Most impressive rookie so far in Las Vegas Summer League? Emmanuel Mudiay.

20 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Point guards at Summer League have the power of the ball in their hands. Combine that with them trying to impress someone to give them a job (ideally with an NBA team, for most it will be overseas) and you get one thing: Shots. Good shots, bad shots, but lots of shots. Guards are trying to impress scouts/GMs with their scoring. They want an eye-catching stat line.

Emmanuel Mudiay has stood out against that backdrop.

“The first thing you see is he is a true point guard…” Denver Nuggets Summer League coach Micah Nori said. “Guys are going to love to play with him, they are going to continue to run for him because he is a pass-first point guard….

“And I see him being able to lead. With his ability to pass and his unselfishness, guys are going to want to follow him.”

The Nuggets have followed Mudiay to a 2-0 start at Summer League, and he’s been the most impressive rookie so far in getting there.

The 19-year-old from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who slid down the draft board to No. 7 has looked like an impressive NBA talent so far under the bright lights of Las Vegas.

“We’ve put the ball in his hands and given him a lot of freedom, and there’s good reason for that,” Nori said.

Mudiay has a flair to his game — he pushes the pace, and he’s fond of behind-the-back and jump passes (a little too fond of the latter). He’s got a great change of pace dribble and has shown some real explosion to the rim. More importantly, he recognizes the defense and attacks its weaknesses. Through two games, he has averaged 15 points and eight assists a game. He’s shooting just 40 percent overall (and 11 percent from three) but knows when to attack and get buckets.

“I haven’t been happy with the way I’ve been shooting, and I’ve been putting in the work and I’m going to keep shooting, but at the same time I am comfortable,” Mudiay said of his play so far at Summer League. “I like getting my teammates involved.”

What has most impressed with Mudiay is the maturity of his game. He has a controlled aggression.

He’s looks like a guy who played against men in China, not college boys. There is no panic under pressure; the game is not moving too fast for him. At one point late in the first half Sunday the Kings threw a hard double-team at him, and he calmly controlled his dribble, pulled the defenders out on the floor, and then hit the open man for a clean look at the rim.

“I feel like playing overseas professionally, that really helped me,” Mudiay said of the patience in his game. “Coming from high school to pro ball, in high school I was rushing everything. Straight out to China I was rushing everything. But I’ve got to let the game come to me.”

“When things are chaotic he remains calm, he’s very comfortable with his abilities, and he’s able to make pretty much any pass at any time, which is big time,” Nori said. “And I think the one thing about Emmanuel that allows him to do that is his skill level with his ball handling. And the other thing is he’s a big kid, a big strong kid. Some guys, when they get pressure, turn their back to the floor, the one thing he’s able to do is be facing forward, facing that rim, and that’s why he can make any pass at any time. He finds guys that are open and hits them on time and on target.”

Mudiay already knows how to use his NBA-ready physique to create space — he drives into defenders, puts them back on their heals, then pulls up looking for the pass or shot. He hits first, he doesn’t wait for the defense to hit him. Is that something else he learned in China?

“I got that from my brothers,” Mudiay said with a laugh. “Just playing with them all the time they used to try to bully me, and I’d try to bully them back. I was so little that just stuck with me. So when I play older, more physical guys, taller guys, even stronger guys, I try to hit them first so they know the next play I’m coming in.”

Nobody should read too much into two NBA Summer League games — two Vegas games matter about as much as presidential race polling right now, we’re nowhere near when it gets real. The list of NBA Summer League MVPs is littered with “who’s that?” This is not the NBA. How all of this translates to games in November or even February is a question still to be answered. And how he will ultimately compare to D’Angelo Russell (who has shown strong moments but is more shoot first) or Kristaps Porzingis will not be answered for years.

But quality NBA players tend to stand out in the chaos of Summer League — and Mudiay stands out.

He’s not your typical Summer League point guard. And that could be excellent news for the Denver Nuggets.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

1 Comment

Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

Getty Images
1 Comment

Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
1 Comment

Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.