Though he is currently under scrutiny by many, one cannot deny that Danny Ferry has done a great job finding second round talent in the NBA Draft. Mike Scott has developed into a great young role player for the Hawks, and in recent weeks Center Mike Muscala has shown a ton of promise. Muscala was taken with the 44th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, as part of the Hawks’ draft day deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Hailing from Minnesota, Muscala was a four-year starter at Bucknell, and was voted the 2013 Patriot League Player of the Year, as well as the Defensive Player of the Year. Muscala, who is nicknamed “Moose” or “Jawz”, played sparingly in Summer League, but did not crack the NBA club upon being drafted. The Hawks opted to have him sign a deal in the Liga ACB in Spain and let him develop overseas for a season. This is the same league Pau Gasol played in, and Atlanta currently has their 7’3” Second-Rounder from this past Draft, Edy Taveras, stashed there as well.
The Hawks were clearly satisfied with the progression Muscala made, and brought him over in February of last season. While in Spain, Jawz averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He led the league in rebounding. Though he played sparingly in Atlanta, seeing an NBA floor as well as making various D-League assignments put more experience under Moose’s belt. This past season, Moose has made big strides in his game, and his shooting has really improved. While he shot only 25% from beyond the arc in his Senior season at Bucknell, Muscala has made the 3-point shot a huge part of his arsenal in 2015, as he is now shooting for 35%. Jawz’s 6’11”, 230 pound frame lets him work in the paint for rebounds, but now he is able to not only work inside, but stretch the floor as well. This is the type of role the Hawks have had Pero Antic try to play the past two seasons, but he has simply been too ineffective of a shooter to produce. The Hawks can now open up their offense on the second unit if they give Muscala extended minutes come playoff time.
With Antic’s recent arrest, Muscala and Elton Brand could see an increased role in the coming weeks. I have been perplexed to see Antic receive more minutes than Moose this season, as not only do I think it’s night and day that Muscala is better, but he’s exactly the type of player the Hawks need on their second unit. One thing that sets Muscala apart from Pero is he doesn’t hesitate to unload the 3-point shot, and he can hurt you in many ways. He is a big man who can rebound, play inside and shoot. It’s no secret that big men take longer to develop, and Muscala is still only 23. He can be a valuable piece off the bench, and I think he can be a serviceable backup big man for the Hawks for years to come.
With the recent injury to Paul Millsap, Coach Mike Budenholzer has opted to insert Muscala into the starting lineup in his absence. In the three starts he has made since March 28th, Muscala has averaged 14.3 points and 6 rebounds per game. His stats per 36 minutes this season equate to 14.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. While a ton of these numbers are due to him playing other bench players, these numbers indicate that Danny Ferry has found great value at 44. This, alongside the great fit into Coach Bud’s system, all call for a bigger role from Moose. Elton Brand is contemplating retirement, and while the Hawks have stated they maintain interest in Pero, with his recent incident as well as his bad play, the chances of him returning are waning. Muscala is ready to take on a big role and play significant minutes off of the bench. Now it’s up to Mike Budenholzer to give him that chance. Hopefully these recent starts are a sign of things to come in Atlanta.