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What can the Atlanta Hawks expect from Malcolm Delaney?

Taking a deep dive into Atlanta’s new backup point guard.

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The Atlanta Hawks finished the 2015-2016 season with long-term uncertainty at the point guard position. Jeff Teague was the incumbent, five-year starter, but the now 28-year-old was facing free agency. Dennis Schröder was the brash 22-year-old who served as a solid two-year backup with real upside and a desire for the limelight.

In short order, the Hawks moved on from Teague to pave the way for Schröder’s run as the starter at the position, leaving the organization searching far and wide for a backup candidate. Mike Budenholzer, Wes Wilcox and company added veteran stop-gap Jarrett Jack on a one-year, minimum contract, but prior to that, Atlanta made a two-year, $5 million investment in former Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney.

While much has been said and written about the 27-year-old point guard already, I recently had the opportunity to take a dive into some extended film of Delaney and had a few observations on the recently acquired “veteran” who arrives via Lokomotiv Kuban after playing two seasons with the European club.

First and foremost, I agree with the analytical community on Delaney’s prospects. Voices like ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and Nate Duncan of the Dunc’d On Podcast have had very positive things to say about Atlanta’s acquisition of Delaney, including the notion that he could act as an above-average backup point guard in his first NBA season. That is, of course, an optimistic prediction for a player who has never set foot on an NBA floor, but one that can be backed up by watching his play in Europe and evaluating the statistical trends.

Defensively, there is some reason to worry about Delaney, but not to the level of panic. In short, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard does not profile as a plus defender. He lacks high-level strength and that leave will Delaney vulnerable to the more physical NBA guards that can (and will) bully him when given the opportunity. That, along with mediocre (to be kind) defensive numbers in the box score (blocks, steals, etc.) brings some reason for skepticism.

Positively, though, Delaney competes on the defensive end. He brings enough quickness to the table to stay in front of most guards (though he isn’t elite in this category, either) and, perhaps more importantly, he looks to be a “right place at the right time” defender. That will be a nice fit in Mike Budenholzer’s system that rewards heady play on the defensive end, and Delaney should be a competent team defender at the very least. Much of Atlanta’s defensive success came with bench lineups a year ago, and given the personnel involved, Delaney will be tasked with maintaining level to make up for the lack of offensive firepower.

The biggest “pro” in the column for Delaney comes on the other end of the floor, where he profiles as a plus-shooter at the point guard position. I have posited that Delaney could function as an off-ball player at times (alongside Schröder) because of this trait and his size, and he completed the 2015-2016 season with a 37% clip from beyond the arc that included several makes off the dribble. It should be said that I would worry about that defensive pairing against most NBA backcourts, but the overall takeaway is that he can serve as an effective catch-and-shoot option when others are creating, and Delaney is capable of “getting his” when provided with the opportunity.

As a facilitator, Delaney isn’t special but he can and, I believe, will be able to run this offense. RealGM provides that Delaney posted a 29% assist rate last season in 59 games, and he also put together a better than 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. I don’t believe that he is an elite level passer at the NBA level, but Delaney is unselfish and a willing passer that knows what to do when running a sophisticated offense.

Furthermore, Delaney’s style of play seems to be a fit with what Mike Budenholzer wants to do. I hesitate to compare what he has been able to do overseas with what will be required of him in Atlanta, but for as much as can be gleaned, his floor game seems intelligent and there have been reports that Delaney served as a quality leader with his club.

In terms of scoring, there is a ceiling on Delaney and that will be different than his predecessor, Dennis Schröder, in the backup role. The 27-year-old had some trouble finishing at the rim against lower-level competition, and against NBA big men, that will likely become magnified. Most of his scoring production will likely come from his jumper, and anything around the rim will be a bonus. For me, Delaney will cook in the pick-and-roll but needs to serve more as a facilitator/jump shooter than as a dominant penetrator/finisher.

The big question, of course, is how much Delaney will play during the 2016-2017 season. Jarrett Jack enters with (much) more experience and an NBA track record, but he will turn 33 before the end of October and the veteran is coming off ACL surgery in January. There is some optimism from Jack’s side that he will be ready to go in full when camp opens, but I remain skeptical of that.

With what I have seen on film and the statistical translations, I expect Delaney to be the superior option, both in talent and, especially, in fit. Delaney’s shooting will come in handy with bench units that don’t involve Kyle Korver, and with players like Thabo Sefolosha set to receive extended minutes, spacing will come at a premium. We will, quite obviously, know more as training camp arrives, but Malcolm Delaney passes the eye test and he will be the healthiest backup option at the start of the campaign.

You may not know his name or his work on the floor, but Malcolm Delaney can play.