At the age of 28, Malcolm Delaney returns for his second season with the Atlanta Hawks and it is a big one for the “veteran” sophomore. Because of his journey through Europe after starring at Virginia Tech, Delaney arrived in the NBA for the first time on a two-year, $5 million deal before last season and he was immediately thrust into a backup role behind Dennis Schröder. Despite some individual hiccups, the team was better with Delaney on the floor (+2.2 net rating) than they were without him (-2.2 net rating) and he is expected to take the same role in 2017-2018.
While there is certainly plenty to dissect about his upcoming campaign, we’ll break things down into three categories — playmaking, defense and shooting — to keep things clean.
Delaney entered the league with the reputation as a scorer but he impressed to a certain degree with his passing and creation for others. He finished the season with a 23.1 percent assist rate and, while that is not an off-the-charts total for a point guard, Delaney is able to find open teammates consistently while occasionally flashing high-end passing vision.
If there is a knock on his game in this area, it is that Delaney isn’t particularly adept at breaking down opposing defenses off the dribble. Some of that stems from a relative lack of elite athleticism but Delaney’s game is predicated more in the mid-range area and there aren’t the easy drop-off passes around the rim that could be made with a bit more burst.
Still, he is an adequate playmaker and passer as a backup point guard and provides a steady hand in the role.
This is an area in which Delaney actually exceeded expectations. The Hawks produced a 100.0 defensive rating with him on the floor against just a 104.5 defensive rating without him and Atlanta was, quite simply, much better defensively when Delaney was there when compared to Dennis Schröder.
Some of that could certainly be traced to a down season from Schröder on that end but there is something to be said for simply being in the right place at the right time. Delaney, as noted above, isn’t a nuclear athlete but he has good size (6’3, 190 pounds) for the position and can physically hold up against bigger players at point guard.
There will always be match-ups against lightning-quick guards that will pose issues but, after real questions about his defensive ability from Europe, this was not an area of concern in year one. Barring some sort of unexpected dip athletically, it shouldn’t be in year two, either.
We’ve reached the biggest question mark and it is one that is important for both the 2017-2018 Hawks and Delaney’s future in the league. As a rookie, he shot 37.4 percent from the floor and a meager 23.6 percent from three-point distance. Without context, those are ghastly figures for a point guard, especially when considering the way Delaney’s game operates.
With that said, there is every reason to believe that was an outlier season. Delaney compiled a 40.1 percent clip from three-point range over the course of five seasons in Europe and, prior to that, he shot 40.8 percent during a stellar final season at Virginia Tech. Players transitioning from Europe to the NBA often struggle to an extent in year one when it comes to perimeter shooting but this was certainly unexpected.
Is it possible that Delaney will struggle again? Absolutely. However, there is every indication — whether it be track record or the brutal extenuating circumstances that Delaney faced off the floor — that a bounce-back is in order.
Just how good his shooting proves to be will be important in determining his current and future value, though, and that is why it is a looming question for a player that needs his jumper functioning to optimize success.
Much was made of Malcolm Delaney’s shooting struggles last season and they certainly impacted his overall performance. Still, he was able to produce reasonable backup point guard minutes despite those issues and it seems exceedingly reasonable to think an uptick is coming that will help the position to stabilize. If Delaney’s shooting prowess does not return (or in the event of injury to both he and Schröder), though, the Hawks have invested in Quinn Cook as insurance in a way that the franchise did not a season ago.