Mike Muscala didn’t quite take the step forward many were expecting in 2016 and now at least on the surface, it appears he will come to training camp needing to earn a spot on the Atlanta Hawks final roster.
The Hawks currently have 17 players on their roster. Matt Costello is on what is essentially a training camp contract with a reported guarantee of $50,000. Only half of Muscala’s $1 million salary is guaranteed, which on the surface would seem to put him in a bit of jeopardy for when Atlanta pairs the roster down to the league max of 15.
Muscala is 25 and is entering his fourth season with the Hawks. Muscala spent the first half of his first professional season playing in Spain before joining the Hawks late in the 2014 season. He saw sporadic playing time over those first three seasons but appeared in a career-best 60 games in 2016.
At 6-11, Muscala is versatile enough to swing between both the power forward and center positions. Tiago Splitter’s season-ending hip injury last season forced Muscala to play more minutes at center when at this juncture he might be better served as a power forward.
Muscala came into the league with an adequate jump shot but has worked extremely hard to improve the range on his jumper. He knocked down 55 percent of his field goal attempts two seasons ago and went 9 of 22 from three-point range. His field goal percentage fell to 50 percent last season and his three-point percentage dropped to just 31 percent.
While Muscala’s numbers don’t look that impressive, it has never really felt as though he has ever had a real opportunity to carve out his own spot in the rotation. Coming into last season, it looked like Muscala was poised to take minutes at the power forward slot from Mike Scott. However, that never materialized after he suffered a sprained ankle on opening night and Scott bounced back with a solid season of his own.
If you just look at the contracts Muscala looks like the odd man out but I think it may come down to more than that. Muscala is a product of the Hawks’ development program and the coaching staff has shown quite a bit of confidence in him. Kris Humphries replaced Muscala in the rotation over the final month of the regular season in 2016. However, it was Muscala that opened the playoffs in the rotation as the backup center.
Atlanta currently has a number of options in the front court and it should make for an interesting competition during the preseason. Splitter is looking to return to form while Humphries re-signed and will have a full preseason to get fully up to speed with the team’s offensive and defensive systems. Scott is back and in the final year of his contract while Walter Tavares will be beginning his sophomore season in the league.
If Splitter proves himself to be healthy, then he could become an attractive trade option for a team that needs some frontcourt help. The same could be said for a player like Scott that showed significant defensive improvement last season. So a preseason trade probably isn’t out of the question this time around and the roster situation will be one of the driving storylines throughout camp.