As the draft draws closer, the Philadelphia 76ers have brought in one of the biggest enigmas in recent years to work out for them: talented guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Common wisdom has the 76ers picking D’Angelo Russell from Ohio State with their #3 overall pick, but there are also rumors that Russell will be much easier for the Knicks (who pick fourth) to sign. The Sixers may also opt for a big man, because of the uncertainty of Joel Embiid’s right foot healing in time for the season, but they brought Mudiay in to see if they could get him as a guard – since he’s the second best guard in the draft (after Russell) according to many NBA betting predictions.
NBA Betting Draft Preview: The Story of Emmanuel Mudiay
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) June 12, 2015
Choosing Mudiay, though, really means choosing a huge project who has a lot of possible upside – but also has a lot of potential rawness to overcome. Mudiay has been following an unusual course ever since his days at Prime Prep – the Dallas-area charter school that a group headlined by Deion Sanders started several years ago. Star athletes, particularly in football and basketball, flocked to the school. However, the school quickly ran into financial difficulties and has since been ordered closed. Mudiay signed out of Prime Prep to play for Coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University – a primo signing that had SMU in preseason top 25 rankings – if not higher.
But then something happened. Mudiay withdrew from his commitment to SMU and declared that he would head to China to play a professional season there. At the time, Mudiay had not yet made it through the Eligibility Center for the NCAA, and ethere were rumors swirling that his Prime Prep transcript would not have left him eligible for college. Publicly, though, Mudiay’s story was that his family needed the money now.
The truth, though, is that no player who has had to rely on academic credits from Prime Prep has ever been able to qualify through the Eligibility Center. So when Mudiay went to China, it was because that high school choice to spend two years under the wing of Deion Sanders ended up ruining his chances for heading to the NCAA after graduation.
So how would Mudiay do in China? It’s tough for 19-year-olds to do well playing by themselves in a foreign country. Ask Brandon Jennings, who struggled in Italy. Ask Jeremy Tyler, who skipped the twelfth grade to play ball in Israel and Japan. On the Guangdong Southern Tigers, Mudiay had former NBA bust Yi Jianlian starting alongside him and one of the best Chinese point guards ever, Chen Jianghua, behind him on the bench. Mudiay would only play 12 games, earning $1.2 million in the process, and the Tigers lost in the CBA semifinals, 3-1 in a best of five series.
During that series, though, the Tigers pulled Mudiay off the bench. Never mind that he had not played since his injury, three months before. He wasn’t in game shape, and he clearly showed his fatigue. But he did pour in 17 points in the first half and ended up with 24 points, 8 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals. With a three-month layoff.
This is a player who looks like Tyreke Evans and John Wall, players who use their physical edge to impose their will on the game. He has a terrific first step, and he gets about one third of his rebounds on the offensive end. However, he is raw, lacking a lot of fundamentals – his shot comes completely from the arm, as you’ll see when he shoots free throws without bending his knees. He shoots by feel rather than by mechanics. He will have to prove he can shoot. Other than that, he can set up elaborate plays – and use his athleticism to change a game. He has all of the tools to be great in the NBA – if he can get there.