If you made a drinking game out of Thursday’s NBA Draft by taking a sip every time someone on the ESPN crew said “wingspan” or “upside,” you are reading this with a wicked hangover.
The five-hour telecast ushered in the league’s lastest era of future stars, busts, and what’s-his-names. Now we can begin to figure out which of them turn out to be pleasant surprises or bitter disappointments.
The Nuggets received their first dose of the former when point guard Emmanuel Mudiay fell to their number 7 slot. Mudiay was widely expected to be gone by the time the Nuggets were on the clock, but after the PG-needy Kings head-scratchingly drafted Willie Cauley-Stein—a hyper-athletic defensive demon with no discernible offensive game—the Nuggets pounced.
Analysts immediately dubbed Mudiay the most talented player on the Nuggets’ roster. (Fans seem to be fully onboard, too: Almost 96 percent of respondents to a Denver Post poll say they love the pick.) He’s a big, athletic PG who can handle the ball, pass, and defend. He needs to work on his outside shot, but it’s not broken and he’s only 19.
There was some mystery around him because he was born in the Congo and spent the past year in China. Although this technically makes him a foreign player, before you start having nightmarish flashbacks to the Nikoloz Tskitishvili debacle, keep in mind that Mudiay actually grew up in Dallas. He skipped college at SMU because of academic issues and his family’s financial needs, and his bio paints a picture of a tough, mature kid who should be ready to lead the Nuggets right away.
This matters, because his arrival probably means sayonara to Ty Lawson, who reacted to news of the pick by predicting a reunion with his old coach, George Karl, in Sacramento and then taking a long drag off what appears to be a hookah. (In case the message to Lawson wasn’t clear enough, the Nuggets selected another foreign PG, Nikola Radicevic, with their second round pick.)
The most heartening thing about this draft—apart from getting a guy who most observers think could be a top-4 talent in the seventh slot—is that it looks like the Nuggets’ management finally realizes it’s time to start over. Rumors abounded before the draft that teams have inquired about the availability of Wilson Chandler, Randy Foye, and Danilo Gallinari, and Lawson and Kenneth Faried have been on the block for some time. As long as Tim Connelly and Josh Kroenke aren’t irrationally overvaluing these players in trade negotiations, moving all of them could bring back assets that will become more valuable as Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, and maybe a few other players mature.
(Speaking of Karl, he’s currently presiding over a classically Kings-ean soap opera that will likely conclude with either his ouster or a trade of the ridiculously talented but mercurial center DeMarcus Cousins. The man they call “Boogie” loved his old coach, Mike Malone, who just happens to be the Nuggets’ new guy. Karl hasn’t hidden his desire to get his old blue-and-gold band back together, so the Nuggets’ brass better have the Kings’ front office on speed dial until this gets resolved.)
The other potentially awesome side note to this pick is that NBA pundits spent the months leading up to the draft debating whether Mudiay or Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was the better PG. Russell went to the Lakers at number 2, which means these two players, forever linked by this draft, could potentially become a fantastic rivalry.
But this will only happen if the teams they’re leading turn out to be good. The storied Lakers franchise usually inhales free agent talent like the Death Star tractor beam, so for the Nuggets to keep up their front office will have to make some pretty savvy moves. Although we’re still a little dubious about their ability to outwit their fellow GMs, there’s no doubt the next few months will be really fun to watch.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.