WEST CHESTER — It took Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay to wait through six draft selections before he finally heard NBA Commissioner Adam Silver call his name. But the unsettling feeling for Mudiay happened way before Denver selected him seventh overall. It happened when the Lakers used their No. 2 pick on D’Angelo Russell.
Hence, Mudiay acknowledged the recent draft proceedings provides more than just a media-driven storyline for when the Lakers (0-3) host the Nuggets (1-2) tonight at Staples Center.
“They passed up on me; that’s definitely a motivation,” Mudiay told Los Angeles News Group after morning shootaround at West Chester High School. “They took another point guard ahead of me. I’m a point guard. So I guess they saw something in [Russell] that they didn’t see in me.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott offered an honest assessment following Monday’s practice on what he didn’t see in Mudiay during two pre-draft workouts in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t think he was a true point guard,” Scott said of Mudiay. “I didn’t think he was a guy who made great decisions when we saw him and had him here. I thought that was something he would have to learn to do to run that position.”
Scott still predicted Mudiay “was going to be pretty good” and described him as “pretty athletic” with a “little edge.” But as a reporter relayed Scott’s assessment to Mudiay, the Nuggets’ rookie guard looked down at the ground as he listened intently to every word.
“That’s another human’s opinion,” Mudiay said. “I’m not worried about him. I just have to worry about what I do and worry about the Denver Nuggets.”
It remains too small of a sample size to provide any definitive conclusions regarding the Russell-Mudiay comparisons. But so far, Mudiay has produced more than Russell per game in points (12.7, 9.7) and assists (5.3, 1.7). But shooting accuracy has become an area of weakness for both Russell (36.7 percent) and Mudiay (33.3 percent). Mudiay also has averaged 6.3 turnovers per game, more than the 1.7 turnovers Russell has averaged per contest.
That prompted Denver coach Mike Malone to describe Mudiay as “somewhat inconsistent.” Malone added that Mudiay has shown “flashes of his potential” and “other flashes where he’s a 19-year-old rookie who didn’t play in college.” Mudiay withdrew his commitment at Southern Methodist University and played for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. There, he averaged 7.7 points on 54.5-percent shooting, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
“We still know he’s going to be a hell of basketball player because of how hard he works, how much he cares and the size, strength and physical tools that he has,” Malone said of Mudiay. “Tonight, hopefully he’ll have another opportunity to go against another point guard who was taken before him and show why he’s our point guard of the future.”
Malone then quickly downplayed that storyline.
“I don’t think Emmanuel cares who he is playing against,” Malone said. “He just wants to win.”
Mudiay showed that by sounding disinterested in talking about his history playing against Russell in the AAU circuit. When asked if he has had any relationship with Russell since then, Mudiay said, “Nah, not at all.”
“That’s the past. We’re two different players now,” Mudiay said. “I’m a different player. He’s a different player. AAU is over with. Now we’re with the big dogs.”
Now that he is, Mudiay focused on other things after describing his play as only “okay.” He attributed his high volume of turnovers toward needing “to be more careful with the ball.” Mudiay maintained he feels “confident in my shot” despite his poor shooting percentage. Mudiay expressed the want to drive to the basket more once he organizes the offense better to create more floor spacing.
“I cant let that get to me,” Mudiay said. “I have to get aggressive. I have to get back to playing myself.”
All of which could help Mussiay provide the Lakers with a stronger rebuttal.