Jazz Summer Spotlight: Emmanuel Mudiay Is A Big Developmental Test For Quin Snyder's Coaching Staff

Knicks Basketball

New York Knicks' Emmanuel Mudiay (1) moves the ball against the Orlando Magic during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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The 2019 offseason was viewed as a pivotal one for the Utah Jazz ever since their first-round elimination, and they’ve come out firing with multiple notable moves. This multi-part Spotlight series will dig into one particular element of each new Jazz acquisition’s game, and how it helps turn them into a legitimate NBA title contender. Our next entry: Emmanuel Mudiay, who will be a big test for Quin Snyder and his staff's vaunted player development reputation.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder and his staff certainly didn’t need a public attaboy this summer, but they got one anyway when reports of Emmanuel Mudiay’s signing in Utah began to circulate.

As several connected reporters and outlets laid out, Mudiay and agent BJ Armstrong sought out the Jazz specifically during the free agency process with Snyder’s developmental prowess in mind. They identified Utah’s success developing several players of varying age ranges under Snyder’s tenure and felt as though he could bring some of the same out of the former seventh overall pick.

This kind of public-facing admission isn’t something you often see in this league, and it’s refreshing in a sense. It’s also just a recognition of reality: Mudiay has not been a good NBA player to this point in his career.

He ranked dead last in the NBA among point guards in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus for 2017-18, improving to 75th of 100 last year in what represents the high-water mark of his career (it was his first time outside the bottom 10 at his position). There really aren’t too many areas of his game that look like surefire rotation-level skills in this league, even with rose-colored glasses on.

This isn’t meant as a putdown – again, it’s just reality, one Mudiay and the people around him have accepted more gracefully than many before him.

The question becomes, then: Which areas of realistic development can Snyder and his staff help move Mudiay forward in? Let’s look at a few candidates, some perhaps likelier than others.

Ball-Handling and Rim Finishing

These may seem like strange categories to lump together, but the theme for Mudiay in both areas is the same: He either has no plan or is way too sure of his plan despite it being a bad one. It’s honestly tough to tell which a lot of the time.

Mudiay has fallen victim to overreliance on “snaking” the pick-and-roll, a plague that affects a growing number of guys around the league. It’s a technique meant to bring the ball-handler back toward the middle of the court, opening space and forcing decisions from both defenders involved in the action – when it’s done properly.

Most guys don’t, though, Mudiay among them. He’s often hellbent on snaking even when it serves no real purpose, even getting in his own roll-man’s way some of the time:

Even when he gets the basic steps right, he doesn’t have the gravity to pull the defense where they need to be for this move to work. They hang back, let his defender get back in the play and live with the contested midrange J that’s usually coming:

Despite posting by far a career-high percentage from midrange last year, a number that feels pretty fluky given three straight subpar seasons before that, these aren’t good shots overall.

When Mudiay sticks to the more standard two-man game, he still struggles to find the right timing. He gets Danny Green off-balance here with a nice change of direction, but gives his edge back right away by pulling up for another midrange jumper:

Other times, he tries to fly to the rim when there really isn’t much chance of success:

Mudiay often just seems to struggle to recognize when opportunities are really there for him, a big part of why his rim finishing numbers have been so ugly.

He’ll regularly barrel into a crowd without any teammates nearby, not self-aware enough to realize he’s basically handing the ball back to the other team:

Okay, so it’s rough. How can he improve?

For a hint at the answer, we look to another former Snyder developmental charge: Joe Ingles.

Ingles was mostly a spot-up shooter when he entered the league with Utah. The Jazz’s coaching staff turned him into a strong pick-and-roll operator, primarily through offering him binary decisions – a simplicity he still seeks today.

Snyder often runs a subtle advance action to keep the defense off-balance, the goal being to allow Ingles a nice head of steam downhill once he takes the pick. He can fly past the screen, cruise into a 2-on-1 with his roll-man and force the defense to make the decision for him: Take the open lane to the layup, find the corner shooter if a third defender crashes down to take away his roller, or take the easy lob pass if it’s there:

Look for Snyder to try and simplify things similarly for Mudiay.

Utah’s spacing and movement should remove any need for Mudiay to get too fancy. He’s shown the ability to make the same kind of simple reads when the runway is there:

This is a basic example; the coaching staff will find similar ways to open things up for Mudiay where possible.

Will this approach fix everything, including the poor rim shooting? Probably not. Some of that is definitely due to limited explosiveness, which isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not always possible for the offense to make things so straightforward. But this is the blueprint for helping Mudiay take a step forward.

Jump-Shooting

Mudiay isn’t a very good jump-shooter, but he’s also not quite in the “total liability” category. He shot a passable 35 percent on open catch-and-shoot threes last year, per Second Spectrum, an outcome the Jazz will live with when necessary.

What they can’t live with: His pullup arsenal, where he’s well under 30 percent from deep in his career. He should never play meaningful minutes where those kinds of shots are necessary as anything but a late-clock heave. If he’s taking them anyway? He probably won’t play any meaningful minutes, honestly.

Inside the arc, the big question is whether one views Mudiay’s career year in midrange last season as an outlier or true progress. Snyder and staff won’t want him bombing away from here no matter what, but those shots can be valuable for units light on creation. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.

Defense

Mudiay has consistently rated as one of the worst defenders in the league at his position by available metrics. Is there a chance to even bring him back close to average?

Well…maybe. Mudiay’s screen navigation can be tough to watch; he takes circuitous routes around picks that waste time, then doesn’t seem to have much urgency getting back into the play to help out the big man he’s just left out to dry:

How much of that is effort-related, and how much is it just his physical limitation? Clearly there’s some lethargy involved in the clip above, but parsing things further isn’t really possible. A new environment, one Mudiay willingly placed himself in to help improve his game, should be good motivation if that’s really the bulk of the problem.

The thing is, there’s a long way to go. Mudiay rated as the single worst defender in the NBA managing opposing pick-and-roll ball-handlers last year, per advanced tracking data provided by a source. He needs a big boost in multiple areas.

Frankly, this is the toughest major area to project forward – and could be the biggest test of all for Snyder and his group. Guys who spend this many years in the league’s basement defensively aren’t going to become stoppers overnight. Whether Utah’s rock-solid defensive culture and some high-level tutelage will be enough to turn Mudiay into a passable defender remains to be seen.

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The 2019 offseason was viewed as a pivotal one for the Utah Jazz ever since their first-round elimination, and they’ve come out firing with multiple notable moves. This multi-part Spotlight series will dig into one particular element of each new Jazz acquisition’s game, and how it helps turn them into a legitimate NBA title contender. Our next entry: Emmanuel Mudiay, who will be a big test for Quin Snyder and his staff's vaunted player development reputation.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder and his staff certainly didn’t need a public attaboy this summer, but they got one anyway when reports of Emmanuel Mudiay’s signing in Utah began to circulate.

As several connected reporters and outlets laid out, Mudiay and agent BJ Armstrong sought out the Jazz specifically during the free agency process with Snyder’s developmental prowess in mind. They identified Utah’s success developing several players of varying age ranges under Snyder’s tenure and felt as though he could bring some of the same out of the former seventh overall pick.

This kind of public-facing admission isn’t something you often see in this league, and it’s refreshing in a sense. It’s also just a recognition of reality: Mudiay has not been a good NBA player to this point in his career.

He ranked dead last in the NBA among point guards in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus for 2017-18, improving to 75th of 100 last year in what represents the high-water mark of his career (it was his first time outside the bottom 10 at his position). There really aren’t too many areas of his game that look like surefire rotation-level skills in this league, even with rose-colored glasses on.

This isn’t meant as a putdown – again, it’s just reality, one Mudiay and the people around him have accepted more gracefully than many before him.

The question becomes, then: Which areas of realistic development can Snyder and his staff help move Mudiay forward in? Let’s look at a few candidates, some perhaps likelier than others.

Ball-Handling and Rim Finishing

These may seem like strange categories to lump together, but the theme for Mudiay in both areas is the same: He either has no plan or is way too sure of his plan despite it being a bad one. It’s honestly tough to tell which a lot of the time.

Mudiay has fallen victim to overreliance on “snaking” the pick-and-roll, a plague that affects a growing number of guys around the league. It’s a technique meant to bring the ball-handler back toward the middle of the court, opening space and forcing decisions from both defenders involved in the action – when it’s done properly.

Most guys don’t, though, Mudiay among them. He’s often hellbent on snaking even when it serves no real purpose, even getting in his own roll-man’s way some of the time:

Even when he gets the basic steps right, he doesn’t have the gravity to pull the defense where they need to be for this move to work. They hang back, let his defender get back in the play and live with the contested midrange J that’s usually coming:

Despite posting by far a career-high percentage from midrange last year, a number that feels pretty fluky given three straight subpar seasons before that, these aren’t good shots overall.

When Mudiay sticks to the more standard two-man game, he still struggles to find the right timing. He gets Danny Green off-balance here with a nice change of direction, but gives his edge back right away by pulling up for another midrange jumper:

Other times, he tries to fly to the rim when there really isn’t much chance of success:

Mudiay often just seems to struggle to recognize when opportunities are really there for him, a big part of why his rim finishing numbers have been so ugly.

He’ll regularly barrel into a crowd without any teammates nearby, not self-aware enough to realize he’s basically handing the ball back to the other team:

Okay, so it’s rough. How can he improve?

For a hint at the answer, we look to another former Snyder developmental charge: Joe Ingles.

Ingles was mostly a spot-up shooter when he entered the league with Utah. The Jazz’s coaching staff turned him into a strong pick-and-roll operator, primarily through offering him binary decisions – a simplicity he still seeks today.

Snyder often runs a subtle advance action to keep the defense off-balance, the goal being to allow Ingles a nice head of steam downhill once he takes the pick. He can fly past the screen, cruise into a 2-on-1 with his roll-man and force the defense to make the decision for him: Take the open lane to the layup, find the corner shooter if a third defender crashes down to take away his roller, or take the easy lob pass if it’s there:

Look for Snyder to try and simplify things similarly for Mudiay.

Utah’s spacing and movement should remove any need for Mudiay to get too fancy. He’s shown the ability to make the same kind of simple reads when the runway is there:

This is a basic example; the coaching staff will find similar ways to open things up for Mudiay where possible.

Will this approach fix everything, including the poor rim shooting? Probably not. Some of that is definitely due to limited explosiveness, which isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not always possible for the offense to make things so straightforward. But this is the blueprint for helping Mudiay take a step forward.

Jump-Shooting

Mudiay isn’t a very good jump-shooter, but he’s also not quite in the “total liability” category. He shot a passable 35 percent on open catch-and-shoot threes last year, per Second Spectrum, an outcome the Jazz will live with when necessary.

What they can’t live with: His pullup arsenal, where he’s well under 30 percent from deep in his career. He should never play meaningful minutes where those kinds of shots are necessary as anything but a late-clock heave. If he’s taking them anyway? He probably won’t play any meaningful minutes, honestly.

Inside the arc, the big question is whether one views Mudiay’s career year in midrange last season as an outlier or true progress. Snyder and staff won’t want him bombing away from here no matter what, but those shots can be valuable for units light on creation. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.

Defense

Mudiay has consistently rated as one of the worst defenders in the league at his position by available metrics. Is there a chance to even bring him back close to average?

Well…maybe. Mudiay’s screen navigation can be tough to watch; he takes circuitous routes around picks that waste time, then doesn’t seem to have much urgency getting back into the play to help out the big man he’s just left out to dry:

How much of that is effort-related, and how much is it just his physical limitation? Clearly there’s some lethargy involved in the clip above, but parsing things further isn’t really possible. A new environment, one Mudiay willingly placed himself in to help improve his game, should be good motivation if that’s really the bulk of the problem.

The thing is, there’s a long way to go. Mudiay rated as the single worst defender in the NBA managing opposing pick-and-roll ball-handlers last year, per advanced tracking data provided by a source. He needs a big boost in multiple areas.

Frankly, this is the toughest major area to project forward – and could be the biggest test of all for Snyder and his group. Guys who spend this many years in the league’s basement defensively aren’t going to become stoppers overnight. Whether Utah’s rock-solid defensive culture and some high-level tutelage will be enough to turn Mudiay into a passable defender remains to be seen.

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I am an NBA reporter and analyst based in Salt Lake City, covering the Utah Jazz and NBA at large. I'm in my fifth season covering the Jazz. I also write features examin...