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Stat of the Week: Emmanuel Mudiay’s struggles

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After another rough start to the season for Emmanuel Mudiay, I looked at the struggles of the young point guard, and there’s a lot...

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, doesn’t that picture perfectly capture what I’m about to talk about?

Pouring over the statistics on Basketball-Reference.com for a little over 30 minutes, I was absolutely appalled that Emmanuel Mudiay has actually regressed this season. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it: Emmanuel Mudiay has been terrible.

It’s okay to still have faith in the young point guard, but this is the Stat of the Week, and I’m merely here to inform. Personally, I have faith in Mudiay, but I can say that knowing that he’s been one of the worst players in NBA history through ten games. It’s not really close.

What prompted this was a tweet by Hoops Hype about Mudiay’s struggles with field goal percentage and turnovers.

Now, that’s some lonely company for the kid. There’s no way around the fact that Mudiay doesn’t make shots at the NBA level right now, and he also turns over the ball at the rate of a James Harden, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook. If Mudiay was simply doing one or the other, it would be more palatable. Alas, that’s not the world we live in.

I decided to look at all of the guards in NBA history to post a field goal percentage under 40 percent combined with turnovers exceeding three per game. Here’s the list:

Player Year(s) Age
Michael Adams 1990-91 28
Kenny Anderson 1994-95 24
Gilbert Arenas 2003-04, 2007-08 22, 26
Kobe Bryant 2014-15 37
Michael Carter-Williams 2014-15 23
Baron Davis 2003-04 24
Ron Harper 1990-91 27
Larry Hughes 2000-01 22
Allen Iverson 2001-02, 2003-04 26, 28
Jason Kidd 1994-95, 1995-96, 2001-02, 2003-04, 2007-08 21, 22, 28, 30, 34
Jamal Mashburn 1995-96 23
Emmanuel Mudiay 2015-16, 2016-17 19, 20
Robert Pack 1996-97 27
Derrick Rose 2013-14 25
Ricky Rubio 2011-12, 2012-13 21, 22
Latrell Sprewell 1997-98 27
Jerry Stackhouse 2001-02, 2003-04 27, 29
Bob Sura 2000-01 27
Jamaal Tinsley 2001-02, 2007-08 23, 29
Antoine Walker 2001-02, 2002-03 25, 26
Russell Westbrook 2008-09 20
Jason Williams 1999-00, 2001-02 24, 26
Ray Williams 1982-83 28

Now that’s a lot of star-power. Maybe Mudiay isn’t in as much trouble as the world thinks he is? Here’s the list of players restricted to those age 23 and under:

  • Gilbert Arenas
  • Michael Carter-Williams
  • Larry Hughes
  • Jason Kidd (twice)
  • Emmanuel Mudiay (twice at current pace)
  • Ricky Rubio (twice at current pace)
  • Jamaal Tinsley
  • Russell Westbrook

Not bad, eh? There’s a lot of quality NBA talent on this list. Even Michael Carter-Williams has a chance to resurrect his career as a backup in Chicago, but he won Rookie of the Year in 2013-14!

The problem Mudiay runs into is his falling assist numbers.

Here’s that same list of players in combination with their assists per game:

  • Gilbert Arenas - 5.0 assists
  • Michael Carter-Williams - 6.7 assists
  • Larry Hughes - 4.5 assists
  • Jason Kidd (twice) - 7.7, 9.7 assists
  • Emmanuel Mudiay (twice at current pace) - 5.5, 3.2 assists
  • Ricky Rubio (twice at current pace) - 8.2, 7.3 assists
  • Jamaal Tinsley - 8.1 assists
  • Russell Westbrook - 5.3 assists

Yikes. That’s why.

Most of the above players were given the keys to the rebuild for their respective teams, and thus, were given the ball to create opportunities for themselves and others to play well. In the first ten games this season, Mudiay has been largely put in a position to NOT get assists, and it’s entirely a schematic thing. Usually, the ball flows into the post and out of Mudiay’s hands, in which the Nuggets try and generate offense without the young point guard. For a player with Mudiay’s skill set, this is just wrong. Why go away from a tried and true strategy of developing a point guard by taking the ball out of his hands?

The Nuggets were never going to win games by giving Mudiay the keys, but now, it looks like they aren’t willing to wait for him either. To put this in perspective, the average number of wins for a team starting one of the above point guards (excluding Mudiay’s partial season and MCW’s traded season) is 27 wins. The Nuggets actually overachieved. Now, the Nuggets are trying to figure out how to get the ball out of Mudiay’s hands because of an overreaction to last season. Instead of enduring the struggles, the Nuggets are playing through their big men more, adding “combo guard” to the titles of Gary Harris and Will Barton, and asking Mudiay to score.

Here are Emmanuel Mudiay’s play type differences from his first year to this year:

Year Pick and Roll Frequency Pick and Roll Efficiency Pick and Roll Rank (percentile)
2015-16 43.0% 0.64 PPP 21.7
2016-17 36.2% 0.70 PPP 30.8

The thing is, Mudiay’s actually improved in the pick and roll. It’s not much, but in spite of all of the criticism Nuggets fans have given the young point guard, he’s improved his pick and roll efficiency.

The problem? The Nuggets are going to him less in a pick and roll set. How is a pick and roll player (classifying Mudiay as anything other than such would be ludicrous) supposed to impact the game if he’s taken out of the pick and roll?

There are other factors at work, but the Nuggets gave the keys to Emmanuel Mudiay last season and they are slowly taking them away. On Sunday, Jameer Nelson started, relegating Mudiay to the off-ball position for most of the offense, and shockingly, he didn’t do very well. The reason Mudiay and Gary Harris play well together? Mudiay is the ball handler, and Harris is the off guard. Those are their roles set in stone.

If I were the Nuggets right now, I would look very hard at two difficult decisions. The first is making a schematic change involving Mudiay more as a ball handler. Once Gary Harris gets back healthy, the Nuggets can run a lineup featuring three off-ball shooters (Harris, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler) and a pick and roll big man (Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic, or Jusuf Nurkic). This would allow optimum spacing for Mudiay to continue handling the basketball with many pick and roll or pick and pop options on the floor.

The other option is to trade Mudiay. Some may scoff at this, but Mudiay needs time to develop, and in order to develop at his best, he needs to be put in optimum situations to succeed, like the one outlined above. If the Nuggets are unwilling to wait, or unwilling to go away from a post centered offense around Gallinari, Faried, Jokic, and Nurkic, then they should trade Mudiay away and start Jamal Murray right now. It’s clear that Mudiay simply isn’t going to work well as an off-ball option. His three point percentage has improved, but only to 33.3 percent. It’s still not a great fit.

Whatever the Nuggets decide to do, they cannot continue to operate with a pick and roll guard in a post-up system. Personally, I would change the system to fit the player the Nuggets handed the keys to, but this is just Stat of the Week, and I’m just here to provide numbers.


To wrap this up, let’s focus on the good: Mudiay’s first quarter against the Boston Celtics. By my count, Mudiay’s nine baskets involved:

  • Basket 1: drive to the basket. Fouled. And-1.
  • Basket 2: offensive rebound and put-back.
  • Basket 3: pick and roll with the center and three shooters.
  • Basket 4: pick and roll with the center and three shooters.
  • Basket 5: isolation. One move, dribble pull-up. Very quick and easy to replicate.
  • Basket 6: spot-up after setting a ball-screen. Unsustainable.
  • Basket 7: pick and roll with the center and three shooters. Pull-up three.
  • Basket 8: quick hand-off with the center and three shooters. Pull-up three. Unsustainable.
  • Basket 9: post-up fallaway.

Only three of those shots occurred when Mudiay held the ball for less than a second. One was an offensive rebound, something he should do more when he doesn’t have the ball. He created all six of the other shots for himself, partially because of his skill, and partially because the lane wasn’t clogged.

C’mon guys. Let the kid work. He can be great if you let him. Coach Malone, start a shooter at power forward and make Mudiay the dominant guard. He won’t disappoint you.