There was a moment when Emmanuel Mudiay was staking his claim as the best point guard in the 2015 draft class and taking an early edge in a burgeoning rivalry with the no. 2 pick in that draft, D’Angelo Russell.
Now, both players, each only 22 years old, are on their second act, where they’ve somehow escaped the spotlight despite plying their trade in the Big Apple. Russell came to Brooklyn to help lead their next great team, while Mudiay’s path hasn’t been as clear cut.
It’s been only three years since he was drafted, and it’s somewhat remarkable that Mudiay is still a starting point guard after his time in Denver. But he’s had a minor renaissance for the New York Knicks this season, even as the team plays out what will inevitably be a lottery-bound campaign.
Once the point guard of the future for the Nuggets, Mudiay became an afterthought last year. The former no. 7 pick had been usurped by Jamal Murray, drafted with the identical pick just one year after Mudiay, and was seemingly the lone Nugget who couldn’t get his offense going on one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.
Two and a half seasons into Mudiay’s career, Denver shipped him to the Knicks as part of a three-way deal that netted the Nuggets Devin Harris, who they viewed as a superior backup point guard for a team in the playoff hunt, even at the age of 35. (Harris ultimately found his way back to Dallas in the offseason, because the gravitational pull of Rick Carlisle’s bench unit is overpowering).
Mudiay’s opening salvo in New York was underwhelming. He was essentially the same inefficient gunner he had been in Denver, and with another young point guard in tow, Mudiay couldn’t even find his way on to the floor at the end of the season. This year didn’t figure to be any different, with Frank Ntilikina still around and Mudiay suffering a preseason ankle injury that kept him out of the rotation for the first eight games.
Nevertheless, a quarter of the way through the season, Mudiay is starting and playing well for the Knicks, and he’s earning his minutes on the offensive end. What’s changed is actually pretty simple – he’s finally hitting jump shots.