I believe the Hawks can be a respectable defensive team in 2017-18. Maybe not so much at the other end with three of their top five offensive players departed, but I look for center Mike Muscala to continue his development as a scorer.
The Hawks officially announced Muscala’s re-signing Tuesday after he agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with the Hawks early in free agency. According to FiveThirtyEight’s player projections, the Hawks got a bargain. The statistical projection expects Muscala to provide $5.7 million in market value this season and $5 million in 2018-19 for a total of $10.7 million (Muscala wisely got a player option for Year 2).
The main way Muscala increased his value is by developing into a legit stretch big. Already an efficient scorer, Muscala pulled off the tough trick of shooting 3's at a higher volume last season (3.6 per 36 minutes vs. 1.8 in Years 1-3) and making them at a better percentage (41.8 percent vs. 32.8 percent over his first three seasons).
Muscala, 26, credits Hawks assistant Ben Sullivan for helping him to make his form sounder and repeatable. Muscala said now he’s focused on shooting “in situations where it’s not necessarily a wide-open three.”
“It’s got a slight contest to it, (or) late shot clock, being able to get to more of those shots,” he said. “Because that’s good for the team. I shoot it well, and I want to be able to get more opportunities to shoot it.”
There should be more shots and more minutes for Muscala in 2017-18.
*No longer with team Source: Basketball Reference
The players last season who played the most minutes at center (Dwight Howard) and power forward (Paul Millsap) are gone. Millsap is among five departed Hawks who averaged at least 10 minutes and attempted 3's at a higher clip than Muscala. The others are Tim Hardaway, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon and Mike Scott. Rookie John Collins, a first-round draft pick, is the only Hawks big-man prospect who needs minutes.
Muscala also should benefit from playing more alongside point guard Dennis Schroder, a good playmaker. Last season Muscala played 551 minutes of his total 1,237 in lineups that included Schroder compared with 606 with Malcolm Delaney. Muscala had above-average production on pick-and-rolls last season (1.06 points per possession) but only 89 possessions used. He can expect more good chances with increased playing time and set-ups by Schroder.
Muscala relied heavily on pick-and-rolls and spot-ups last season; those play types accounted for nearly half of the possessions he used. With his reputation as a 3-point shooter established, Muscula can use that threat to expand his game.
Muscala said he’s working on new moves in the post. He's also trying to improve his “agility, balance and coordination” so he can be more effective driving to the basket on over-aggressive close-outs.
“I used to hear before I came to the NBA that there’s no defense,” Muscala said. “You start to learn fast that’s not the case. People are so long and athletic in the NBA that you have to be prepared to make one, two, three moves before you score or pass. It’s not enough to just take one dribble and get anywhere.”
Respect to Muscala for his new deal. He earned it: second-round pick out of Bucknell, then Spain for a bit, then part-time NBA player, and now bona-fide NBA rotation guy.
If Muscala can take another step on offense, it will help a Hawks team that could be starved for scoring.