By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ As one of the top basketball prospects of his high school class, Emmanuel Mudiay’s game was scouted and scrutinized as much as anyone while he played in Texas.
And yet when the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League opened, the point guard born in the Democratic Republic of Congo remained one of the league’s great mysteries.
Mudiay bypassed college to spend last year in China, playing in a league far off the radar for most American fans.
An ankle injury limited him to a dozen games, and so Vegas offered his first real opportunity to introduce himself to NBA fans and executives curious to see how quickly his game will translate with the Denver Nuggets.
Mudiay shined in Denver’s weeklong stay in Vegas, exhibiting the poise and playmaking that had the Nuggets thrilled he was there for them with the No. 7 pick. He averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals in four games and was one of the top rookies on display.
“We knew he was a natural playmaker and certainly he excels in transition,” Nuggets GM Tim Connelly said. “What stood out in summer league was his patience and letting things develop. I think it’s a term that’s rarely used anymore. He’s a true point guard.”
These summer games always need to be taken with a grain of salt considering the small sample size and a level of competition that is generally far inferior to the NBA. Mudiay also shot just 38.5 percent, underscoring a concern about that part of his game that scouts expressed during the pre-draft process.
“I didn’t shoot it how I wanted to shoot, but I’m going to keep shooting,” Mudiay said. “You’ve got to put pressure on the defense. It’s only four games we played. You can’t go off of four games.”
What set Mudiay apart over seven days in Vegas was his court vision, instincts and aptitude for the game uncommon in a 19-year-old.
“I love playmaking. I love making other people better,” Mudiay said. “This week I wasn’t too focused on the scoring part just because I wanted to facilitate. The reads I was making were wide open for my teammates. I should’ve probably done a better job of scoring probably.”
For Mudiay, this week was the culmination of a long journey. He was born in what was called Zaire at the time in 1996, lost his father in 1998 and left the war-torn country for Texas in 2002.
“There are some things you don’t forget growing up,” Mudiay said. “Seeing your mama struggles. The civil war was going on. Dead bodies, gun shots. But it’s made me who I am today, mentally, physically, all that.”
The 6-foot-5 Mudiay played the first four games for the Nuggets, leading them to a 3-1 record before sitting out the finale to rest a body that has taken a beating over the last year in China, the pre-draft preparation and in a tough mini-training camp in Denver before coming to Vegas.
He watched the final game from the bench, wearing a throwback Dikembe Mutombo Nuggets jersey, a little hat tip to his new home.
“He really has already embraced Denver,” Connelly said. “We talked on draft night and he was thankful for us giving him the opportunity. He’s desperate to show our fans and the league he can be one of the special lead point guards.”
A shorter learning curve could be crucial for the Nuggets after starting point guard Ty Lawson was arrested for DUI and entered a treatment facility.
Connelly said the Nuggets stand firmly behind Lawson. But the uncertainty surrounding a veteran at one of the game’s most important positions is unsettling as new coach Michael Malone prepares to take over a team that was disjointed under previous coach Brian Shaw.
The Nuggets have other veterans like Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari on the roster, but the team appears to be Mudiay’s for the taking.
The Nuggets are being careful not to put too much on his plate too early. But after an impressive debut, they left Vegas brimming with optimism.
“Certainly we did a lot of background on who he was as a kid, but you don’t really know someone until you’re around them on a consistent basis,” Connelly said. “Being around Emmanuel, we’re even more excited to see how serious the approach is and how much he wants to be a special player.”