For all intents and purposes, D'Angelo Russell to the Sixers feels like the popular pick to most Philadelphians. Minnesota and the Lakers will divvy up Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, leaving Russell as the player destined to fill the yawning void in the Sixers backcourt. But of course, there's another swashbuckling guard that the Sixers would do well to consider. He hasn't had as much nationwide exposure nor does he boast a lot of actual footage but Emmanuel Mudiay, formerly of the Guangdong Hongyuan Tigers of the CBA, has both talent and a skill-set for the Sixers. So before everyone runs off to get their ‘Russell #0' jerseys, at least let me talk you into the merits of this draft's mystery man.
1) Mudiay works his butt off.
Philadelphia loves anything blue collar; it's basically Pennsylvania law for it to be mentioned in relation to anything from the city. The Phillies are blue collar, the Sixers are blue collar, Wayne Simmonds is blue collar. You see that dude on the PATCO, guzzling PBR like his liver is on fire; THAT'S SOME BLUE COLLAR PUBLIC INTOXICATION, SON.
So the fans of blue collar action will be delighted to know Mudiay also puts in the work. A starter when he first arrived in Guangdong, the point guard was sidelined by an injury for a chunk of the season and could have simply picked up a check and waited out the year. But instead, Mudiay continued to train hard, eventually fighting his way back into the team and eventually starting for the Tigers in a play-off semi final against the eventual champions, Beijing. Having played no competitive basketball in two months, Mudiay averaged 19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6 rebounds during the postseason. Guangdong ended up losing a back-and-fourth series with Beijing but Mudiay left China with the Tigers praising the teenager on and off the record (a very rare feat for an American player).
2) He's not a rookie.
Whereas Russell has been competing against college players, Mudiay found himself going toe-to-toe with NBA level talent in China. Mudiay's first ever game as a pro saw him guard Stephon Marbury, a player who made his NBA debut a couple of months after Mudiay was born in 1996. Indeed, most of Mudiay's CBA games saw him line up against guards with at least one season of NBA playing time. That's obviously experience that Russell can't get at the college level and despite being thrown into the deep end, Mudiay was often winning those match-ups by the end of the game.
3) Mudiay can flat out play.
Everyone has obviously watched the Draft Express videos and also read Derek Bodner's excellent breakdown on both players, but its important to note the little things that might make Mudiay valuable in Philadelphia. In China, Mudiay was utilized as an all-action point guard, running Guangdong's high powered, floor stretching offense that had a ton of pick-and-rolls and drive-and-kick plays. Critically, the Tigers also were content to let Mudiay hit the acceleration button and finish in transition. In a Brett Brown offense that values speed and creating as many offensive possessions as possible, Mudiay's skillset and experience makes him a very useful fit.
4) He's seen some stuff.
Dongguan, the home city of the Tigers, is not a cozy college town in the middle of nowhere but a giant urban area known informally as ‘China's Sin City' because of its vast prostitution networks. But not only was the city a bit bonkers, the team itself was also crammed full of eccentric characters in both the front office and the roster, most notably Guangdong's captain and full-time gonzo ringmaster, Zhu Fangyu. The architect of that absolutely massive brawl between China and a touring Brazilian team four years ago, Zhu spent most of this season dealing with a messy divorce. Things culminated in suitably chaotic fashion when Zhu defiantly posted his child custody papers on the internet two days before the start of the CBA Play-offs, sparking headlines across China in the process. The fact that Mudiay calmly played through all of this means he won't blink an eye when he goes onto local radio, eats a cheese steak live on air and has to teach Angelo Cataldi how to say ‘Sydney Crosby sucks' in Cantonese. Frankly anyone who says Hinkie doesn't take those factors into account is a liar.