Think back to the summer that was for the Denver Nuggets, particularly at the point guard position. A lot happened, all within the span of a month, but those key dates set the tone for who would run Denver’s offense this season. On June 25, Denver used the seventh overall pick in the draft to take Emmanuel Mudiay. On July 13, veteran Jameer Nelson resigned with the Nuggets, inking a three-year deal. On July 20, Ty Lawson, facing legal problems and not afraid to voice his displeasure with the Mudiay selection, was subsequently traded to the Houston Rockets about a month after Mudiay was picked.
After the dust had settled on that action-packed month, many pointed to Mudiay as the new face of Denver’s “New Day” promotion and believed that Nelson would serve as a mentor to the 19-year-old rookie. While that has happened, Nelson and Mudiay have started seeing more and more court time together in two-guard sets as the Denver offense continues to evolve and find its identity.
In Denver’s last five games, the duo has shared the court for 27 minutes. While just over five minutes per outing may not seem that impressive, what they’ve done together when on the court has been. The pair of point guards are fifth among Denver duos in effective field goal percentage at 70.5 and their offensive rating (number of points scored per 100 possessions) is the highest for any duo playing more than 20 minutes together at 123.4.
Playing two point guards at the same time is becoming more of a trend in the NBA, according to Denver head coach Michael Malone.
“Two playmakers in the lineup at the same time is becoming the norm,” Malone said. “The league is getting smaller and smaller. You saw a team (Golden State) win a championship last year with a small forward playing center. For us, Emmanuel and Jameer are two capable ball handlers who can score or make plays for others.”
Mudiay continues to develop his game, averaging 11.4 points and 6.4 assists per game. He’s also working hard to lower his turnovers, which average 3.6 per game in November and would be lower were it not for a nine-turnover fiasco in Denver’s 107-98 home win over the Houston Rockets.
Limiting turnovers is a key, but so is elevating Mudiay’s field goal percentage. In 10 November games, the rookie is shooting just .287 from the floor and .206 from 3-point range. The low numbers are something that Malone is focusing on with Mudiay every chance he can.
“For Emmanuel, it’s about the quality of the shot,” Malone said. “We sat together on the flight to New Orleans (before a recent road game against the Pelicans) and looked at the previous five games. There were good and bad shots. Good doesn’t always mean those shots go in. There are plenty of good shots that you don’t make. The key is to make a concerted effort to shoot a high percentage of good shots.
“You can’t just pick and roll for 48 minutes or shoot jump shots for 48 minutes. You have to mix it up. If you don’t, that’s a tough way to make a living.”
Mudiay may still have parts of his game to polish, but he is making a positive impression in his initial encounters with teams who will be rivals for years to come.
“He’s a guard with a good feel for the game,” said Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek said before Friday’s contest in Denver. “He can hold guys on his side and be ready to make plays. He’s very poised for a rookie.”
Nelson, meanwhile, is averaging 8.6 points per game in just over 24 minutes of action per contest. His 4.6 assists per outing rank second behind Mudiay and show that both veteran and rookie point guard have taken Malone’s offensive strategy and movement and sharing to heart.
“This is by far the most that we’ve worked on offense,” Malone said. “We’ve been placing an emphasis on ball movement and the quality of the shot. We have to have an “extra pass” mentality. That has to be who we are. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re improving.”