While there are plenty of safer options still on the market, the Philadelphia 76ers should get a little weird and sign 6-foot-5 backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay with their mid-level exception.
By my estimations, the Philadelphia 76ers are a playmaking point guard away from being the best team in the Eastern Conference, but which lead guard should Elton Brand target with the team’s mid-level exception?
Sure, there are plenty of solid veterans like Rajon Rondo, Jeremy Lin, or even T.J. McConnell who could come in (or return) and play 20 odd minutes a night behind Ben Simmons, but what’s the fun in that? What if the 76ers instead target a high-upside, super-athletic guard with the size, speed, and tenacity to be a sixth man spark plug coming off the bench?
That’s right; we’re talking about Emmanuel Mudiay.
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Measuring in at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Mudiay was initially drafted seventh overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets after bypassing his freshman season at SMU to play professionally in China for the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
From there, Mudiay spent the better part of three seasons with the Nuggets, but slowly started losing playing time, and starts, to Jamal Murray as the rapidly ascending squad couldn’t afford to suffer through his growing pains as they attempted to take aim at a playoff spot.
With about a year and a half left on his rookie deal, the Nuggets traded Mudiay to the New York Knicks on February 8th, 2018 for Doug McDermott and a second-round pick in one final last-ditch effort to earn the eighth spot in the West (spoiler alert, they didn’t).
But despite putting up career-high numbers for the Knicks last season in virtually every category (14.8 points and 3.9 assists in 27.2 minutes of action), Steve Mills opted against extending a qualifying offer to Mudiay, instead signing defensive-minded guard Elfrid Payton to pair with R.J. Barrett in the team’s frontcourt moving forward.
And Mudiay? Well, he became an unrestricted free agent; free to sign with any team at any price point.
Now conventional wisdom would suggest that the 76ers should avoid making a risk/reward signing at this point in their basically finished rebuilding process, but with a dried up point guard market and a dire need for some player to supplement Simmons in the backcourt, signing Mudiay at the mid-level is a unique opportunity that Brand should consider.
Now sure, Mudiay isn’t a great defender, finishing out the 2018-19 season with an ugly -2.43 defensive Real Plus-Minus rating, but that more has to do with effort and coaching than a lack of physical gifts. Mudiay has great size, speed, and ability for an NBA point guard (or even shooting guard) and could become a solid switchable guard when paired up with better players like Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, or even Zhaire Smith.
In a lot of ways, Brett Brown could use Mudiay in the same way they used (*gasp*) Markelle Fultz when he was actually available to play. While Mudiay doesn’t have Fultz’s upside at this point, he’s still only 23 and is just as dynamic with the ball in his hand.
However, unlike Fultz, Mudiay is a willing outside shooter, even if he’s not great at it just yet.
While Mudiay isn’t a great 3 point shooter, he still knocked down 69 of his 210 attempts in 2018-19, the best clip of his career. Is that a great percentage? No way, but despite playing 416 fewer minutes last season than in his rookie year, Mudiay was still able to score one more point, and raise his offensive efficiency across the board.
Though Mudiay and Fultz can exhibit a similar lackadaisical approach when they aren’t fully engaged, Emmanuel has consistently shown improvements in his game over the last season that should make coaching staffs confident that the flaws in his game could be smoothed over.
If Fultz never suffered his shoulder injury, it’s entirely possible he’d still be a member of the Sixers today and the leader of the team’s second unit offense, so finding a similar player on a much cheaper contract is an ideal use of the mid-level exception.
Furthermore, measuring in at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Mudiay would fit perfectly into the Sixers’ new commitment to size at every position. With shooting guard size, but a point guard’s skill set, Mudiay is a unique reverse combo guard who could even share the court with Simmons in a speed-focused set. After watching a McConnell-Simmons combo put up fairly promising numbers last season, it’s entirely possible Mudiay could serve as an upgrade as a small ballpoint and unlock Simmons’ ability to gouge opponents as a full court, fast break lob threat.
Is Emmanuel Mudiay a perfect fit in the Philadelphia 76ers’ scheme? Eh, not really, but at this point, there really isn’t a perfect fit on the board that would be willing to sign with the team for the mid-level. With virtually no draft (or player) capital to make a trade for a difference maker, Mudiay has the highest upside of any backcourt player left in free agency and could develop into a quality piece for the East’s new darling.
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