Anyone who follows my articles will know that I’ve been an outspoken critic of Emmanuel Mudiay for some time. In fact, during Mudiay’s first season before I ever started writing, I said that he wouldn’t be the guy Denver needs long term. He showed glimmers of promise, but parts of his game were so underdeveloped that he stuck out like a sore thumb against more seasoned players in the league.
Looking back, I actually feel badly for Mudiay. His post-high school experience lists one year playing as a professional in China, but he only actually played in 10 games making his experience there virtually useless in terms of preparing him to play in the NBA. Mudiay was essentially drafted right out of high school into the league, and pressured to step up for a role he wasn’t prepared to fill.
I will take a moment to point out that the Nuggets did Mudiay a disservice when they first brought him on board. Ty Lawson’s alcohol problem made Denver desperate for a high profile point guard to assume the role as the face of the franchise. Mudiay was prospected to be one of the best available picks in the 2015 draft class so the chance to snag him had the Nuggets’ front office elated. Mudiay was thrust into the spotlight and leadership role of a veteran point guard, and he was subsequently robbed of some much needed development time.
A year in the G-League would have done wonders for his poise, and ability to protect the ball. Instead, Mudiay was repeatedly exposed to situations that decimated his confidence causing the Nuggets to struggle with consistency, and extend the disappointment of losing seasons for their fans. Mudiay never received the coaching attention and developmental focus he needed, and the Nuggets probably missed out on what could been an amazing player for their roster by trying to bring him up too quickly.
However, what’s done is done. Mudiay and the Nuggets were never going to make things right, and while I think they should have made the move to trade Mudiay for Bledsoe when they had the chance on draft night this season, he’s gone now and everyone can move on.
So, even though I’m happy that Mudiay won’t be wearing a Nuggets uniform for the foreseeable future, I’m hopeful that there will be good things in his future. He’s still so very young, and full of talent. His first NBA venture was a flop, but at just 21 years of age he’s a very viable asset to a team who will want to put the time into getting him to where he needs to be.
There are three key things he’ll need in order for that to become a reality:
Strong and supportive leadership. Mudiay will likely need some deprogramming, and reprogramming from his new coaching staff. I don’t mean that the Nuggets’ coaching staff is bad, but I do think Mudiay probably has some negative opinions about his abilities that were bred out of a high-pressure and critical environment. My fellow Stiff Daniel Lewis pointed out on this week’s episode of the Pickaxe Pundits show that Danilo Gallinari was one of the veterans who was pretty hard on Mudiay when he first came on the scene. Each mistake was scrutinized, and little on-the-court encouragement was offered to lift his spirits.
We’ve all been in a situation where we feel like we’re under the gun, and typically those situations are breeding ground for mistakes we wouldn’t normally make if the pressure wasn’t so high. Mudiay needs a coaching staff who will offer him a safe environment to grow and make mistakes so he can get his confidence back.
A bench role that’s designed for development, and not punishment. After Jamal Murray was drafted, there was a period of time where Coach Malone didn’t even play Mudiay. Instead, he chose to start Jameer Nelson and bring Murray off the bench to bring some veteran experience into the rotation. While I don’t feel Malone made a bad decision in benching Mudiay, it felt like the motives may not have been quite right to encourage him to develop. Malone would criticize his players’ effort time and again in his post game interviews, giving the impression that Mudiay’s repeated DNP-CD was more of a punishment than anything else.
Sure, Mudiay wasn’t getting better, and he hadn’t put in the work he needed in the off season to grow. However, it seemed as though he didn’t quite know how to get to where he needed to be, and simply demanding more effort was proving to zap his motivation.
The Denver Nuggets are trading Emmanuel Mudiay to the New York Knicks, who are sending a future second-round pick to Dallas as a part of a three-team trade, sources tell @wojespn. https://t.co/YfTR9BU8wK pic.twitter.com/1qi416t0ae— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 8, 2018
If Mudiay can get into an environment where he’s being groomed and mentored by a veteran guard while receiving the supportive coaching leadership he needs I don’t think it’s far fetched to expect to see him as a viable off the bench guard, or maybe even a starter again one day.
Take a couple of steps back, in order to move forward. If you compare Mudiay to Murray in their respective first years in the league there is a distinct difference in poise and maturity on the court. I attribute this mostly to Murray’s time in Kentucky under Coach John Calipari. It won’t be fun to do this in the public eye after being demoted from a role as a starting point guard, but Mudiay needs to mentally go back to being a rookie, and re-learn some of the fundamental things he missed out on during his first year in the league.
He needs to be free to mess up, and free to be the student after being put in a position to lead when he wasn’t yet taught how to follow. This may even look like a season in the G-League building his confidence and working out some rudimentary kinks that are still causing him major problems i.e. turnovers. The only shame comes in not being willing to swallow pride and put in the work.
I truly am happy Mudiay has moved on, but I’m also truly hopeful that he lands in a place with some great leadership that can salvage a career that has a tremendous upside. Best of luck to Mudiay in New York!