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Emmanuel Mudiay’s Work Overseas is Done

Even if Mudiay’s CBA career is over, he’s firmly in the mix to go No. 1 in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Yannis Koutroupis

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With all of 10 professional games in the Chinese Basketball League under his belt, top-ranked 2015 NBA Draft prospect Emmanuel Mudiay can already walk away feeling comfortable that he accomplished everything he needed to.

His team, the Guandong Southern Tigers, and lottery bound NBA teams that wanted to evaluate him more thoroughly will disagree, but for Mudiay 10 games is just right.

In that limited action, Mudiay posted impressive averages of 18.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.8 steals in 31 minutes a night. He boasted a 25.6 PER and a true shooting percentage of .535. He took the floor against the likes of former NBA players Von Wafer, Dominique Jones, Pooh Jeter, Metta World Peace and Stephon Marbury among others, and consistently proved he belonged despite being just 18 years old.

Before getting too carried away, it’s important to note that the CBA does not have a great reputation. It’s regarded as a league focused primarily on entertainment, with the inflated stats that come out of it commonly taken with a grain of salt. The league is able to attract high-level talent solely because of the financial incentives. Teams are allowed to carry two American-born players, and they will pay them anywhere from $700,000-$2 million. Not only is the pay great, but the playing time and opportunity is as well. American-born players don’t have to deal with some of the politics that have cost them playing time in the past in the truly competitive international leagues. As Brandon Jennings, the original trail blazer of the high-school-to-overseas-to-NBA route, learned the hard way in Italy, teams aren’t anxious to give a lot of playing time to someone they know is going to be gone at the end of the year. In China, American-born players are typically showcased, not hidden and held back. The play is unstructured, though, the talent discrepancy can be pretty large on some teams after their two imports and teams won’t hesitate to make a change if there is a better option out there.

Mudiay has been inactive since November 23 due to a sprained ankle. The Southern Tigers went on to lose three of their next four afterwards and opted to bring in NBA veteran Will Bynum as a temporary, but more likely permanent, replacement for Mudiay. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Mudiay’s representatives are considering bringing him back stateside so that he can focus on pre-draft training after he is cleared to return. He’s projected to be out another three-to-four weeks. If he were to stay with the Southern Tigers and come back on January 7, exactly one month from today, there would be just 10 regular season games left. At that point, taking into account that he’d still need to get his conditioning right after missing a month and a half, the chances of him hurting his stock are far greater than helping it. The smart move here, without a doubt, is to call it a career in the CBA and focus on the ultimate goal.

Mudiay went to China with one thing on his mind: getting paid. He’ll end up netting $1.2 million between his contract with Guandong and endorsement deals, even if he doesn’t play another game. Getting experience against professionals and developing his game were secondary benefits. Mudiay’s family was struggling and he couldn’t wait another year, a year in which SMU and the NCAA would have profited handsomely from his abilities, but he would be limited to just having his tuition, fees, housing and food comped while watching his family still scrape to make end’s meet. Excelling under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown may have been his only avenue to running away from the competition as the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In the history of the draft, only two players (Yao Ming, China, 2002 – Andrea Bargnani, Italy, 2006) not from an American high school or college have been taken with the top overall selection. By going the CBA route, Mudiay’s chances of becoming the surefire top pick reduced drastically. No matter how mind boggling his numbers were, there were going to be those who pointed to the integrity of the league as reason to boost up Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns’ case for the top spot over Mudiay’s. The best he could settle for is being in the mix, garnering enough consideration to get a workout and interview with whatever team wins the lottery. In the worst case, he would slide down draft boards in similar fashion to the way Jennings (selected 10th overall in 2009) did after his overseas struggles.

Even though it was just 10 games, the best-case scenario is firmly secured for Mudiay. His play is the biggest reason why. In this golden era of point guard play, the 18-year-old is a can’t-miss prospect for teams with a hole at the position. He’s blessed with great size at 6’5, already has a chiseled frame at 200 lbs. and is an absolute joy to watch with the basketball in his hands. Mudiay has a unique blend of court vision, creativeness, strength, speed and agility that would have college basketball analysts ready to anoint him the next big thing if he were playing at SMU like he originally intended to out of high school. He did turn it over in excess, over three times nightly, but when you take into account his style of play and age, it’s hard to harp on it too much. He may be more of a shoot-first point guard in the mold of a Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving, but thanks to his size and ability to be a threat off of the ball whether it be by slashing to the hoop or spotting up, he can easily play the two as well.

It’s still very early in the NBA season and a lot can change, but as of right now it’s pretty safe to say that the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery winner will likely be one of the following teams: Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. His biggest competition for the top spot are the aforementioned Okafor and Towns. There are some players with a chance to still get in the discussion, like Kristaps Porzingis (PF/C, International), Myles Turner (C, Texas), Stanley Johnson (SF, Arizona) and Justise Winslow (SF, Duke), but right now Okafor, Towns and Mudiay are the top three by a sizeable margin.

Of the six NBA teams with the best chance to win the lottery, half could be considered set at the point (Minnesota with Ricky Rubio, Utah with Trey Burke and Dante Exum and Philadelphia with Michael Carter-Williams). However, Minnesota tried to sign-and-trade for Eric Bledsoe and the 76ers openly considered drafting Exum – although we can’t say with certainty that was as a replacement for Carter-Williams or as a potential backcourt mate. Regardless, with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, their need is far more glaring in the backcourt than the front. The Knicks and Lakers need a young, quality starting center just as bad as they need a point guard of the same kind, but would definitely give Mudiay as much consideration as anyone. With a logjam in the interior already, the Pistons probably wouldn’t even give the bigs much thought. Odds are, Mudiay would be their guy from the get go, unless they make a move for a long-term solution at the point prior to the deadline with Greg Monroe’s expiring contract (although, he’d have to sign off on any deal).

The point is, other than the Jazz – who you can’t completely rule out from making room for Mudiay if they think more highly of him than Burke and Exum (which this analyst does) – every other team in the NBA’s cellar would take a long, hard look at Mudiay even if his body of work today is all they have to go by come draft night 200 days from now. He’s probably going to have some growing pains transitioning from the free-flowing play of high school, AAU and the CBA to the much more regimented and discipline-oriented systems in the NBA. Coach Brown would have helped him a lot with that at SMU, but considering where he’s at now, it’s hard to argue that Mudiay didn’t make the right decision. He milked the CBA for everything he needed from it, and now it’s time to focus on the draft. There’s no reason to go to the D-League, or try to make a comeback right before the CBA playoffs. He belongs in the NBA. We know that now without a doubt and there’s no reason for him to play organized basketball again until he’s officially in the league.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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