DENVER — For the Denver Nuggets to reach the lofty place they hold in the standings a huge part has been the work of coach Mike Malone and his staff developing the young players on the roster.
But one player that they couldn’t get to reach his potential was Emmanuel Mudiay, ending with the trade to the Knicks at the February trade deadline last season. Both Malone and Knicks coach David Fizdale agree the difference is confidence.
“Here’s a young man that Fiz has put the ball in his hands,” Malone said. “He had a great month of December — I think 19 points, 5.5 assists per game. He’s going out there and attacking and shooting the ball with great confidence. That’s what jumps out for me. Forget the basketball and style of play, whatever. It’s just mentally Emmanuel having the confidence of knowing he can go out there and play his game every single night.”
Fizdale, who inserted Mudiay into the starting lineup after the 14th game of the season, agreed.
“I think just keeping his confidence high,” Fizdale said. “Really just constantly feeding the positive. I think ultimately for his journey to work out I think what he went through here in Denver was a big part of that. Having to fail was a big part of him becoming who he was going to become. The key, he works hard at it and he does it with a good attitude. He’s actually emerging as a leader on our team.”
A real unicorn
Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic has emerged in the NBA’s MVP talk this season and Fizdale sees him as one of the more unique talents in the league.
“A 7-2 Magic Johnson,” Fizdale said. “This guy’s running fast breaks. He’s as good a passer as any guard in this league. He can post. He can shoot the three. He’s long at the rim. But his passing and his ballhandling is just something to admire. It makes him very dynamic and Mike is using him great.”
Knicks' rookie Mitchell Robinson, who grew up in Florida and Louisiana, never saw snow before the Knicks trip to Utah. He never actually saw it come down until Monday in Denver and enjoyed the new experience. "You don’t get that in the South," he said. "We don’t get that down there. Seeing it was kind of amazing."
According to one NBA official, Michael Porter Jr. has been getting healthy sooner than expected and while he may not play this season with the deep and talented Nuggets, word is that he has recaptured the form that had him ranked as the top prospect coming out of high school before suffering a back injury.