A history of player development and postseason berths brought Emmanuel Mudiay to the Utah Jazz

by Aaron Falk

Emmanuel Mudiay has two big items on his to-do list:

• Don’t be at home when the NBA Playoffs begin next April

• Develop his game, tapping into the well of potential that made him the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 Draft

And those two things are exactly why the 23-year-old Mudiay was smiling Tuesday as he displayed his freshly pressed jersey during his first news conference as a member of the Utah Jazz. After spending his first four NBA seasons with the Denver Nuggets and the New York Knicks, Mudiay picked Utah in free agency because he believed it would be the best place to accomplish his basketball goals.

“It all made sense,” Mudiay said

Mudiay averaged a career-high 14.8 points, along with 3.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, last season in New York. But after missing out on the postseason for the fourth time in four years, the former lottery pick went looking for a change of scenery.

He’s found it in Utah. Mudiay has seen what the Jazz have done over the past few years: 51 wins, 48 wins, 50 wins; three straight trips to the playoffs. And he wants to help take the team to the next level.

“I think this team is the best team, on paper, that I’ve personally been on,” Mudiay said. “We’ve got talent from top to bottom. You’ve got players that are coming off the bench that have been starters in the league too.”

In making his choice to sign with the Jazz, Mudiay spoke with veteran point guard Mike Conley. The two guards met up later in Las Vegas to work out with each other.

“I’m going to look at him now like a big brother and he can mentor me,” Mudiay said.

Mudiay also conferred with Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Brown has known Mudiay since he tried to recruit him to SMU out of high school. Brown, meanwhile, has known Snyder since giving the Jazz coach his first NBA job in 1992.

“[Brown] told me [Snyder] is a smart guy, and not just in basketball,” Mudiay said. “He told me the degrees he had as well. I was not expecting that. … That just proves he’s well put together. And when I talked to him, you could tell how much this really means to him.

“It really seems like he cares for his players as well. That’s big when you have a coach that can talk to you not only about basketball but about off-the-court stuff. You start having trust in that person. That’s one thing for me, if I’ve got trust for you, then I’ll run through a wall for you.”

Brown also told Mudiay that Snyder would make him better.

“The thing that was definitely appealing to me was the team and the development process they’ve had with a lot of players,” Mudiay said. “A lot of players that have come here and played have definitely gotten better. That’s something I wanted to do.”

Mudiay has spent time with Snyder already, discussing his potential role and fit with the club. For now, Mudiay says he can see himself playing multiple roles for the Jazz.

“That’s the fun part about it,” he said. “I’ve been talking to Coach Snyder a little bit. He just wants ballplayers. The game now, the way it’s going, positions don’t mean anything. For my size, being a big guard, I’m capable of guarding bigger guys, small 4s. … I might have to play the 3. I don’t know. That’s the fun part about it.”

No matter the position, though, Mudiay knows he will have to defend to fit in next to two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and the rest of his new teammates.

“That’s definitely something that I’m going to have to bring—that energy, every game, every day,” he said. “That’s something that me and Coach Snyder have talked about. I’m somebody that takes criticism pretty well. If I’m doing something wrong, I want him to tell me. And I have no doubt in my mind he will tell me if I’m not playing great defense.”

Mudiay said he doesn’t know much about Salt Lake City. But having spent two seasons with the Nuggets, Mudiay is very familiar with the fans at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

“During the playoffs,” he said, “you can hear it through the TV how loud it gets in there.”

This season, though, Mudiay is ready to hear it in person.

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