• Kaunda Chama

The leap of Emmanuel Mudiay

The NBA continues to evolve as a league and with that as the current backdrop, the type of players that are going there from Africa are also changing. Whereas before mostly forwards were drafted, now there are a number of backcourt players representing the continent.

Whether its Oklahoma City Thunder’s Dennis Schroder, Orlando Magic’s Evan Fournier, Indiana Pacers’ Victor Oladipo or New York Knick’s Frank Ntilikina, African back court talent is having a great impact on their respective teams.

One of the top front court players with roots in the continent is Utah Jazz’s Congolese guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who is currently with his third team in the NBA and is experiencing a resurgence.

Much like fellow Congolese player Bismack Biyombo and reigning Rookie of the Year Luca Doncic, Mudiay went to the NBA after first getting a taste of professional basketball in another professional league.

Mudiay left the Democratic Republic of Congo at an early age and moved to the United States where he finished his high schooling in Texas before heading east and playing a season in the Chinese professional basketball league as part of the Guangdong Southern Tigers, one of the top performing teams in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

Due to injury, he only played in 10 regular season games and two playoffs games, and averaged 18 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game for the squad.

In the 2015 NBA Draft, the 6’3” guard was selected seventh overall by the Denver Nuggets and spent three seasons with the franchise. However, playing on the same squad as efficient guards like Jamal Murray and Garry Harris had its drawbacks and Mudiay never secured the starting spot.

During his tenure at the Nuggets, Mudiay started in all 23 games for the Nuggets to begin the season before a sprained right ankle suffered on December 11 ruled him out for 14 straight games. He averaged 11.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 8.8 steals per game, which was not bad for a player that was essentially a third option by the time he left the franchise.

In the first half of his final season with Denver, Mudiay made 41 starts before being moved to the bench and dropping out of the rotation in late January.

Come 2018, he was acquired by the New York Knicks for Doug McDermott and a second-round pick, as part of a three-team deal with the Nuggets and the Dallas Mavericks. In his debut for New York, Mudiay scored 14 points and dished 10 assists in a loss to the Pacers.

Although he did score a then career-high 34 points in his season in New York, his performance was not consistent, similar to that of fellow African Ntilikina, who was drafted by the franchise in 2017. The turmoil that had plagued the franchise did not help things for him or the team as a whole. Strangely, while in New York, he averaged a career-high 14.8 points to go with 3.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 0.7 steals per game.

In 2019, Mudiay signed with the Utah Jazz, looking for a resurgence. Even alongside elite guards like Mike Conley Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson, he looks to have found a suitable home where he can learn from a veteran like Conley and also feed off the energy of an explosive young talent like Mitchell.

The 23-year-old guard appears to be a sponge, taking in all he can from Utah head coach Quin Snyder and reclaiming the form that initially made him a lottery pick.

In an early January win against his old team (Knicks), Mudiay displayed some of his new IQ development on the court scoring a game-high 20 points (8-of-12 shooting), with four assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block, giving the Jazz their seventh straight win at the time.

This move to the Jazz has definitely given him another opportunity to grow, because not only is he seeing his most efficient numbers, he is also winning more than ever.

When joining the team, he even noted that he was pleased to be going to a winning team - a playoff team. He had never been on an NBA playoff team before then.

Many analysts have in the past rated him a disappointment, especially as a high pick, but the leaps made in his short time at the Jazz are helping change the narrative as the young guard develops and potentially grows to elite status.

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