Emmanuel Mudiay had just walked across the stage to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand as the most important draft pick the Nuggets have made in years. Minutes later, after the telecast went to commercial, Mudiay was the featured player in a Foot Locker ad.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets’ starting point guard, Ty Lawson, was starring in a different kind of video. It was an Internet video of Lawson and a few of his friends watching the draft at a house.
“They’ll probably get Mudiay,” Lawson predicted on the video, before the pick was made. “And then I’m going to get a bunch of tweets about ‘Oh, Ty, you’re getting traded.’ For sure.”
And after Mudiay was officially the choice, Lawson said: “I told you. I’m going to Sacramento, bro.” Then he took a drag from a hookah.
Lawson in fact didn’t go to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night, but the Nuggets ushered in a new era of leadership under coach Michael Malone with the startling selection of Mudiay, a big (6-foot-5, 200-pound) point guard, surprising only because he was available that long.
“I asked my agent what my range was, and he said two to seven, so I said, ‘OK.’ So I was just waiting, being patient. I was at peace the whole time. Seven is my favorite number, so it’s a perfect number,” Mudiay said.
The Nuggets are hoping he is the perfect pick.
“I’m giddy,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “It was a very excited (draft) room upstairs.”
The chain of events that led him to fall to Denver ranged from predictable (the Los Angeles Lakerschoosing point guard D’Angelo Russell) to somewhat unexpected (Sacramento taking power forward Willie Cauley-Stein at No. 6). The New York Knicks’ selection of international phenom Kristaps Porzingis also aided the Nuggets in pushing Mudiay, widely expected to be a top-four pick, toward them.
“We actually talked about moving up for Emmanuel,” Connelly said. “Through the research we thought it was a calculated risk, let’s let the draft come to us.”
The Nuggets finished the night by selecting a point guard prospect, Nikola Radicevic, with the 57th pick. With two years left on his current club contract with Cajasol Sevilla in Spain, he’ll likely stay and be brought over when he’s ready.
Mudiay was the big get.
Of all of the point guards the Nuggets brought in for workouts, Mudiay was not one of them. They tried, but he was instructed to work out only for a few teams by his representation. Clearly, that did not scare the Nuggets away.
Mudiay is the kind of big guard the Nuggets haven’t had since Chauncey Billups led the team to the 2008-09 Western Conference finals.
Mudiay’s route to the NBA was very different, however. He left the United States after high school to play a year of professional basketball in China. While there, playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, he averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists. His season was cut short, as he played 12 games for his Chinese professional team before missing the remainder of the season with an ankle injury. He stayed, however, and returned to play in the playoffs, a move that impressed his teammates and observers in America.
Mudiay’s maturity and playmaking are among his greatest strengths.
Meanwhile, Lawson’s tenure in Denver is tenuous at best, although Connelly insisted the move did not mean Lawson’s time in Denver is definitely up. He talked about the two guards potentially even playing together given Mudiay’s ability to slide to shooting guard if need be.
Still, there are no more guarantees for Lawson, who has been the Nuggets’ starting point guard the last four seasons. He averaged 15.0 points and 9.0 assists per game last season.
Weight: 200 pounds
Last team: Guangdong Southern Tigers (China)
Strength: The combo guard, who’s originally from Congo, has an elite first step and an innate ability to get to the rim.
Weakness: Mudiay isn’t much of a threat from the perimeter and can be over- aggressive, which leads to a high rate of turnovers.