After playing in just 3 of the Denver Nuggets’ last 11 games, Emmanuel Mudiay played 10 minutes in the most important game of the year.
Denver Nuggets’ point guard Emmanuel Mudiay was pegged as the starter headed into the season. With an eye towards the future and an objective of developing young talent in place, the Nuggets handed the keys of the offense to young Mudiay, whom they drafted 7th overall in 2015.
In the first half of the season, Mudiay struggled mightily. The young guard averaged 19.6 points per 100 possessions, but he put up some dismal shooting numbers.
In addition to shooting just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc, Mudiay also turned it over 4.1 times for every 100 trips down the floor.
Mudiay is 6’5″ and 200 pounds. He is easily the most athletic of the Denver point guards. You’d expect him to be a capable defender on the defensive end, but so far he’s struggled.
In the first half of the year, Mudiay put up the second-worst defensive rating of any guard in the league averaging at least 20 minutes. In fact, only fellow Denver guard Gary Harris was worse.
As you’ve surely heard by now, Dec. 15 is the most important date of this Denver Nuggets team’s season. That’s when Nikola Jokic became a starter and this Denver team developed into one of the best offenses in basketball. But that date wasn’t the last major lineup change.
While the Nuggets had become one of the league’s most dynamic offenses, they had also become one it’s most turnover-prone teams. Between the horrible frontcourt defense and the turnovers, something had to change.
Mudiay wasn’t shooting the ball well enough, or handling it with enough care. Harris, meanwhile, was about to enter the best stretch of his career.
Perhaps that’s why sometime around mid-January, head coach Mike Malone stuck Mudiay on the bench. The minutes simply stopped coming. Since the break, Emmanuel has played in only five games and averaged just more than eight minutes per.
Veteran guard Jameer Nelson has been getting the starts in place of the recent top-10 pick. Newcomer Jamal Murray has also replaced Mudiay as the backup ball handler
Prior to Monday night’s loss in Houston, Mudiay had only appeared in three of Denver’s last 11 games. That’s why it was a bit of a surprise to see him out there in what was the most important game of the season to date. What was even more shocking was how productive he was.
Mudiay looked good, providing some quick offense off the bench to help boost the Nuggets to a huge second quarter. He shot the ball well during that stretch. The youngster finished the game with eight points, going 2-of-4 from the field and knocking down a pair of threes.
For all the things that went wrong in the loss the Houston, and there were many, the decision to play Mudiay was not one of them.
Nelson struggled in Monday’s loss. He turned it over twice while going just 2-for-9 from the floor. Most notably, he took a horrific shot that missed everything as time wound down. It turned into a game-winning layup for James Harden.
With Mudiay and Murray both playing well Monday, Malone might be tempted to try something similar as they attempt to find the winning combination down the stretch.
Despite the strong performance however, I would hope that Malone hasn’t changed his mind on the rotation. I’m not rooting against Mudiay. It’s obvious that his development is in the best interests of this team moving forward.
But as things stand, the Nuggets hold just a half-game lead over Portland for the final playoff spot.
There’s not a lot of room for error right now and Mudiay is a ticking time bomb when it comes to unforced errors. He turned the ball over once Monday night during his short time on the floor and he didn’t register an assist either.
The points he scored were helpful, but not necessarily a sign that he’s closer to the player they need him to be. That’s obviously too small of a sample size to assume he’s taken any sort of leap as a shooter.
The fact is Mudiay remains both a liability on the defensive end and as turnover-prone as anyone on this team right now. If you caught any of Malone in the post-game Monday, you know turnovers are his main concern right now, as well they should be.
If that’s the case, then he must continue to trust Nelson while they hang on for dear life. Air-balls and all.