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Denver Nuggets year in review: Emmanuel Mudiay

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Emmanuel Mudiay was asked to be the franchise point guard the day he was drafted, and his rookie season had ups and downs. Here's a look at the good and bad, as well as what to expect with Mudiay next season.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review Series

Over the next three weeks, the staff at Denver Stiffs will be reviewing the Denver Nuggets' 2015-16 season with our Year in Review series. Check back daily for new articles and analysis of the major players on the roster as well as the coaching staff. You can also click on the link to the right for a full list of articles in the series that you may have missed.

Overview

By Daniel Lewis

The addition of Emmanuel Mudiay to the Denver Nuggets roster was the most important acquisition of the entire season.

While the Nuggets would have been happy to have any of the top 10 players taken in the draft, getting a point guard in Mudiay allowed the team to move on from the disappointing Ty Lawson, officially launching a rebuild that had been needed for two seasons.

Nuggets fans first exposure to Mudiay came during the Summer League exhibitions in Las Vegas, Nev., with the rookie putting up 11 points and four assists in his first game of the tournament. With Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic rotating at center, the Nuggets put wings around them and let Mudiay drive and dish, making astonishing passes and difficult fadeaway jumpers over defenders.

Mudiay started the season with a bang, finishing one assist shy of a notorious triple double (17 points, 11 turnovers, 9 assists) in a road win over the Houston Rockets. November and December were not easy on him as he was introduced to the physicality and speed of the NBA game. He struggled with turnovers and his shot wasn't falling, and the mental aspect of the game started to take a toll on him.

Mudiay sprained his ankle during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 11, and the injury would sideline him for about a month. The time away from the games was a blessing in disguise for Mudiay, allowing him to escape the demands of starting and evaluate his performance to start his career. Head coach Michael Malone didn't give him the starting spot back immediately, allowing his point guard to ease back into the speed of the game behind the veteran Jameer Nelson.

After the All-Star break, Mudiay's game really began to manifest. He was more assertive, looking for his shot and taking control of the offense. His strong play to finish the season wasn't enough to shake the inefficient, turnover-prone labels that were given to him at the beginning of the season, but Nuggets fans that stuck with the team until the end saw a more confident player that improved week after week.

Mudiay's rookie season had forgettable and unforgettable moments, and while he was unable to get the Nuggets back into the postseason, I don't think fans will have to wait long for this team to be in the playoffs once again. With Mad-Eye Mudiay (or Kid Congo or whatever) at the point, the Nuggets future is bright, and the sky is the limit. He has helped usher in a new day in Denver.

One Important Stat

By Zach Mikash

36.4% 3 point field goal shooting post all star break. That would be in comparison to the 27.2% Mudiay shot from distance pre all star break. That stat highlights the major improvement Emmanuel made shooting the ball, while taking more attempts, as a whole while the season progressed. He was slightly above average after the break compared to being woefully below average before it. If he can manage to hold that 36.4% over the course of a full season next year then Denver should have a big year from their now 20 year old point guard.

Room for improvement

By Adam Mares

Finishing at the rim.

Mudiay's field goal percentage around the rim this season was horrendously low at just 47.5%. For reference, his fellow rookie point guard, D'Angelo Russell shot over 10% better from that zone. Even T.J. McConnell and Tyus Jones shot significant;y better around the rim in their rookie seasons, albeit on much fewer attempts.

Much has been made about Mudiay's jump shot but the form on his jump shot improved a lot as the season went on and his jumper is secondary to his playmaking ability anyway. Mudiay's success in the NBA may very well be tied to his ability to score at the rim at an above average level. His best skill is getting to the basket and using his size and strength to either kickout to the open shooter or score, however in his rookie season, the score at the rim part of that equation has been missing. I expect he'll make a huge leap in that category in year two.

Highlight of the Year

By Gordon Gross

Mudiay made some amazing passes and blocks, and some of his 2016 throwdown dunks helped set the tone for his change in attitude and improved stats the rest of the year, but there is no way any play encapsulated Emmanuel's up-and-down-yet-still-encouraging season like his game-winner against the 76ers:

Best Game of the Year

By Gordon Gross

I have to go with the game against the Brooklyn Nets on March 4th, in his last game as a teenager. The opponent wasn't the toughest (though the Nuggets still lost) but the situation mattered. Danilo Gallinari had gotten injured three games prior and wouldn't play again in the season. Mudiay and the Nuggets had just beaten down the Lakers, but it's easy to get up to play the guy drafted ahead of you (D'Angelo Russell) and less easy to keep putting together quality performances without the team's best player available.

Mudiay answered the bell against Brooklyn, posting 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting, with 6 assists and 7 rebounds against just 3 turnovers. He did a little of everything: finished at the rim, made free throws close-and-late, led fast breaks off turnovers, hit threes... and played within himself. His foul on a block attempt on a three-point shot led to the free throws that tied the game in regulation and eventually led to a Denver loss, but even in that he was willing to go for the block and the win (and thought he had both at the time).

When Mudiay had to step up, he did, and the growth in his game in the second half was evident. The Nets game, even as a loss, exemplified some of that learning curve and gave a glimpse of what he could do for this team going forward.

Roundtable Questions:

Which do you want to see improved more by Mudiay over the summer: better shooting or the field (fewer turnovers, more assists and rebounds, etc)? Should he fix the scoring first, or the rest of his point guard skills?

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I want to say his skills running the offense, directing traffic, increasing assists and decreasing turnovers... but his shooting skills were poor enough and his finishing around the rim SO bad that I have to pick scoring. There were days in this league where point guards didn't have to score as much as facilitate. Not so much now. We need more efficient scoring from Mudiay and that alone will help open the defense up for better passing. Although if he wants to work on his handle I won't hold it against him...

Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): If the field means finishing at the rim, stamina, strength, etc. then I'll go with the field. I hope that he can improve all facets of his game and his jump shot will certainly be a big part of that, but there is a scenario in which he can be an effective point guard without an elite jumper. See Tony Parker, Reggie Jackson, for examples of this.

Colin Neilson (@BeefySwats): Better shooting. Mudiay's passing is already very polished; the improvement in decisionmaking will come with time and familiarity with the system and his teammates. I'm quite comfortable with the rest of his point guard skills - despite the ugly turnovers at times, he's still the best passer on the team (with Nikola Jokic coming in a close second - sorry, Gallo). When Mudiay becomes a reliable threat to score with an effective jumper and slash to the rim, his true passing and distributing abilities will be unleashed.

The Nuggets are slated to draft 7th again (pre-lotto), and the odds of getting a better player than Mudiay at that slot are low. Who are the players in this draft that you would trade Mudiay for straight-up?

Gross: Simmons, probably. I'm not sold that Ingram is going to be more than Andrew Wiggins for a few years, and while we could absolutely use that scoring punch (and I'm on record as begging the basketball gods to deliver Ingram to us) I believe Mudiay's all-around game will have comparable impact shortly. Hield and Murray are fairly one-dimensional as well, so despite the fact that we definitely need that one dimension, I'll keep Mudiay. Unless we get the #1 pick, I guess, and then we'll have to figure something out, because Mudiay and Simmons together could be a shooting disaster despite their interesting collection of skills.

Mares: Man, that's a tough one. It's so hard to trade a known commodity for an unknown rookie. Ben Simmons could be a superstar but he could also be a total bust. With one year of watching Mudiay I am fairly certain he isn't a bust so it's hard to say I'd trade him for anything in the draft. But gun to my head, probably Simmons and Brandon Ingram.

Neilson: Simmons, but that's not gonna happen. I'd rather the team preserve continuity with Mudiay and continue to develop his skills with the team. Another year in Malone's system and with a healthy Nurkic and Gallinari to begin training camp will do wonders for his growth as a point guard in the NBA.

In his end-of-year presser, Malone only named Mudiay in his list of possibly-safe starters, with everyone else needing healthy competition. Is Mudiay a no-doubt piece of a future Nuggets contender, or do you still have doubts?

Gross: How do I parse this? I have some doubts about Mudiay's ultimate upside, but I don't have any doubts that we're riding with him for the next several years regardless. If the Nuggets are going to build a contender then Mudiay HAS to be one of those key pieces. His growth in the second half of the season makes me believe he can overcome the current weaknesses in his game. I just hope it doesn't take him as long as it took Chauncey Billups to find his stride in the league, or that future Nuggets contender is even further away than I hope it is.

Mares: I have no doubts. He's a hard worker, a smart player, and a great player. I'm not sure if Mudiay will lead us to a championship but he is certainly going to be the guy at the helm for several years to come. I don't see the Nuggets moving on from him unless something catastrophic happens.

Neilson: Mudiay has shown flashes of brilliance, but the difference between good and great is consistency. Can Mudiay start knocking down that jumper consistently, or consistently keep a 2.0 (or better) assist to turnover ratio? Then he'll be great. Until then, though, there will be frustrating nights with bad turnovers and worse shots. I'd like to believe that Mudiay is the piece that can take the Nuggets to contention, but I have my doubts until he's more consistent in his play.