After making the decision to trade Jeff Teague and commit to Dennis Schroder as the team’s starting point guard position last summer, the Hawks were in search of a back up. Eventually the team would announce it had reached an agreement with Malcolm Delaney, then a 27-year-old veteran of Euro-league play. Initially the move left many observers scrambling to find out who this player was, In time, those with some knowledge seemed to praise the contract as of solid value. Still, Delaney was largely a unknown quantity to Hawks fans.
Delaney would play well in pre-season play and start the season as the clear reserve point guard for the Hawks. He would play up and down throughout the first several months of the season but have a pretty secure hold on the role. Then his shooting took a nose dive in the month of February and would never really recover. By the beginning of March, Delaney would lose his place in the rotation and basically play spot minutes the rest of the way, much of it in garbage time.
It can’t be denied that Delaney measured out statistically as one of the worst offensive point guards in the league (subscription required). When one enters the league considered to possess an ability to make shots as his primary strength and he does not make shots, its pretty much unavoidable for it to have any other outcome; it got quite ugly.
Delaney struggled to execute in the pick and roll, the action upon which much of the Hawks offensive system is based. He graded out basically on par with Kent Bazemore in this area. He also struggled tremendously in transition, with an especially noticeable difficulty finishing at the rim.
It must be noted however, than statistically the Hawks were better with Delaney on the court than when he was off the court. He had an especially impressive individual defensive rating of 100.0 (especially when compared the 105.4 posted by Schroder). And while he measured very poorly offensively by the ESPN.com metrics, by their defensive metrics for a point guard that played 60 games or more he rated as a top 20 defender at his position. He does not have above average size or length at the position, but you can see a wiry kind of strength and evidence of his experience above the collegiate level in his play on the defensive end of the court.
I’m not ready to give up on Delaney, not even close. When it comes to evaluating a player like this, I work with two key questions. First, has he shown flashes that he can play at this level? Next, does he have at least one core skill that can be used as a foundation upon which to develop his broader game?
There are certainly more than one example of times that Delaney demonstrated that he possesses the skills needed, when combined with confidence and the right mindset, to play at this level
In his exit interview Delaney referenced a game at home against the Celtics (that took place on January 13). Although the Hawks would come up short in this game, it is probably the best example of him playing with the freedom and confidence needed for him to be a reliable contributor on this team. In this game Delaney was a game best +23, and while the Hawks starting unit struggled mightily, Coach Mike Budenholzer trusted him to lead a reserve group that nearly came out of this contest with a win.
Looking for a Foundation
In looking for evidence of a core skill upon which Delaney can use to build his game, his ability to shoot off of the dribble with confidence stands out in these examples of good play. And this is a skill that has increased in value across the league as the game has evolved over the last several seasons. There is solid evidence that this skill was present even in this offensively marred season of the Hawks rookie. Among any reserve guard across the league that took 200 or more jump shots off the dribble, not a single player had a higher field goal percentage in this category than did Delaney. He is at his best when curling around a pick or pulling up in transition against a defender prioritizing defending the paint when he can pull up with confidence and stick that shot.
There is also evidence that Delaney was struggling to adjust to the longer distance of the NBA 3-point line this season. When shooting from between 16 feet out to the 3 point line, he was an impressive 46.9% on the season. Note that only six point guards in the league shot that percentage or better from the field across the 2016-2017 regular season. This could be an encouraging indicator that with a bit more time and work to adjust, that he could become a league average or better 3-point shooter.
Players that come through “Hawks University” almost always show better results in season two as compared to their first season. With a full off-season of opportunity to work with the Hawks player development staff and time to apply lessons learned across his disappointing rookie season, there are still reasons to be hopeful about Delaney’s future with this team.