SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder was ready with a grocery list of how Emmanuel Mudiay has shown improvement.
- How he studies film
- How he scores
- How he changes the way he defends
- How he fights over screens
- How he blocks out
- How he passes
And that was before Mudiay’s dazzling 20-point, four-assist, three-rebound performance in a win against the New York Knicks, his former team.
When the Jazz signed Mudiay to a minimum contract this offseason, it was with the hope that Snyder could turn him into a more complete basketball player. He spent the year after high school playing overseas, he played on bad Denver Nuggets teams, was traded to a bad Knicks team.
He was never truly challenged as a player, never asked to get out of his comfort zone, never got a true chance to grow.
“I thought I was pretty smart player until I came here,” Mudiay said. “When I came here, (Snyder) took it to another level and I am committed. Everyone told me what kind of coach Coach Quin was when I came here, so I bought in and I am just going to try and get better and try to do what I can for my teammates.”
Wednesday was the glowing example of his growth.
Yes, Mudiay scored, but he didn’t truly look for his shot. He dribbled into the paint and then fired it out to an open Bojan Bogdanovic who nailed a 3-pointer. He made a nice feed inside to Tony Bradley (instead of shooting a midrange jumper) that led to a dunk. He found Joe Ingles in transition for an open 3-pointer.
And yes, he hit shots along the way, too. Most of which were of the good variety.
He is becoming the player the Jazz hoped he could be.
“It's a credit to him fully, and all this preparation and work that he's put in,” Snyder said. “He's worked, he's worked, he’s worked. And it hasn't always been an easy road. Sometimes he's coming in the game for three minutes and coming out and that's what it is. For him to be able to handle different rotations and matchups, that's a guy that's really becoming a true pro.”
Mudiay recognizes that his game has changed since coming to Utah — and for the better. Mudiay admitted that he has to think more than he ever has before on a basketball court.
Sure, he can make an eight-footer, a 15-footer, a 20-footer. And to be honest, make them with regularity. Mudiay is shooting 57.9% from 8 to 16 feet out this season and 50% from 16 to 24 feet (“I didn’t see him miss a midrange shot all month,” Donovan Mitchell quipped. “Or all year. I’ll be that guy. All year.”), but Mudiay knows that’s not always the best shot to be had. Especially for a Jazz team that is shooting near 40% on the season from 3-point range.
“When I get in the paint, keeping my eyes out,” Mudiay told KSL.com. “He (Snyder) wants more 3s, so not necessarily taking the midrange as much. Just not taking a shot even when you know you can take it.”
That’s the sign of a player that wants to be the best for his team. And that’s something his teammates have noticed.
“I was excited when we signed him and just to see his growth on both ends,” Ingles said. “He obviously can score the ball, his passing is high-level and he’s been defending. He rebounds the ball, he can push it. We always get in trouble 'cause he pushes it faster with the ball than we do running down the court without it. I think he’ll keep getting better.”
And Snyder does too. Because in the end, Mudiay's desire to improve is the thing that Snyder has been the most impressed with.
“(It begins) with the commitment that he's made to grow as a player,” Snyder said. “That sounds really general but it manifests itself in lots of different ways. He's really given himself up to the team and his teammates. That means scoring at times and also means moving his pickup points up the floor. It means not getting screened. It means blocking out on the defensive glass.
"It means pushing the ball. It means being ready to shoot and respacing after passes. It means putting hours and hours of work into knocking down corner 3s. It means working on his finishing. It means watching film. I mean, he's just been immersed in the process of getting better.”
And the Jazz are better for it.