One of the few rookies with professional experience and perhaps the closet one to his own signature shoe, Emmanuel Mudiay is ready for the NBA. Although he’s been hyped up since his high school days, it didn’t always come easy for the 19-year-old.
You’ve probably heard about his rough upbringing by now. He grew up in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo and played high school ball at the problem-infested, now-defunct Prime Prep in Dallas, before going overseas to China–a place where he didn’t speak the language or know anyone.
And now Mudiay has found a home in Denver with the Nuggets, a team that will give him the chance from the start to run the offense and call the shots–an opportunity not always given to teenagers.
Underdog? Absolutely. But his entire life has been an underdog story. With Under Armour on his feet, don’t be surprised when–not if–he surpasses another set of expectations put in front him. He’s already making a name for himself among sneakerheads, what with the sick ClutchFit Drive Low exclusive colorway of his that was released earlier this year, and you have to believe he’ll have a signature sneaker sooner rather than later. UA showed what a slick shoe designed for guards can do this season with the success of the Curry One. And while Mudiay is an entirely different prospect than Stephen Curry, he has the same type of star power that can shine through within a sneaker.
The No. 7 overall pick has court vision and is able to control game tempo, two big upsides for point guards. Although he still needs to improve his shooting ability, Mudiay has the strength to absorb contact, get to the foul line, and has the knack for making difficult passes look easy. Above all else, though, he’s explosive and can find his way into the paint whenever he pleases.
Does all of this remind you of someone else? Anyone?
Despite criticism at times for taking the ball out of Kevin Durant’s hands too much, there’s no denying Westbrook’s place in the NBA. He’s the reigning scoring champion and All-Star MVP, and is widely considered one of the best p̶o̶i̶n̶t̶ ̶g̶u̶a̶r̶d̶s̶ players in the league. He relentlessly attacks the basket and improved his shooting in recent years, making the Thunder star more or less impossible to stop.
And Mudiay may very well be on his way to Russ status.
We all know comparisons can be risky, but this one doesn’t seem so outrageous. Let’s take Westbrook’s rookie numbers and stack them against Mudiay’s Las Vegas summer numbers.
Predictably, neither shot well, failing to crack 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. But assists–Mudiay’s 5.7 to Westbrook’s 5.3. Steals–1.3 each. Even there effective field goal percentages (an advanced metric in which three-pointers are worth 50 percent more than shots inside the arc) are 40 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
But of course, these numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. Mudiay’s statistics are after just four games at the Summer League, where development and scouting take priority over winning in most cases. Westbrook’s numbers, meanwhile, are after 82 games of competitive basketball during the 2008-2009 season.
But if you’re still not sold on their similarities, check out this and then see the video below.
Two plus sides that Mudiay does have over Westbrook, though, are his height and length. He’s 6-5 with a 6-8.5 wingspan, giving him an advantage over his Oklahoma City competitor and many of the league’s point guards. These attributes give Mudiay the opportunity to see over defenders, sneaking in tough passes other talented guards aren’t able to execute.
While The Drop is certainly not the first to draw resemblances between the two guards, we certainly won’t be the last, either. Mudiay is in the league and he is here to stay. There are busts just about every season, players who fail to live up to hype and flame out quickly. But–Nuggets fans hold your collective breath–that just isn’t happening with Mudiay.
He’s quick, strong, long, and athletic. Simply, the kid is just too talented to be just another underwhelming lottery pick–despite the recent tumultuous culture in the Denver organization.
And with that, Under Armour’s recognition will continue to grow. We already gave you Stephen Curry’s rise with the company, another underdog story on aligning with an identifiable brand. Mudiay has the realistic possibility of becoming UA’s next big basketball star, which will surely help elevate the company. It is a legitimate contender already, finishing No. 2 in nationwide sales last year.
Can Mudiay single-handedly push UA past its rivals? No, probably not. But he can help the brand continue its moment to keep growing and expanding its reach. If he pans out like most are expecting him to–and all the signs are pointing in that direction–then both Emmanuel Mudiay and Under Armour are due for a long-term relationship and much success.
Maybe even Westbrook-like success.
Follow Matthew on Twitter at @matthewhochberg