Emmanuel Mudiay stopped at the visitors’ locker on his walk into the arena, catching up with old friends.
The New York Knicks who laughed and hugged their old teammate before the game might not have seen it then, but a lot had changed for the 23-year-old Mudiay. After a season and a half with the Knicks, the point guard left Manhattan for the mountains of Utah and a chance to reboot his basketball career. Mudiay signed with the Jazz so that he could learn from head coach Quin Snyder and develop the potential that once made him a lottery pick.
“I think just mentally I’ve grown,” Mudiay said Wednesday. “I kind of opened up my mind. I didn’t let myself stay in a box.”
The guard showed off his development on the court in a 128-104 win over of his old squad. Mudiay scored a game-high 20 points (8-of-12 shooting) and added four assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block as the Jazz won their seventh straight game.
“He played the right way,” Snyder said afterward.
| @emmanuelmudiay puts 20 on his former squad
20p | 4a | 3r | 2 3pm | 1s | 1b pic.twitter.com/vS8Qn3ftxI
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 9, 2020
Mudiay has always been aggressive with the basketball—at times to his detriment. But on Wednesday night, the guard was poised and methodical. After checking into the game late in the first quarter, the Mudiay got into the paint, searched for an open teammate and kicked out to a wide-open Bojan Bogdanovic for 3. When he took his first mid-range jumper, a go-to move for Mudiay, the guard had the presence of mind to find center Tony Bradley open for a dunk after two defenders converged on his jumper.
Other times, Mudiay used his size and speed to put pressure on the rim and create for himself.
“My IQ” has improved, Mudiay said afterward. “I thought I was a pretty OK, smart player until I came here. When I came here, he took it to another level.”
Mudiay credited Snyder — his attention to detail and his ability to break that down into applicable instruction — for much of his progress this season.
“He’s been really good with that,” Mudiay said. “He’s one of the best communicators out there as coaches. We talk a lot. Just having that dialogue is big.”
Snyder, meanwhile, lauded Mudiay’s approach since joining the team this summer, saying the guard has been “immersed in the process of getting better.”
“I’ve liked a lot of things, beginning with the commitment that he’s made to grow as a player,” Snyder said. “That sounds really general, but it manifests itself in a lot of different ways:
“That means scoring at times. It also means moving his pick-up points up the floor. It means blocking out on the defensive glass, pushing the ball, being ready to shoot, respacing after he passes. It means putting in hours and hours of work knocking down corner-3s, working on his finishing. … It’s how he is on the bench. How he comes out of games. The way he comes into games. There’s a lot there.”
Mudiay wasn’t looking for revenge against his old team. He said he wanted to approach the game as he would any other: another opportunity to grow.
“I’m just thankful to be [with the Jazz] regardless,” he said. “I closed that chapter of the book. When I came here, I wasn’t thinking about that no more.”
Snyder said has seen other players take a different approach and try to do too much against their former teams.
“He didn’t force himself on the game. … He was focused on our game,” Snyder said. “It’s a credit to him and all of the preparation and work that he’s put in. He’s worked, he’s worked, he’s worked. It hasn’t always been an easy road. Sometimes he’s coming into the game for 3 minutes and coming out. That’s what it is. For him to be able to handle different rotations and different matchups like that, that’s a guy that’s really becoming a true pro.”