I’ve got a lot of confidence that Emmanuel Mudiay is going to be at least a pretty good NBA player. Mudiay has elite size for his position, plus handles, vision, and very good athleticism for a point guard prospect. That skill package, combined with not having any huge glaring flaws, almost guarantees a solid NBA player. What causes concern is the idea that Mudiay has elite upside, and should be in the discussion for the #2 or #3 pick in this very strong draft class.
Some draft narratives have suggested that Mudiay is an elite athlete of the John Wall, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook mold, and therefore, has the potential to be a star like them. Mudiay isn’t a bad athlete by any means. Watching him play, he’s got a quick first step, speed in transition, and the vertical ability to leap into defenders – readjust – and finish at the hoop. Keep watching, and you’ll notice plays like this:
Mudiay has the athleticism to jump into a defender and contort his body, but he lacks the explosiveness that a Wall or Westbrook has where they’re able to bring the ball back up to the rim. It’s a slight difference, but it can mean a huge gap in efficiency. Mudiay is caught somewhere between Kyrie Irving and John Wall. Kyrie has the touch to consistently finish plays like that, Wall has the athleticism to make that a much easier finish, Mudiay is stuck in an unhappy middle ground.
Inefficiency at the rim is acceptable, if you get there at an elite rate, or if you score efficiently from outside the paint. Mudiay doesn’t project to do either. Getting to the rim might be Mudiay’s most translatable skill. Size, handles, and quickness combined with good patience in the pick-and-roll allow him to get to the hole. Unfortunately, Mudiay doesn’t quite have the elite burst, or on a string handle to get there all the time. Defenders playing off him due to his shaky jump shot only makes it harder for him to get to the rim at any kind of outlier level.
Shooting is the other area that holds Mudiay back from being an efficient scorer. Mudiay cocks the ball a little too much and sometimes kicks his legs out beneath him, but his shot mechanics aren’t awful, he’s not an Elfrid Payton level bad shooter. A 47 shot free throw sample shouldn’t lead to any final conclusions on Mudiay’s shooting. Still, 57% shooting from the line is a scary flag. 34% from three is a more encouraging number, and his midrange pull-ups generally looked smooth and confident. Mudiay’s shooting will probably fall somewhere in the below-average range; not a scheme altering weakness like a Rondo, but a generally inefficient means of scoring.
Profiling with below average scoring efficiency at all three levels isn’t ideal, and Mudiay lacks any other elite strengths to make up for his scoring deficiencies. Similar to his finishing at the rim, Mudiay looks good, not great, in a lot of other areas of his game.
An advanced understanding of pick-and-roll play highlights Mudiay’s ability as a passer. He does a good job using his size to see over defenders and find shooters or bigs at the rim accordingly. In transition, and situations where he is penetrating to the hoop, Mudiay also does a good job finding the open teammate.
Things aren’t all rosy for Mudiay as a passer. If he doesn’t locate an open teammate quickly, Mudiay too often tries to force passes to not very open teammates. His biggest problem as a passer is, in fact, more RosE-y; he jumps up in the air without having decided where he’s passing to, and it results in a turnover. A worryingly high 16% TOV% tempers the enthusiasm on Mudiay’s passing a fair amount. The vision is there to rack up assists, but poor decision making prevents him from really standing out as a creator.
Mudiay is most likely not going to be a bad offensive player. His ability to make decisions in pick-and-roll should only improve, same with his jump shot. Good passing vision and above average ability to get into the lane are an easy path to offensive success. The path to being a truly dangerous offensive player is harder to envision. Mudiay is slightly lacking when it comes to decision making, athleticism, and skill.
Even with the offensive concerns, if Mudiay had the makings of an elite defender he could still justify a top-3 selection. Here, Mudiay might have the best chance to prove me wrong. Elite athleticism isn’t necessary to be a game changing defender, when you also have the size and frame Mudiay possesses for a point guard. Instincts and application of said defensive tools prevent Mudiay from being the high-level stopper he could be.
Playing in a Chinese league that is known for questionable defensive efforts means it is hard to know whether Mudiay’s output on the defensive end is truly reflective of his instincts and actual effort level, or just what he was allowed in the CBA. I’m operating under the assumption that his performance is more indicative than not, Mudiay knew scouts would be watching his games so I wouldn’t expect him to have been slacking off on that end. With that in mind, Mudiay’s defense wasn’t particularly impressive from a statistical or viewing perspective.
Despite almost always playing as the point guard on the offensive end, Mudiay generally matched up with opposing two guards on the defensive side. Even when opposing team’s best players were American point guards Mudiay often stayed on a less threatening offensive option. His team and coaching are probably more to blame here, but it means Mudiay was put in less ball screen and isolation situations defensively.
When he was attacked, Mudiay usually did a good job using his strength and quickness to keep opponents in front of him, though his navigating of screens was inconsistent at times. On the ball, Mudiay’s only obvious pitfall was that he frequently fell for opponent pump fakes.
Off the ball Mudiay, like many young players, was less impressive. Mudiay had a solid 2.64 STL%, but taken with his paltry 0.24 BLK%, and considering his length and athleticism, is pretty mediocre. Away from the ball Mudiay never really stood out defensively, which can be taken both positively and negatively. He wasn’t making glaring mistakes or losing track of his man very often, but he also wasn’t a difference maker who noticeably helped his team’s D.
Considering his frame and quickness in conjunction with what seem to be around average or slightly below average defensive instincts, Mudiay projects as a somewhat above average defender. In this case, Mudiay has the upside to be a big time defender, but without showing any signs of exceptional instincts it is tough to believe he will reach that upside.
Draft models have varying opinions on Mudiay, but for him I place very little to no weight on them. There have been far fewer prospects to come from the CBA than most European leagues, making it more difficult to have confidence in how his numbers will translate. His model numbers are based on a small sample from a league that is inevitably harder to project than almost any other prospects. If Mudiay had performed off the charts bad or good I might pay more attention, but he didn’t, so I’m mostly ignoring his model scores.
Like I said earlier, I’m pretty confident Mudiay isn’t going to be a bust. Guys with his size and athleticism, that have the feel and handle to play as legitimate point guards on offense, and don’t have awful defensive instincts, are going to be able to play in the league. I just worry about his upside, especially with how loaded the point guard position is today. I strongly doubt he turns into an impact defender, elite playmaker, or particularly high efficiency or high volume scorer. Mudiay’s safety still puts him at 6th on my board, but I don’t see the upside that has some projecting him as a top-3 pick.