Emmanuel Mudiay: The Point Guard With a Shooting Problem

There's a ton of talent here, but his ceiling depends on him developing his jumper — a lot. And that's a lot to hope for.

Derek Bodner is covering the NBA Draft at Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Draftland.

When the lottery results were announced, the immediate debate about what the 76ers should do with their third overall selection was over two point guards, D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay.

Since that time, Kristaps Porzingis has entered the equation as a legitimate option, while the possibility of Jahlil Okafor falling to No. 3 has started to pick up steam.

Mudiay has also fallen ever so slightly in some mock drafts, although that’s mostly a result of his questionable fit in the triangle offense that New York likes to run, combined with Orlando’s lack of a need for a point guard, than it is a real reflection of his overall skill set, talent level, or how his pre-draft workouts have fared.

If the Sixers do take Mudiay, what does he bring to the table? And what concerns are there surrounding him?

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Key information

Age: 19 years old

Measurements: 6′ 5″, 200 pounds, 6′ 8.5″ wingspan, 8’4″ standing reach (measured at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit).

Stats: 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game in 31 minutes per night in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). He shot 47.8% from the field, 34.2% from three point range, and 57.4% from the free throw line.

Chance of being available at No. 3: Very good. If the Lakers go with a point guard at No. 2, all signs point to them favoring Russell.

Why should you be interested?

Standing 6′ 5″, built like a tank and very quick with the basketball in his hands, some of the things that Mudiay does on the court are quickly evident.

Mudiay does two things very well that make him an interesting fit with the Sixers. First, he’s incredibly quick in transition, and will look to push the ball whenever he can, even starting the break by getting his own defensive rebound. During Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown‘s two-year tenure the Sixers have been one of the six fastest-paced teams each year, something which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The second thing Mudiay does well is getting into the paint off the pick-and-roll. Mudiay’s elite athleticism is based in large part on his quickness, and he has such complete control of his dribble that he doesn’t slow down much when the ball is in his hands. Mudiay does a very good job of changing speeds and direction, and because of that defenders have a tough time staying in front of him defensively.

Once Mudiay gets into the lane he really looks to set up his teammates. One of the common misconceptions I frequently see when people talk about Mudiay is that he’s a scoring point guard. While he certainly has the ability to score, Mudiay also has very good point guard instincts, and really looks to use the attention he receives driving to the basket to create opportunities for his teammates. And he’s a very good passer off the pick-and-roll, a skill that could become one of his trademarks down the line. This is something that could develop into an even bigger weapon for Mudiay if he is able to make himself more of a shooting threat off the dribble.

Another advantage that Mudiay has over Russell is his defense. While it’s admittedly tough to really gauge his performance in China, as the level of competition can vary wildly on a night-to-night basis, Mudiay has a lot of physical tools on that end of the court and is a pretty good technique defender who usually plays with high effort. Mudiay has the size and strength to fight through ball screens, has good length to play the passing lanes, and moves his feet well laterally to deny dribble penetration.

Why shouldn’t you be interested?

Mudiay’s not a perfect defender, as he can get caught ball-watching when playing off the ball, losing sight of his man while looking for ways to play the passing lanes and force a turnover. This is a fault that’s relatively common for young guards, and should be pretty easy to correct for a kid who puts in effort on that side of the court.

Mudiay can also be turnover prone at times, usually a result of either losing focus or trying to force something that isn’t there. Again, this is something I think is correctable.

The real long-term concern with Mudiay is his perimeter shooting. The 34.2% (13-38) Mudiay shot from three-point range during his brief 12-game stint over in China looks decent on its surface, but it’s really the statistical outlier during his brief career, and it comes from such a small sample size that it’s hard to put much stock in it. Mudiay also shot an abysmal 57.4% from the free throw line while in China, something that is much more in line with his previous production.

Between the 2013 EYBL tournament, the 2014 Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand and McDonald’s all-star games, Mudiay shot 64.2% from the line on 81 free throw attempts while shooting a dismal 14.6% on 48 three-point attempts.

The concern isn’t just in the numbers, as Mudiay’s form can be extremely questionable at times. Everything comes and go for him — from his footwork, to the timing on his release, to his follow-through to a hitch in his shooting motion.

A pretty easy tell on a shooter’s form is watching how he misses: Is the arc the same on each shot? Does he miss left or right and not just on depth? Mudiay misses in every way imaginable. Making that whole process more consistent will be a big focus for Mudiay over the next few years.

Early reports from his workouts have been positive in this regard, as his shot has reportedly looked more fluid and consistent. It’s very different doing that in an empty gym than coming off of a pick at the top of the key with a hand in his face, however, and given Mudiay’s track record, it’s going to take more than a couple of open-gym shots to allay those fears.

Fit with the Sixers

We frequently look at guys who are “high-risk/high-reward.” When looking at Mudiay, I actually see a prospect who isn’t all that risky. Even if his jump shot never becomes great, Mudiay’s strength, athleticism, defensive potential, and natural passing instincts should make him a good player.

In order to be truly great, to become one of the five best point guards in the game, I think he’s going to need to improve that jump shot pretty significantly. He’s frequently described as a John Wall-, Derrick Rose-, or Russell Westbrook-level athlete, and I think he’s just a step below that. He’s still a great athlete, but he’s not quite the elite-level leaper that those aforementioned players are. Because of that, I’m not sure he will reach true superstardom without a substantial improvement in his jump shot, and I don’t see that as a foregone conclusion.

This is an even bigger concern on the Sixers, at least if you value fit with Joel Embiid at all. While Mudiay’s ability to get into the paint certainly would have the chance to open up dump-off passes to Nerlens Noel and Embiid, something that we saw late in the season when the insanely quick Ish Smith started playing heavy minutes is that having a non-shooter on the court when Embiid posting up down low would make it easy for defenses to double down on Embiid in the paint and force the ball out of his hands. Having somebody who is more a threat to shoot off the pick-and-roll would also help get Embiid in scoring situations in that regard.

With all of this said, I think D’Angelo Russell is the guy with the higher upside. Well, the guy with the higher realistic upside, at least, as Mudiay’s ultimate potential, if — if —  his jump shot becomes great could be higher, but I don’t have confidence in that happening. I also think Russell is the better fit, both with what the Sixers are looking to do with their offense and with their existing personnel, specifically Embiid.

So, while I like Mudiay as a prospect, and I actually think he may be a safer pick than Russell, I would lean in Russell’s favor if I were the one making the decision.

 Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.

Previously in Sixers Draftland:

• Kristaps Porzingis: International Man of Mystery
• NBA Mock Draft Roundup: Who the Experts Think the Sixers Will Take
D’Angelo Russell: The Guy Everyone Thinks the Sixers Are Drafting
Jahlil Okafor: One of the Best Low-Post Scorers We’ve Seen

D’Angelo Russell to Work Out for the Sixers After All
• Karl-Anthony Towns: The Big Man the Sixers Probably Want — and Likely Can’t Get
Does Joel Embiid’s Setback Change Sixers’ Draft Plans?
Welcome to Sixers Draftland