Russell over Mudiay: Numbers Don’t Lie

In their last matchup of the season, #2 pick D’Angelo Russell faces #7 pick Emmanuel Mudiay.

D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay certainly took different paths to the NBA. Russell employed the traditional route for top American prospects: one season in college at Ohio State before entering the draft. Mudiay, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, opted to play a professional season in China after finishing high school in Texas.

As you would expect with lottery picks, both players find themselves on struggling teams. The 15-56 Lakers took Russell with the second pick, while the 30-42 Nuggets selected Mudiay with the seventh. Both players have played a good amount of minutes so far with Mudiay topping the 30 minute threshold.  Russell is averaging a little north of 13 points and 3 rebounds. Mudiay is averaging 12.4 points and 3 rebounds. Mudiay has 5.6  assists per contest which is higher than that of his fellow rookie point guard. (Russell drops 3.5 dimes). Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, Russell has been the more effective overall player.

The most glaring difference between the rookies has been in the area of offensive efficiency. Russell’s 42.1% from the field may not stand out, but it’s head and shoulders above the 35.5% posted by Mudiay. Even Russell’s 35.2% on three-pointers dwarfs the 31.3% success rate for Mudiay.

Mudiay has hit only 28.1% of shots that are 3-10 feet from the hoop, which is somehow worse than he fares on three-pointers. In addition, the Denver point has 3.2 turnovers per contest compared to 2.4 for Russell.  From the foul line, Mudiay has connected 66% of the time, whereas Russell hits at a 72% clip.

Even at this early stage, the disparity in field goal percentage is vast. That’s true despite the fact that Russell has taken 327 shots behind the arc versus 182 for Mudiay. It’s no surprise that Russell has a Player Efficiency Rating of 14.3 while Mudiay carries a PER of 9.6.

Mudiay is just 19 and has the chance for a bright future, but other advanced metrics are no kinder to his play. For instance, his Value Added (VA), the estimated number of points a player adds to its season total over what a replacement player would produce, is second worst among point guards. His (VA) is -34.4. Only Ty Lawson is worse. That basically means that a call-up from the D-League could be expected to help the Nuggets significantly more than Mudiay has so far, where scoring is concerned.  The -34.4 means the Nuggets lose points with Mudiay, rather than increase points, when compared to a replacement player. Of course, Denver’s focus is on the future, and the Nuggets hope that the hard knocks of an NBA season help Mudiay develop into a useful starter.

Russell is going through his own growing pains, but his VA is a more respectable 97.6 which is good for 27th among point guards.  By comparison, Karl-Anthony Towns leads all rookies in VA with 413.4.

Russell has been improving in recent games, while Mudiay continues to struggle on offense. Since the All-Star Break, Russell has shown why he was the #2 pick. He had three games in a row of 21 points, 27 points and 24 points. He had four games of 22 points, 22 points, 39 points and 24 points. His 21 point performance and his 24 point performance were home games against the Warriors and Cavaliers, the Western and Eastern Conference leaders.

On the other hand, Mudiay is hurting his team when he shoots 1-11 from the floor like he did in Cleveland and 3-11 in Atlanta. He’s had 17 games when he has shot less than 30%, which comprises nearly a third of his season.

Mudiay has shown promise on defense, holding opponents to 3% worse field goal shooting on attempts over 15 feet from the hoop. He has also played league average defense taking into account all shooting areas, which is a positive sign for a rookie. Meanwhile, Russell has at times struggled to guard his man, especially close to the bucket. Other teams have shot 7% better against him overall. However, I suspect that the gap between them is smaller than it appears so far.

Mudiay’s plus/minus has improved each month of the season. In March, he is averaging 17.5 points. His plus/minus is +3.4. His third straight month of a positive plus/minus. Russell is averaging 17.6 points in the month of March but his plus/minus is -9.6. Russell has never had a positive plus/minus which says more about his teammates than about Russell’s ability to produce.

According to Russell: “I just think it’ll come with time. Point guard is the toughest position, especially in this league. Just keep being patient and I’ll figure it out.”

Both Russell and Mudiay were drafted due to their major potential, but so far Russell has come closer to delivering on his. Russell has already learned to take open shots behind the arc while curbing the urge to make impossible plays. He takes smaller guards and posts them up in the paint. What’s more, so far, he has proven that he belongs among the top ten first-year players.

By contrast, among qualifying rookies Mudiay has compiled the worst true shooting percentage at 42.8%, which takes into account three-pointers and free-throws. He’s also playing the second most minutes (30.4) of any first-year player. (Russell has logged the fifth most minutes among rookies, 27.7). Denver won’t make the playoffs and a lot is invested in Mudiay’s future. The Nuggets hope that he is better able to capitalize on his talent next season.


photo via llananba