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.
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