(Photo credit: HDXposure)
Patrick Causey, @PhillySportsJD
Emmanuel Mudiay might be the poster child for why top flight prospects should avoid playing basketball overseas. He is a 6'5, 200 pound combo guard with a rare combination of size and speed. He was once considered the second best prospect in the entire nation and a favorite for the number one overall pick in the draft.
But academic issues forced him to abandon his commitment to play at SMU under the tutelage of point guard guru Larry Brown. He wet overseas to play in the hyper-competitive China Basketball Association, but an ankle injury limited him to only 12 games.
So most teams have not seen him play competitive basketball since his senior year in high school, which as you can imagine is a problem for a team considering using a top draft pick and investing millions of dollars in a relative unknown. His stock has accordingly dropped, and he should be available when the 76ers pick in the upcoming draft.
Let's try to lend some clarity to what type of player Mudiay is, and what type of player he can become.
Growing up in Africa
When most college players talk about overcoming adversity, they typically discuss the time they were benched in a game, got a bad grade, or, in today's day in age, sent out a controversial tweet. Rarely does it include growing up in the poorest country in the world besieged by a civil war without either of your parents.
Emmanuel Mudiay has done such things in life, which probably explains why the moment never seems to big for the 19-year old point guard sensation.
Mudiay was born in Kinshasa, Zaire, which is the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. When he was just a toddler, his father, who was 6'10 and 300 pounds, died suddenly and unexpectedly. This left Therese Kabeya to care for her three sons Emmanuel, Stephane, and Jean-Michael on her own.
Growing up poor in Africa is not something to which even the poorest Americans can relate. Recent estimates suggest that the DRC is the poorest country in the world, with an annual average income of just $400 dollars. Yes, you read that right. That's the annual income.
So to say the odds were stacked against Emmanuel Mudiay and his family is putting it mildly.
As further detailed in a moving piece by Corbett Smith of the Dallas Morning News, Emmanuel Mudiay's life quickly took a turn for the worst:
In May 1997, Kinshasa was taken by the rebel forces of Laurent Kabila, overthrowing the government of Mobutu Sese Seko. In the months after Jean-Paul’s death, the political turmoil in the country during the Second Congo War would, at times, erupt in violence on the streets of Kinshasa. Stephane recalled a charred body on the street in late 1998, likely someone suspected of being a Tutsi soldier during a round of ethnic reprisals. There were other times when bombing and gunfire came close to their house.
“I can remember bullets hitting our gate,” Stephane said. “I would just hide under the bed all night long, nonstop.”
Therese Kabeya realized there was little chance her family could survive in Congo, so she took a chance: she left her three young boys, aged 12, 10 and 5, with her parents as she came to the United States in an attempt to get asylum for her family. After being apart from them for a year, her gamble paid off: the boys would be coming stateside.
Mudiay Blossoms Into Top Prospect
Almost immediately, Emmanuel and his brothers became enamored with basketball. All three possessed considerable athletic ability, and basketball came easily to them. They played all day, every day: “We used to go to parks growing up. It didn’t matter what the weather was. I can remember one time we were out there, 35 degrees, we’ve got gloves on and are still playing. It was crazy, and real competitive, too. Runny nose and all, you just kept playing.”
Muddily quickly developed a name for himself. He started his career at Arlington Grace Prep playing behind several future Division 1 prospects. After his sophomore year, he transferred to Prime Prep.
If you think that sounds like a name straight out of a bad TV sitcom, you aren't far off. It was a charter school established by Deon Sanders. Muddily starred at Prime Prep, quickly establishing himself as one of the best guards in the country. In his senior year, he averaged 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He lead his team to a 30-4 record and became the top ranked guard (and number two overall prospect) in the country.
He committed to SMU to play under Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who specializes in helping point guards develop their game.
At the Nike Hoop Summit, Mudiay solidified his status as one of, if not the, top prospect in the country. ESPN.com's Chad Ford had the following to say about Mudiay:
"If there was one standout prospect from the week, it was Mudiay. Both before and especially after the game, many of the NBA GMs and scouts I spoke with thought Mudiay had the best shot of anyone in this class of being the No. 1 pick and a future All-Star.
NBA folks love point guards with both size and athleticism, and Mudiay has both. He's a quick, powerful guard who can get to the basket and finish above the rim. He led all scorers at the Hoop Summit with 20 points and also had five rebounds, five assists and one steal, with just one turnover.
He can overdribble the ball at times, his decision-making and feel for running the point is still a work in progress and his jumper needs a lot of work, but the raw talent to be a Derrick Rose-type power point guard in the NBA is all there."
He became a consensus McDonald's High School All-American, and drew comparisons to every one from John Wall, Derrick Rose and Magic Johnson.
At the All Star game, Mudiay was matched up with another top prospect that 76ers fans have taken a liking to, D'Angelo Russell. At least on this one play, it wasn't even a contest:
Mudiay had arrived. With a year working with Brown to hone is game, many thought Mudiay would be a lock to be the top pick in the draft.
However, things did not go to plan. Mudiay's chance to go to SMU became seriously jeopardized when Prime Prep became embroiled in an academic scandal that caused it to have its charter revoked. The allegations against the school included "lawsuits, throw-downs, old-school corruption involving old-school church leaders," and financial mismanagement.
More pertinent to Mudiay, the NCAA has never -- not once -- reviewed coursework completed at Prime Prep and allowed it to count toward a prospective student-athlete's transcript. Because Mudiay attended Prime Prep for two years, he had little chance of being academically eligible to play basketball at SMU.
In other words, Mudiay had no choice but to go overseas. That did not stop some from speculating that Mudiay's decision to play in China was a money grab or a way to bypass the NCAA's requirements for getting an education. That simply was not true.
Almost every NBA general manager put off going to see Mudiay play early in the CBA season. They likely assumed that they could see Mudiay play later in the season. They were wrong. Mudiay played only 10 games before suffering an ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season.
The only GM in the entire league to see Mudiay play before he shut it down? Sam Hinkie, of course:
There is little video from his time in China, and most of it is grainy highlight clips on Youtube. Because Hinkie was able to scout Mudiay in person, the 76ers stand to have a considerable information advantage over the rest of the league.
I am not a fan of highlight videos; they can make almost any prospect look like a world beater with choice selection and the right amount of editing. But this is the only video that I could find that was in HD. Just take the highlights with a grain of salt:
To the surprise of many, Mudiay came back to play in the final two games of the playoffs. His team was beset by injuries, so Mudiay's coach turned to the 19-year old to provide a much needed boost. Down 0-2 in a best of five series, Mudiay came off the bench and led that Tigers to a victory by scoring 24 points grabbing 8 boards, and dishing 4 assists.
To say that this performance was impressive is putting it mildly. This was after he was inactive for over for several months.
He was pitted against former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury in that game, and his play made an impression to say the least. Marbury was asked about Mudiay's pro potential by Hoopsaddict.com:
“He’s a kid who is going to be really good, has a big upside. He’s got real potential, started at 18. He can play at a high level. It’s about the people around (him), and who he surrounds himself with is important to what goes on in his career. He’s got his own style – fast. He’s got a little bit of everybody’s game. What I like about him is he can jump and he’s big, too, a big guard, more of a tweener. He can’t really shoot that well right now, but he’s got point-guard skills, sees the floor really well. He’s definitely an NBA player. The question that teams want to know is if he’ll be impactful for the organization before they invest the top pick. I gave him advice – stay on the right path.”
Will Bynum, the NBA journeyman who was Mudiay's teammate, echoed those sentiments: “He is a great kid. Very eager and willing to learn and a very fast learner. Really good in pick and roll and open court and he has the ability to be a lockdown defender.”
Projecting his game to the NBA
By now, you likely know the book on Mudiay: he's a 6'5, 200 lb athletic combo guard that is a duel threat to score and create for others.
While he is a very good athlete, he is not an elite athlete in the mold of Russell Westbrook or John Wall. He relies more on quickness and his strength than blurring speed. But he still uses both very effectively to get to the rim at will. He excels in the open court as a north-south runner that bulldozes his way to the rim, overpowering smaller guards and blowing by larger defenders.
However, he sometimes trusts his size/speed advantage too much and it leads him to force bad shots in traffic. His instincts in this regard will improve with age, as it is a typical issue for 19 year-old prospects.
He is very effective driving to his right, either taking his man on one-on-one or working of the pick and roll. Forcing him left is another issue entirely. He struggled mightily in the CBA when he was forced to go left. While it is something that he will improve as he gets older, it is something worth keeping an eye on as he progresses.
Mudiay is also considered a high character guy with the intangibles, basketball IQ, and passing ability to run the point.
His passing ability is not on the level of D'Angelo Russell, but he is a good passer and flashes great court vision, especially in open court. While he can get to the rim at will against younger competition, he had a willingness to get his teammates involved which should translate well at the next level.
That passing ability will be key because, at least right now, he struggles to shoot the ball with enough consistency to keep defenses honest. Unlike former Sixer Michael Carter-Williams, his shot is not broken, however. He has good footwork and solid form, and he is adequate at the catch and shoot. Many scouts and NBA executives think Mudiay's shot will become an asset with enough time and work.
But it is still an issue. His form is a mess off the dribble; he has an uneven base, has a tendency to release the ball on the way down and fails to consistently keep his shoulders square.
If the Sixers draft Mudiay, it will likely be with the intent of having him play the point. The Sixers would look to flank him with shooters at the 2 and 3 to keep defenses from packing the lane and making life difficult for Mudiay, Embiid and Noel. The more he can improve his jump shot, the better his career arc will extend. While he will never become an elite shooter, he should be able to be above league average, which should be enough given his other considerable talents.
Defense and Rebounding
While his defensive effort has been questionable at times, he has the length and athleticism to become a lock down defender in the league. He has plus lateral mobility, and his 6'8 wingspan can create havoc in passing lanes. While he only had 19 steals in 12 games in the CBA, his timing and instincts should improve with age.
Where he really needs to improve is on team defense -- moving through screens, helping on weakside D, defensive rotations, and the like. But again, these are common shortcomings of a 19 year old player. Put Mudiay in Brett Brown's capable hands, and it would be a mild upset if he does not become a menace on the defensive side of the ball.
He is also a very strong rebounder for a point guard. In his 12 games in the CBA, he averaged an impressive 6.3 rebounds per game. His strength and athleticism comes in handy on the defensive side of the glass, which he uses with great effectiveness to push the ball in transition and cause headaches for defenses.
One of the only coaches with inside knowledge about Mudiay's game is former 76ers coach, Larry Brown, who recruited Mudiay to SMU. Back in February of this year, Brown joined Mike Missanelli 97.5 The Fanatic and said Mudiay reminded him of John Wall or Russell Westbrook:
"You need a great point guard. First and foremost I think it starts with them defending the ball. Emmanuel's 6-5, he's long, he's athletic. I think he can keep the ball in front of him. He's a pass-first point guard. He's an extra rebounder. He's not a great shooter, but, in the NBA, you have so much time to work on your shot and improve your game, his shot's not broken. I think it'll get there. I think he has it all."
"He reminds me a lot of John Wall. They've done a tremendous job with Jon down in Washington, he's making the people around him better. You see it with Russell Westbrook. They've added some players around him and now he's getting more and more inclined to get other people involved. I think Emmanuel's really a talent like those kids."
Other scouts aren't as high on Mudiay as Larry Brown. They see more shades of Tyreke Evans, Rajon Rando or Michael Carter-Williams. This is an easy comparison to make at this point in Mudiay's career because he has good size, plus athleticism, but struggles as a shooter.
I think either scenario can be true depending on how much Mudiay improves his shot. I think his floor is Jrue Holiday or Rondo -- a fringe All Star player at his peak -- if he never develops a consistent jumper. Defenses won't have to respect his j and can pack the lane and dare him to shoot, which will limit his effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
But if he can hit the jump shot with regularity, especially off the dribble, then he has the chance to be a special player. How special? That's for Mudiay to decide.