As the Denver Nuggets enter the 2016-17 campaign, they must answer the question: “Is our point guard of the future on our roster today?”. The Nuggets boast young talent and quality depth at all positions, except for point guard. Emmanuel Mudiay is an exciting talent with a high ceiling, but remains a raw prospect. Jameer Nelson is a wiley veteran, but clearly on the last leg of his career. The departure of D.J. Augustin indicates that the Nuggets like what they have in Mudiay and Nelson, but should they feel comfortable with this duo moving forward?
Analyzing the Denver Nuggets Point Guards
One of the greatest challenges that Denver faces during the 2016-17 season is determining what they have in Emmanuel Mudiay. The second year point guard had an equally exciting and frustrating rookie campaign, littered with inconsistency and poor decision making. The Nuggets will look for Mudiay to execute the offense, place his team in a position to succeed, and clean up the mistakes on the floor.
Mudiay put up a promising 12.8 points per game during his rookie season. That statistic alone is reason for hope that Mudiay will take a step forward in year two. However, there is a ton of concern in terms of efficiency and shot selection. Mudiay boasts an anemic 40.4% effective field goal percentage. These numbers are complied from: 36.4% field goal percentage, 31.9% 3 point percentage, and 67.0% free throw percentage. Simply put, Mudiay is best served as a facilitator, not a shooter. The addition of Jamal Murray will help alleviate some perimeter shooting woes, but only if Mudiay is willing to defer to the better option. This remains to be seen.
For a player with limited scoring ability, one would expect Mudiay to be effective dishing assists, or contribute on the boards. This is where Mudiay becomes a bit of an enigma, as he is behind the curve in these departments as well. Though he produced 5.5 assists per game, there is room to improve. As Mudiay works to improve decision making, and offensive efficiency, assists are the biggest opportunity for growth in his game this season. He will have to produce 7-8 assists per game to remain in the discussion for point guard of the future in Denver.
Rebounding is of lesser importance due to the fact that Denver has some monsters on the glass in their front court. However, Denver will need to see an improvement on the 3.4 rebounds per game Mudiay produced in his rookie campaign. The key here is progress. If Mudiay’s development becomes stagnant in any way, Denver will be looking at other options in the 2017 off-season.
Mudiay had modest turnover numbers, averaging 3.2 turnover’s per game. This number is a neutral rating, which is a bright spot in Mudiay’s game. However, ball handling isn’t his strength, which is curious for a point guard. Conversely, he averages a modest 1.0 steals per game, which is relatively passive on the defensive end. Expect Denver to push Mudiay to utilize his speed and become more assertive on the defensive end of the court.
Expectations for Jameer Nelson have always been low in terms of scoring. He has always been known more for his facilitation than his offensive production. Those things being said, 7.7 points per game is relatively solid bench production from Nelson. What kills Denver’s offensive flow is Nelson’s 36.8% field goal percentage, 29.9% 3 point percentage, and 43.8% effective field goal percentage. Nelson and Mudiay are relative equals in terms of offensive output, which is a huge problem for Denver. With the idea of developing Mudiay, Denver could have found a better mentor for Mudiay to develop his game around.
Playing bench minutes, Nelson puts up respectable assist and rebound numbers, which is an asset. Contributing 4.9 assists per game off of the bench keeps the Nuggets second unit moving. Providing support at 2.9 rebounds per game, Nelson shows where he brings value to a team. Denver will likely use Nelson to groom Mudiay in these areas, otherwise keeping Nelson on the roster makes no sense in terms of forward progress.
Nelson is fairly equitable with the ball, only turning the ball over only 1.7 times per game. Conversely, the grizzled veteran posts 0.6 steals per game. For a small guard, advancing in age, and not fleet of foot, these numbers are expected. Nelson offers absolutely nothing to aid in developing Mudiay in this department.
For lack of better terms, the Nuggets point guard situation is a mess! There are too many questions, not enough answers. The Nuggets took the smart “wait and see” approach with Mudiay, giving the youngster time to develop. The franchise hedged it’s bets by drafting combo guard Jamal Murray, who showed promise running point guard in Summer League. With Murray projected to play shooting guard to start the season, it looks like point guard is Mudiay’s to lose. If Mudiay struggles, Denver likely will shake up the rotation and hand the reigns over to Murray at some point during the season. The only absolute is that we will know what direction Denver needs to go at point guard by the end of 2016-17.