For Malcolm Delaney, the 2017-18 season was crucially important in the determination of his next NBA contract and he did well for himself despite an injury keeping him off the floor down the stretch.
The second-year guard came into the season as the primary backup to starting point guard Dennis Schroder and played well until a sprained right ankle sent him to the bench. Thankfully, the Atlanta Hawks were able to find a serviceable backup for Delaney in Isaiah Taylor, who held down the post until Delaney was able to return.
However, even when the former Virginia Tech standout couldn’t be on the court, he was still doing his best to set an example for all the younger guys in the locker room this season. Following the campaign, Delaney spoke about his increased responsibility during the team’s exit interviews.
“For me, I had to take on more of a leadership role,” Delaney said when prompted about the difference between year one and year two in Atlanta. “It was tougher for me because I didn’t really have a role on the team coming into this season. I thought after last season I would have a bigger role, but I didn’t really have a role, so I just tried to be the best teammate possible even when I wasn’t playing, and I think that’s what really got Bud’s attention. He could trust me more. He always told me that I was the guy that, even if I didn’t play, he could count on me if we need help. I kind of took on that role and that’s what kind of helped me out and get through the season.”
However, when Delaney was on the court, he was visibly improved in almost every aspect of his game compared to his rookie season. In particular, his catch and shoot three-point shot looked much better and the statistics prove that fact as he went from shooting just 24% in 2016-17 to 37% this season. This revelation from beyond the arc lifted his offensive rating per 100 possessions from 92 to 104. Not only did Malcolm’s three-point shooting increase, but his true shooting percentage also took a nice jump from 46% to 52% further proving the fact that his jump shot (and relative efficiency) was in a much better place this season.
Not a lot changed on the defensive end (aside from a slight increase in blocks per game) but there was a sense that he was doing things that don’t always show up on a score sheet. Delaney was much better about digging down in the post to help the big men and was in passing lanes getting deflections constantly.
Sadly, the biggest storyline of 2017-18 for Delaney was his ankle that ended up requiring surgery at the end of the season. When asked about how long he had been dealing with this injury, it was surprising to hear that this had been an issue for as long as it has.
“I played on it for eight years,” Delaney revealed. “Literally, I couldn’t move my ankle for eight years. I knew I had to get it done. Overseas it’s hard to get surgery in the summer, so I couldn’t do it then. Once I got here I got used to playing on it, so I just kept doing it. It didn’t stop me from playing but it limited me from doing some stuff.”
Now that the repairs have been made it appears Delaney is optimistic for his play to improve with the better mobility he will get from the surgery.
“Yeah, before I hurt it I had a lot more athleticism,” Delaney said. “I felt like I moved better that summer before I hurt it and that was the best shape I was ever in. My trainer will help that out, it’ll help me do a lot more, especially on the court. My junior year I hurt it. Had the same exact injury, diagnosed the same and I played after four days. This is, like, a four-week injury. That’s what kind of built up… I had the bone bruise, that’s hurt for six years. Scar tissue and spurs probably came from that.”
Now, as Delaney is no longer under contract with the Hawks, it will be interesting to see where he lands, and Delaney is optimistic that he can fit in just about anywhere but is definitely focused on seeking out a bigger role.
“Just being in the best possible situation for me,” Delaney responded when asked about his free agent summer. “I can play in this league, I know I can be a lot better than what people have seen. People have seen flashes of what I can do but I can be a legit player on a good team and I can be a leader on a team that’s trying to build. I want a bigger role, that’s my biggest mindset going into free agency. I don’t want to be just a veteran leader. I want to contribute to a team and help win. Biggest thing about my game is that I’ve always won. Whatever I can do to help a team win, that’s what my biggest focus is.”
This is understandable, as Delaney only averaged 19 minutes per game with the Hawks this season but did make the most of his limited play with season averages of 6.3 points, 3 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 0.6 steals per game. Extrapolated over 36 minutes, Delaney would project to a solid 12 points per game, 6 assists per game and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Overall, this season was a good step for Delaney in the right direction and, at 29 years old, he seems ready to find a place where he can prove he deserves an increased workload. He’s healthy for the first time in a while and it will be interesting to see where he lands in free agency this summer.