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Alpha and Omega: Emmanuel Mudiay and a Shooting Star

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Tuesday night, Denver Nuggets fans saw a tale of two NBA career arcs, one finishing, and one barely begun.

Kobe, sucking. A tough start to Bryant's 20th campaign.
Kobe, sucking. A tough start to Bryant's 20th campaign.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The rookie had an inauspicious start, tallying zero points, zero assists, and zero steals in his first NBA game. The night wasn't a complete loss, as he managed one of many things. One rebound, one block, one turnover, and one foul. All to match his one field goal attempt, in six minutes of play.

The following game was a huge step forward, finally scoring his first NBA point. His only point in three minutes of play.

Emmanuel Mudiay? That doesn't sound right. You're correct, Mudiay averaged 16 points over his first two games. The rookie we're talking about is (was) Kobe Bryant. Barely 18-year-old 1996 Kobe Bean Bryant.

That's right. That inconsequential beginning belongs to the guy who has been invited to the All-Star Game in 17 of his first 19 seasons, playing in 14. Winner of five NBA titles, an MVP, four All-Star MVPs, and two Finals MVPs. An all-time top 50 player. Four scoring titles, eight first team All-Defensive squads, and a favorite in the state of Colorado for his strengths in the hospitality industry. It's entirely possible he'd have passed even the great Michael Jordan in career titles if he'd only been able to play well with others. Suffice it to say, we're discussing one of the all-time greats. Need more? Just scroll to the bottom quarter of this page, and find "Appearances on Leaderboards, Awards, and Honors". Kobe Bryant is one of the most prolific and awarded players in the history of the game.

Which makes the start of his 20th season so damned disconcerting. Even as a player many love to hate - and I was often along for that ride - it's hard to argue his place in the annals of NBA history. When it comes to this season, Bryant says it himself:

Kobe may have pulled that "200th best player" figure from real data, but watching his first four games, even that number seems a bit generous. With Bryant's competitive nature and tenacity, it seems probable that he'll rediscover a better version of his game, just like MJ in his waning years. A part of that shift will come as Kobe adjusts to a new and less forgiving set of physical limitations. Those limitations are no small wonder, after two decades and nearly 47,000 minutes of NBA game time logged. Even so, Bryant's ending is almost as inauspicious as his two-game beginning.

At the other end of the spectrum, with 123 game minutes on the odometer, is the Denver Nuggets Mudiay, who is making fans of Lakers guards of many eras:

Mudiay's star and career arc is all potential at this point of his story and history, and if he ends up with three-quarters the career Bryant did, the Nuggets will have landed one of the great players in their history.

Tuesday night's game was unremarkable to most NBA observers, as two mostly-young teams made their incremental progress. With the win, the Nuggets move back to .500 ball at 2-2 and unceremoniously drop Los Angeles to 0-4 in their young season. Mr. Laker himself, Magic Johnson, was underwhelmed:

What was far more remarkable, if you happened to spot it, was the sight of two stars shooting across the night in distinctly opposite arcs. An ending and a beginning.