Drafted with the No. 7 pick in the 2015 NBA draft just four years ago, it certainly says something about how Emmanuel Mudiay’s rookie contract went that his second contract is a one-year minimum deal.
But Mudiay has essentially failed to deliver nearly all of his reputed strengths entering the league, and hasn’t tremendously shown improvements on his weaknesses. DraftExpress was the most widely respected public scouting service available in 2015, and their lists of strengths and weaknesses give us an idea of where to start with Mudiay.
Here was Mudiay’s strengths card from that scouting report.
He does still have physical tools. Standing at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Mudiay is both taller and longer than the average point guard, and he does use that to good effect in at least one way: he is an above-average rebounding point guard.
But in their video, DraftExpress said that this length means his “Finishing Ability” is a strength, “thanks to his ability to elevate and finish above the rim or absorb contact at the basket.”
In the NBA, though, Mudiay’s been a terrible finisher, only making 53% of his shots from within three feet of the basket last year. That would be the worst percentage on the Jazz by some margin: even notoriously poor layup finisher Ricky Rubio made 58% of those. Going through the tape, there are just some missed bunnies, but there are also so many times when he tries to challenge a shotblocker who is in good position, early in the shot clock, because of some irrational confidence.
Can the Jazz fix that? We’ll see. I remember that the Jazz were confident they could fix Rubio’s finishing around the rim; and truth be told, they actually did improve it significantly: Rubio’s best two seasons at finishing by far have been his last two, and that 58% referenced earlier is well above the Spaniard’s career average of 50%. But with only one year, Mudiay will need to learn quickly in the Jazz’s finishing school.
The lack of finishing ability has predictably hampered his supposed strength of transition play. Mudiay does enjoy pushing the ball in transition, a smart tendency, but if there’s a defender there, there’s a decent chance he’s going to mess up the pass or the shot. Mudiay only scored 0.89 points per play in transition last year, according to Synergy, one of the very worst marks in the NBA.
As we continue to head down the list, “Pick and Roll Feel” is described as Mudiay’s next strength. I don’t think “feel” is the word I’d use to describe it: Mudiay’s assist to turnover ratio is very below average, and again, he does struggle with sometimes barreling himself to the rim. But last season, Mudiay did become a very solid mid-range shooter, making 48% of his shots between 10 feet and the 3-point line, many of them pullups in pick and roll. That’s a nice talent to have — if it’s not a one-year blip; his previous high from mid-range was 35%. Mudiay’s certainly at the age where his improvements could be real, but whether or not he can shoot as well from mid-range again this year is something to watch.
As far as “Creating offense” goes, he hasn’t been able to consistently do that. As mentioned, he’s not a passer, averaging only 3.9 assists per game last year, the lowest of any non-rookie starter at point guard. He can, theoretically, attack in isolation, but in practice, what that means is either going to the rim where he’s likely to find a help defender he will struggle to finish over, or a stepback jumper he’s unlikely to hit. He did score 14 points per game last season, but it was for the league’s worst team with nowhere else to go.
Mudiay has not lived up to his defensive potential. He is big and long, he should be good at defense, right? But the numbers are awful: in 2017-18, Mudiay had the league’s worst Defensive Real Plus-Minus among point guards, a lower ranking than post-hip-surgery-and-very-tiny Isaiah Thomas. The good news is that he improved in 2018-19, and was ranked only 92nd out of 100 NBA PGs.
I don’t think he’s bad in isolation. But he really struggles to get around screens and then back involved in the play: he doesn’t really stay attached when he goes over screens, nor does he really use his length to get in the pocket pass. He’s just there.
And when you watch him on tape, everything just seems a bit slow. He does seem like he wants to do the right thing: he motions toward getting to the right spots on the weak side, starts to look like he stunts when needed, but just doesn’t have a lot of urgency. Some of that lackadaisicalness might be because he played for a terrible Knicks team, but again, his defensive adjusted plus-minus improved this year, so who knows.
The weaknesses have lingered. His 3-point shooting is honestly inspiringly consistent: all four years of his NBA career, he’s shot between 31.5% and 32.9% from 3-point range. That’s hard to do! Unfortunately, shotmaking consistency does not necessarily mean shotmaking accuracy. There are also many times when his low percentage causes him to pass up open threes, which can be equally damaging to an offense.
The turnovers started very high in Mudiay’s rookie season, but have tapered off some; he is now merely below-average instead of worst in the league at turning the ball over. And we’ve discussed the inconsistency on defense that has become one of Mudiay’s trademarks.
Look, the picture right now isn’t pretty. Mudiay can score a little from mid-range and rebound, but that’s about all he does efficiently at an NBA level. He signed with the Jazz for the minimum in order to take advantage of the Jazz’s player development program, according to agent BJ Armstrong, and one might hope that has an impact sooner rather than later.
It isn’t fair to expect great things from players you sign for the minimum, but thanks to the weakness of the Knicks, he’s certainly the point guard who got the most playing time last season you could sign for that amount of money. If Mudiay improves the way they both hope, he could be a compelling scoring option off the bench for the Jazz.
Without it, though, it might be rough. The good news is that if the Jazz need to be, they could be players on the buyout market come February if they really are true contenders. In the mean time, in the case of an injury to Mike Conley or Dante Exum, it might be wise to give some backup point guard time to Donovan Mitchell or even Joe Ingles over Mudiay.