Emmanuel Mudiay insists he doesn’t have something to prove. He has something to learn.
That’s why the former No. 7 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, after four unremarkable or worse NBA seasons, came to Utah on a minimum salary deal; it’s because of what he hasn’t experienced, rather than what he has.
“A lot of players came here and played and have definitely gotten better,” Mudiay said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference introducing him to the local news media. “And that’s something that I wanted to do.”
Mudiay has never been in the playoffs, a point he brought up multiple times during the presser. He hasn’t played with a point guard with both on-court talent and veteran savvy. Sure, he’s played with the aging Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, and Jamal Murray, but never with someone like Mike Conley. And he’s never had a coach as well-regarded as Quin Snyder, and, as Mudiay pointed out, hasn’t had one with a law degree and an MBA.
So Mudiay and Snyder have been working together on a training schedule for the former that matches the master plan of the latter. That means a “ballplayer” who can play multiple positions, the point guard, shooting guard, or even minutes at small forward with his 6-foot-5 frame. That means a player who will maintain and channel aggressiveness to create advantages, getting up and down the floor. And of course, that means a player who will contribute on the defensive end.
That last bit has been a problem for Mudiay in his career so far, posting some of the most lackluster defensive numbers in the NBA. But Mudiay joined the Jazz with a defensive mandate, and says he wants to improve on that end of the floor.
“Once you [are] around people that have been playing great defense all along, it can become contagious,” Mudiay said. “I mean, they got the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy [Gobert]. I don’t want to let my teammates down in that aspect, so I definitely have to come out here and improve on that.”
And that means some coaching will be required.
“I’m somebody that takes criticism pretty well. So if I’m doing something I’m not supposed to be doing, I want him to tell me. Obviously, I have no doubt in my mind that he would tell me if I’m not playing great defense.”
On the offensive end, improving his shooting and finishing around the rim is the main target of Mudiay’s offseason, both locations on the floor where he’s been significantly below average through his career so far.
There’s no doubt that Mudiay has potential, and even four years into his NBA career, he’s still just 23 years old. It’s just whether or not the Jazz can get Mudiay — signed to a one-year minimum deal — to show that he can contribute. For the first time, he will be fighting for minutes on an NBA team that’s trying to be great, not one that will give him minutes out of obligation to his status as a prospect.
“I’m just being a sponge, trying to soak everything in,” he said.
It’s a new day for Mudiay.