With the 2015 NBA Draft less than three weeks away, teams are working out prospects to get better insight as to how they will want to draft on June 25.
19-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay, the biggest mystery of the NBA Draft, is beginning to gather momentum as one of the most intriguing prospects.
In 2014, Mudiay was one of the top high school recruits in the country, set to play for Southern Methodist University. However, reported concerns over his eligibility led him to leave SMU and sign a one-year contract with the Guangdong Tigers, a club in China.
As ESPN’s Chad Ford notes on his profile of Mudiay, the NBA world wasn’t happy about Mudiay’s decision. Mudiay would not only be harder to scout in China than in the NCAA, there isn’t a great track record for players who skipped college to play overseas succeeding in the NBA.
After watching Mudiay work out recently, though, Ford has high praise for him, saying he still might be the second-best prospect in the draft:
I was one of the first people outside Mudiay’s inner circle to see him play basketball in months.
Everyone had the same question. How did he look?
The answer? Better than he looked in practices and games at the Nike Hoop Summit in April 2014, when a number of GMs had him pegged as a top-two prospect in the NBA draft.
So good, in fact, that I have no doubt had he stayed at SMU and played for Larry Brown instead of heading to China, he’d be No. 2 (where he debuted on Big Board 1.0) right now, just weeks from the draft.
Mudiay is often considered a point guard, but at 6’5″, has the size to play shooting guard as well. As Ford notes, he has a more filled-out frame than almost any other prospect his size and age, and he’s quick, strong, and athletic. Mudiay’s drawn comparisons to John Wall, Tyreke Evans, and Jrue Holiday, all very talented, borderline All-Star guards in the NBA.
His athleticism bodes well for the NBA, especially after playing in China, where he went up against former pros who are bigger, stronger, and quicker than most college players.
Mudiay figures to be NBA-ready when it comes to attacking the rim:
In workouts, he’s shown his explosiveness:
Ford also writes that Mudiay is a mature, cultured young man who seems mentally prepared for the rigors of the NBA. He told Ford of the transition from China to the NBA:
“I learned a lot over there. Their work ethic is just ridiculous. They work so hard … I did two-a-days in China, going hard, going hard every day. I came back here and understood what it was going to take. I take everything serious. It’s a job now. It’s not playing around like when you’re a kid. I want to feed my family.”
With a combination of potentially elite athleticism, advanced professional experience, and maturity, the ceiling for Mudiay does seem to place him as one of the top picks.
However, there are questions about Mudiay’s transition to the next level as well. Arguably the biggest weakness in his game is shooting, which has virtually become a must-have skill among NBA guards. Mudiay hit 34% of his three-pointers in China, not a horrible number, and some people believe his shot selection was iffy, which could lead to worse percentages. A more concerning number, as Ford notes, is his 57% free throw shooting, suggesting he has some major mechanical issues (though an NBA scout told Ford that Mudiay’s shot is not “broken,” a la Rajon Rondo).
The sample size on Mudiay is small, which makes him even tougher to analyse. Nine games into his season in China, he hurt his ankle, causing him to miss three months, turning away scouts who were planning on making the trip to China to watch him during that time, Ford reports. He did return late in the season to play several playoff games and looked good, but according to Grantland’s Danny Chau, he looked visibly tired and understandably rusty at times.
All of this leaves him as the biggest question mark at the top of the draft. It’s widely assumed the Minnesota Timberwolves, owners of the No. 1 pick in the draft, will take one of the big men in Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns. After the Wolves, Mudiay is in play for picks two through six, according to several experts’ mock drafts.
His size, athleticism, and defensive potential would slate him as a good prospect for the frontcourt-heavy Sixers, whose rebuilding timeline could fit Mudiay’s projected curve. However, they have also placed an emphasis on shooting, which could turn them off to Mudiay.
His potential as a future superstar could fit well with the Knicks, the team with the No. 4 pick, where many people feel Mudiay will be taken. However, Knicks president Phil Jackson hasn’t historically placed much emphasis on point guards and may prefer to use the pick on a different position.
The Magic may pass over Mudiay because they have a young backcourt in Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo. This could send Mudiay sliding all the way to the Kings at No. 6, where DraftExpress currently predicts he’ll be drafted.
This is the mystery of Mudiay — a potential superstar with skills far more advanced than some of his peers and weaknesses more pronounced than some of the other top prospects. It’s unclear how teams will perceive a player they have so little exposure to. A team could bite on one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, or teams could be scared off and one of the most talented players could slide into the middle of the lottery.
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