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Select Team members Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris could be in for statistical jump next season

Dan Fatigato Avatar
June 16, 2016


As was reported last week, both Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris were chosen for the 2016 USA Men’s Select team, which will be tasked with getting the Senior National Team up to speed and ready for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Select team will join Team USA training camp in Las Vegas, July 18-21. It’s not only a great honor to be picked among the 25 players that get to go toe to toe with the 2016 Olympians, it’s also an opportunity to get better.

It’s not only a great honor to be picked among the 25 players that get to go toe to toe with the 2016 Olympians, it’s also an opportunity to get better. Getting selected for the Select Team has proven in the past to be a good omen for NBA players. Their development gets sped up as they gain exposure against the league’s top talent, and more reps against great players with great coaching is a model for improvement.

Here’s some background on the Select Team and just how much progression we can expect from Mudiay and Harris compared to their peers that came before them.


Select Team background

Quite a few name-brand NBA stars got their start with USA Basketball on the Select Team. Players like John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Derrick Rose emerged from their first brush with the Olympic team as more complete players. They were able to hone their skills on the court against the game’s best while learning how a true superstar prepares and studies the game.

Under the tutelage of none other than San Antonio Spurs coach and basketball wizard Gregg Popovich, Mudiay and Harris have that opportunity this summer. Playing for Popovich has never been a bad thing for a hungry, young player’s career.

In order to stand out amongst their 23 peers on the Select Team, the Nuggets guards will have to bring it. The Select Team’s roster is bigger than in past years, comprised of both NBA players and highly touted incoming rookies.

Mudiay, for instance, is competing with fellow 2015 draft class point guard D’Angelo Russell for playing time, as well as projected top-5 draft pick Kris Dunn of Villanova, who is two years older than Mudiay after a four-year college career at Providence. Mudiay’s fighting to prove he’s better than the point guard drafted five spots ahead of him, while holding off the top lead guard in the 2016 draft. This kind of ultra-competitive environment can’t be simulated by locking yourself in a gym all summer.

Harris shares the 2-guard slot on the Select Team with sharpshooter Devin Booker, defensive ace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, budding stars Rodney Hood and C.J. McCollum, and the ultra-athletic Zach LaVine. That array of talent will give Harris a window into his current standing among the shooting guards in his age group. Harris will be tested by veterans Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan, all vying for a spot on the senior Olympic squad.

Mudiay and Russell will continue their rivalry this summer, but this time as teammates. Credit: David Zalubowski, AP
Mudiay and Russell will continue their rivalry this summer, but this time as teammates.
Credit: David Zalubowski, AP

Room for improvement

Mudiay, fresh off his rookie season, and Harris, entering his third year, each just completed productive seasons in which they flashed potential as core pieces of the rebuilding Nuggets. Yet, the evolution of their games is nowhere near complete.

Mudiay was plagued by turnovers, inefficient shooting and at time shaky one-on-one defense in his first NBA campaign. This is normal for a 19-year-old point guard, but the hole he dug himself into during the first two months of the season before injuring his ankle skewed his overall numbers downward. The 20-year-old finished the season with a 9.9 Player Efficiency Rating, well below the league average of 15.0.

Under coach Michael Malone’s guidance, Mudiay had a much better second half of the season and had some tantalizing performances late in the year, averaging 18.8 points and 5.2 assists over the season’s final five games. Though some of the league’s top point guards have withdrawn from the Olympics, Damian Lillard and Irving should be in training camp and will give Mudiay all he can handle in one-on-one situations. His lateral quickness and strength to get around screens will be put to the test trying to prevent both from raining threes. Mudiay needs to use his size to thwart deadly drives to the hoop by Irving, who’s reminding the world how special his game can be in the NBA Finals.

Hopefully, Popovich will push Mudiay toward using his athleticism off the dribble rather than settling for jumpers so he can get better in those areas. Sloppy ball handling and passing will not be tolerated by Popovich either.

Harris showed himself to be one of the Nuggets better defenders on the wing last season, however, got exposed when matched up against bigger shooting guards and small forwards. An ancient Kobe Bryant had a 28-point outing against Denver on March 25, much of it at the expense of Harris, and Andrew Wiggins had two strong games against Harris as well. Bigger wings like Bryant and Wiggins can take the wiry, 6-foot-4 Harris down low for easier buckets and he’ll have his hands full with Thompson, Butler, DeRozan, and other shooting guards that can live in the paint.

Harris put up improved scoring numbers last season but didn’t fill up the stat sheet in other important areas, averaging just 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. His size keeps him from being much of a factor on the boards and he will have to show the ability to set up teammates this summer. Harris will have no shortage of shooters and finishers to dime up.

There will be tough moments for both members of Denver’s backcourt, but adversity can be a great motivator and educator. The experience alone will more than prepare them for Nuggets training camp in the fall and the grueling season soon thereafter.

Irving’s scoring average jumped four points after his summer with the Select Team.

Olympic benefits

After playing in the basketball cauldron that is USA Basketball Training Camp, expect Mudiay and Harris to come to Nuggets camp as leaders with a new confidence. It’s long been believed that players coming off National Team activities make a leap in the next season, and there is data to back that claim up. Here’s a look at some notable guards and small forward’s performances in the season before and after their Select Team experience.


PPG (prev season) PPG (next season) Difference PPG PER (prev season) PER (next season) Difference PER APG (prev season) APG (next season) Diff APG
John Wall










DeMar DeRozan










Gordon Hayward










Kyrie Irving










Kawhi Leonard










Klay Thompson











PPG (prev season) PPG (next season) Difference PPG PER (prev season) PER (next season) Difference PER APG prev APG next Diff APG
Kevin Durant










Derrick Rose







Russell Westbrook








This isn’t to say that Mudiay and Harris are destined to achieve the glory these players have, but by joining the Select Team fraternity, they have set upon a similar path. Each player above made statistical leaps the following season and aside from Gordon Hayward, eventually became perennial All-Stars.

Rose and Westbrook were entering their first NBA season after playing for the Select Team and both had outstanding rookie years. Irving dazzled coaches and fellow players in 2012, scoring 11 of the Select team’s 14 points in an upset over the National team and drew plenty of buzz coming off that performance, which helped propel him into the 2012-13 season and the national consciousness. In the age of Vine, GIFs and instant reaction, any exploits by the two Nuggets will be plastered all over NBA Twitter during the league’s dead season.

There’s an intangible value in that recognition.

Looking ahead to next season

One aspect of team building that the Nuggets are becoming known for around the league is their player development. Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Mudiay, and Harris are just some of the players that have matured while in the Nuggets organization and Malone is beaming at the prospects of what this opportunity will yield for his current backcourt. This summer’s National Team training camp essentially gives Malone free development hours at the highest level for his two starting guards.

Mudiay is determined to build upon his second-half success, establish himself as the unquestioned point guard of the future and learn what kind of internal drive and leadership ability that’s required while playing with the stars this summer.

It remains to be seen if the Nuggets draft a shooting guard like Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray this summer, but Harris will know by July how hard he will be pushed for his starting slot. If he can improve his post defense fundamentals and become more dynamic offensively that role will be his to lose for the foreseeable future.

The arrow continues to point up for both players, and in turn, the Nuggets as a whole.



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