It was a big year for the Mike Muscala bandwagon.
The now 23-year-old big man was largely considered an afterthought from the moment he arrived in the Atlanta Hawks organization. Muscala, fresh out of Bucknell, was acquired by the team on the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, but his rights were a "throw-in" of sorts in a trade that involved Lucas Nogueira (and Jared Cunningham).
From there, Muscala began his professional career in Europe, providing strong minutes in the ACB league in Spain. Still, he was a four-year college player who toiled in relative obscurity at Bucknell, and when he arrived in Atlanta after the team bought out his European contract in February 2014, there was little fanfare outside of diehard fans and pundits.
I tell you this because, well, Mike Muscala has come a long way.
Muscala appeared in only 20 games during his "rookie" campaign, and he was largely uninspiring to the tune of a 48% true shooting and uneven defensive impact. Still, the Hawks organization boasted about his progress, and with an impressive showing during the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League, there was reason to believe that he was ready to play a larger role.
That, of course, isn't to say that Mike Muscala was gifted a rotation spot. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are pretty good at basketball (breaking news), and the trust placed in Pero Antic by Mike Budenholzer has been well-documented. Muscala, though, did take full advantage of his relatively limited opportunities in 2014-2015, and his strong play opened doors that eventually led him to become a legitimate rotation player at times during the NBA Playoffs.
For the season, the 6-foot-11 big man averaged just 4.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in 12.6 minutes, but on a per-minute basis, his contributions were much more impressive. For reference, Muscala averaged 14.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes, and he was highly efficient offensively, shooting 55% from the floor (60.8% true shooting) with a stellar 18.0 PER.
From a skills standpoint, it is easy to see why the Hawks enjoy Muscala's work. He has an aesthetically pleasing jump shot for his size, and he converted 9 of his 22 three-point attempts to provide spacing. In addition, his defensive skill set is something that stands out, as he has a strong blend of length and athleticism, and his development in placement and general know-how was visible between year one and year two.
Mike Muscala, quite obviously, isn't a perfect player, and that must be stated as well. There is some concern (though I don't necessarily share it) that he isn't strong enough to function capably as a center in the NBA, and there have certainly been times where he was pushed around a bit on the interior. In that vein, his rebounding hasn't been terribly impressive, and while that could be a skill that develops (he is still only 23), the Hawks have been known for their deficiency in that particular area.
In terms of the future, Mike Muscala appears to be firmly a part of the team's plans in the next two seasons. The Hawks have Muscala under control on an incredibly team-friendly contract, as Muscala will earn $947,276 in 2015-2016, with a team option for $1,015,696 in 2016-2017 that will almost certainly be exercised. It will be interesting to see who joins Muscala in the frontcourt (outside of Al Horford, of course), but even if it is in the role of a "4th big", the former Bucknell standout will be a factor moving forward.
Make no mistake, Mike Muscala isn't an impact NBA player at this stage, but there are several reasons that the Atlanta Hawks love his game. Extracting value with the 44th overall pick is always a bonus, but the team has "hit" on their selection of Muscala, and they will almost assuredly let the Moose loose in 2015-2016.