Previous “Jump Ball” articles:
9/26 – Kawhi Leonard v Jimmy Butler
10/2 – Blake Griffin v Serge Ibaka
TALE OF THE TAPE
|EMMANUEL MUDIAY||D’ANGELO RUSSELL|
|Denver Nuggets||Team||Los Angeles Lakers|
|PG||Position (Y! Eligibility)||PG|
|N/A||9-Cat Rank (Total Value)||N/A|
|N/A||9-Cat Rank (Per Game)||N/A|
|12 (China)||Games Played||35 (NCAA)|
|31.5||Minutes Per Game||33.9|
|N/A||Usage Rate (Rank)||N/A|
THE CASE FOR EMMANUEL MUDIAY
It’s no easy task projecting players who have never played an NBA game. It’s far more difficult when the same two have faced competition on separate continents in the year leading up to being drafted. But such is the task we are faced with here as we look to determine whether Emmanuel Mudiay or D’Angelo Russell will put forward a more fantasy-friendly rookie campaign.
Emmanuel Mudiay took a far from traditional route to the NBA. Born in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), the primarily French speaking youngster fled the war-torn Congo and sought asylum in the US in 2001, eventually settling in Texas where he played prep ball and committed to the SMU Mustangs for the 2014 season. Instead of honoring that commitment, Mudiay hopped on a plane and joined the Guangdong Southern Tigers on a one-year, $1.2M contract. Unfortunately injuries shortened his first professional season and he was only able to suit up for 12 games, posting averages of 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.6 steals in 31.5 minutes per game – numbers that suggest a high fantasy ceiling if he packed them in his suitcase and brought them to America. Mudiay was also able to chip in 13 made 3-pointers in those 12 games along with a FG% of .478.
The 19-year old point guard was drafted by Denver 7th overall and had the starting job presented to him on a silver platter following the Nuggets decision to jettison Ty Lawson in July. So far through four preseason contests, Mudiay has parlayed that starting gig into a 29.2 usage rate (15th highest among all players appearing in at least four games) at a pace of 104.1 possessions per 48 minutes. (For reference, the league-leading Golden State Warriors ran at a pace of 100.7 last year.) With very capable running mates in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried, the opportunity is most certainly there for Emmanuel Mudiay to generate Rookie of the Year-worthy numbers under the guidance of new coach, Mike Malone. With his international professional experience and a steadying mentor presence of 11-year veteran Jameer Nelson, the NBA stage shouldn’t seem too daunting and I fully expect Mudiay to post top-100 fantasy value.
THE CASE FOR D’ANGELO RUSSELL
In contrast to the high minutes and usage that can reasonably be projected for Emmanuel Mudiay in Denver, D’Angelo Russell enters an absolute fustercluck of a Los Angeles Lakers backcourt rotation. Breakout player Jordan Clarkson, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, reigning 6th Man of the Year Lou Williams, and never-met-a-shot-he-didn’t-like swingman Nick Young are all vying for minutes, touches and shots on the perimeter.
That being said, competition and complementary ball-handlers are not necessarily a bad thing for a rookie point guard. With less defensive attention and the opportunity to more gradually acclimate to the NBA game, D’Angelo Russell should produce better efficiency numbers than his “Jump Ball” counterpart. Over the course of 35 college games at Ohio State, Russell bested Mudiay’s CBA numbers in 3-point FG%, FT% and had fewer turnovers per game (in higher minutes, to boot). Expect that trend to continue as Russell shares the usage burden with ball-dominant players like the aforementioned Bryant and Williams. Through four preseason games, Russell has improved on a lackluster Summer League showing by posting a PER of 19.6 (as compared to 8.6 for Mudiay) and has only turned the ball over four times in over 64 floor minutes (EM has 19 TOs in 114 minutes).
Look for head coach Byron Scott to ease his prized rookie into the true “lead guard” role during the first half of the season. As the Lakers inevitably fall out of playoff contention and attrition takes its toll, I can see D’Angelo Russell taking on more responsibility post-All Star break. With reports already flowing out of LA about Russell’s elite vision and floor generalship (it’s an actual word – I looked it up!) there is no reason to believe D’Angelo won’t be handed the reigns as the Lakers fully embrace their post-Kobe era youth movement. In an ideal world, Russell will be able to use his 40 or so games of experience to better handle higher usage which would allow reasonable efficiency to help offset the volume-related issues someone in Mudiay’s situation will likely face. Ultimately, D’Angelo Russell should be able to navigate the crowded Lakers backcourt landscape and contribute 9-category fantasy value worthy of selection in the eighth or ninth round (12-team leagues).
Let’s take a look at how these two players should stack up head-to-head for fantasy owners in 2015 looking to roll the dice on a high-upside rookie PG with a pick just inside the top-100 (* denotes my projected category winner):
|EMMANUEL MUDIAY||D’ANGELO RUSSELL|
As a large proponent of both pace and usage I have to lean towards Emmanuel Mudiay if I’m going to pull the trigger on a rookie point guard in 2015 fantasy drafts.
Both Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell are far from complete basketball players and both will struggle at times during their first NBA campaigns – that much is a given with most young men who have yet to enter their 20s. However, I take comfort in the fact that Mudiay has a far clearer path to minutes from the jump, while also playing for a coach who should run a faster tempo on offense and fully commit to cultivating his young talent. I am more than a little nervous that Byron Scott and the Lakers’ powers-that-be are just delusion enough to believe they can actually contend for a playoff spot in what could be Kobe Bryant’s NBA swan song. If that proves true and Russell struggles out of the gate (as he did mightily in Summer League), there are enough other proven options in LaLa Land to stymie the rookie’s development.
So if I’ve watched seven or eight rounds tick off my fantasy draft and am in need of a point guard, I may look to add someone like Emmanuel Mudiay. But I am only doing so if my team build to that point suggests I can absorb the efficiency deficiency of his stat set. The volume or “popcorn” numbers should be there, but understand that there will be a negative impact on your percentages and TOs. Around pick 100 there are no complete fantasy players left and it’s admittedly fun (at times) to own a rookie starter, so feel free to take a big home run cut at one of these two fellas, with slight favoritism to the Nuggets youngster.
Agree/disagree? Who is your choice when you’re on the clock? Feedback is always welcome, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below or come find me in the Twitterverse at @moneyballmatty. Cheers!