuggets are 5-5 even though Wilson Chandler hasn't played (and won't this season) in a single game nor has starting center Jusuf Nurkic for Denver.
That's the good ... the very good of Mudiay.
The very ugly has been Mudiay's shaky shooting and propensity for turning the ball over. Two areas the scouts in South Africa told me and we at Denver Stiffs knew would be a problem entering the season. I just don't think we foresaw the shooting to be this shaky (31%) and the turnovers (4.7 per game, third highest in the NBA) to be this frequent. This is where Mudiay being 19, being just 10 games into his NBA career and having never been properly coached gives him a pass. But the Nuggets coaching staff must overwork with Mudiay to help him improve in both shooting and turnovers. Notably, Mudiay continuously leaves his feet to pass even though he doesn't who exactly he's passing to, that should be rectifiable.
(If only Chauncey Billups were around to mentor the kid, just sayin' ...... )
By comparison, a 19 year old rookie Tony Parker in 2002-03 shot 42% from the field while dishing out just four assists against two turnovers per game. For his career, Parker has been exceptional at keeping his turnovers below three per game. A 20 year old rookie John Wall (whom Mudiay is often compared with) in 2011-12 shot 41% from the field and dished out eight assists versus nearly four turnovers per game. To this day Wall remains a turnover machine, having averaged 3.7 per game in six-plus seasons. But like Mudiay, Wall was a mixed bag in his first 10 games in the NBA which featured an eight and a nine turnover game but also six nine-plus assists outings.
Even the great Russell Westbrook turned the ball over a lot as a rookie and shot below 40%. Like Wall, Westbrook has averaged about 3.7 turnovers per game for his entire career and is averaging an astounding five per game so far this season (trust me I know, he's on my fantasy team). But Westbrook has made up for those turnovers over time by getting to the free throw line a lot and forcing opposing guards into turnovers themselves.
And, of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't compare Mudiay's first 10 games to those of the Lakers' Russell's, who is only turning the ball over 1.7 times per game but scoring less than Mudiay, assisting less than Mudiay and - unfortunately for Lakers fans - is playing for a team that is 2-8 through 10 games.
Like Mudiay, Parker, Wall and Westbrook are all big point guards who do more than just distribute the ball. They attack the rim, grab rebounds, distribute and are good for the occasional jump shot, forcing defenses to pay attention to them from both outside and inside. And I think Nuggets fans will be just fine if Mudiay finishes his career by being a part of the conversation with those three guys.
10 games into his rookie season, Mudiay appears to be on that path.