DALLAS — There was one number which stood out from Emmanuel Mudiay’s performance for the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center — seven.
Mudiay, 19, the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, of course has roots in Big D playing high school ball there, and he was supposed to play at SMU before then deciding to play one year abroad in China.
Against the Mavs, he played 31 minutes, scored 17 points, dished out five assists but also committed seven turnovers.
In short, it was exactly the type of performance which first-year Nuggets head coach Michael Malone expects to see from a young player like Mudiay.
“Each game you see flashes of greatness and you see flashes of him being a rookie and making mistakes that he will get better at as the season goes on,” Malone said postgame. “I know full well that Emmanuel is his own toughest critic and he wants to be a great player. And he’ll get better as we go along. He did some great things tonight. There’s also a lot of areas that he has to continue to improve upon.”
Mudiay had a fair number of friends and family in the stands at the AAC cheering him on, but didn’t consider returning home for a preseason game a huge deal, especially since the Nuggets will do so twice more during the regular season.
“Definitely it’s a good feeling, being back at home. I know I got a lot of supporters here growing up (here), so it’s all good,” Mudiay said.
His first exposure to life in the NBA was in Summer League, where he performed well enough to earn a spot on the All-Summer League Second Team.
Like many rookies, he feels that the faster pace of the pro game is one of the biggest adjustments for him, if not the biggest. But with each passing day, practice and game, he feels like he’s getting there.
“Almost (there), it’s definitely a learning curve still going on, but I’m happy where I’m at right now. I’m just going to keep learning,” Mudiay said.
One reason why he feels like he might be a bit further along in that acclimation process than some of his fellow rookies is because he spent last season in China.
Sure, injuries sidelined him for all but 12 games with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, but this young talent feels the lessons learned during his time abroad are already starting to pay dividends.
“I went through some stuff. The injury was probably the toughest thing, but other than that I learned the most I could,” Mudiay said. “It wasn’t a horrible experience. I just love the fact that I was over there.”
Looking back, he admits he didn’t learn any Chinese and also didn’t take to the food there, a problem rectified when his mother joined him there and cooked for him, but all in all, he called his experience there more positive than negative.
Another lesson he’s already learned about how to be a successful pro is learning to be patient when it comes to waiting for playing time, something many NBA rookies often struggle with.
“Yeah, being patient and not getting in a rush, but the more I’m out there, the more comfortable it feels,” Mudiay said.
And since Denver is a fairly young team, there don’t appear to be any rookie rites of passage, like hauling around the dreaded pink backpack, for him to concern himself with, at least not yet.
Of course, veteran point guard Jameer Nelson might come up with some sort of rookie duty for Mudiay at some point, but he’s not too concerned with that aspect of being a newcomer.
Instead, he’s focused on being a sponge and learning all he can from guys like Nelson who’ve been there and done that already in the Association.
“Yeah, I feel ready, but it’s still a learning experience. I’m just going to learn as much as I can and that’s the main, important thing,” Mudiay said. “I’m just getting information from guys that have been there and done that.”