Hawks player season review: Mike Muscala

Hawks center Mike Muscala became a regular part of the rotation for the first time in 2016-17 and established himself as a legitimate “stretch” big. Injury and inconsistent shooting plagued Muscala early this season but he finished strong and ended up having a solid year.

Muscala shot poorly to begin the season and then a lingering ankle injury limited him to nine games through December. He returned to post an 80.5 true-shooting percentage in 13 January games, 49.9 percent in 11 February games and then 61.0 percent in 20 games from March through the end of the season.

In the end, Muscala topped 1,000 minutes played for the second straight season and his scoring efficiency and production ended up about the same: 59.7 TS% and 13.8 points per 36 minutes in 2017-18, 59.6 TS% and 12.7 points per 36. Cleaning the Glass credited Muscala with generating 1.16 points per shot attempt in 2016-17 (66th percentile among bigs) and 1.18 points per shot attempt this season (61st percentile).

After Muscala had a career-high 3-point attempt rate in 2016-17, he became even more reliant on 3’s this season. This was a positive development for Muscala because the increase in 3-point volume coincided with far fewer long 2’s, and Muscala shot 37 percent on 3-pointers. And per Synergy Sports, Muscala scored efficiently with high volume both as a spot-up shooter and roll man.

“I was able to take more 3’s this year,” Muscala said after the season ended. “That was a goal of mine was to take more that were slightly contested, that are still the right shots to take within the offense. That’s something I struggled with last year. I feel like I made good progress in that department.”

Muscala decreased the volume of shots he attempted at the rim this season and saw his already-low rates of free-throw attempts and offensive rebounds drop some more. But Muscala increased his accuracy on shots at the rim to 70 percent (50-for-71), which Cleaning the Glass ranked in the 80th percentile among bigs, and he made 92 percent of his 62 free-throw attempts.

Significantly, Muscala’s assist percentage plummeted from very good for a big man last season to below-average this season. That happened even as his team’s assist percentage was about the same as last season and Muscala’s touches per game increased slightly, according to NBA.com’s tracking data. However, Muscala’s “potential assists” (pass to a teammate who shoots within one dribble) decreased from 2.8 per game last season to 1.6 in 2017-18.

Defensively, the most striking aspect of Muscla’s metrics was the opponent effective field-goal percentage with him on the floor. The Hawks allowed an effective field-goal percentage 2.3 percent less with Muscala on the floor vs. off, according to CTG. Opponents got far fewer attempts at the rim when Muscala was on the floor and shot much worse from the midrange.

My subjective view is that Muscala is a solid team defender, but it’s difficult to dole out individual responsibility on/off court numbers or Synergy Sports tracking data. For example, Muscala’s block percentage is just OK but Synergy Sports gives him good marks as the defender around the basket. And Muscala’s effect on effective-field goal percentage at the rim decreased significantly when he wasn’t paired with Dewayne Dedmon (for 1,498 possessions) or John Collins (for 1,361).

Muscala significantly increased his defensive rebounding rate on field goals this season to 15.3 percent but that still ranks in just 29th percentile among bigs, per CTG. He also increased his steals percentage slightly from last season and decreased his block percentage a bit, ranking in the 61st and 42nd percentile, respectively, according to CTG.

Overall, Muscala’s second season as a rotation player looked much the same as his first: high-efficiency, low-usage offense and defense that, at the least, didn’t hurt the Hawks. That didn’t earn Muscala much interest as a free-agent market last summer, and there could be an even tighter market this year.

Muscala says he wants to stay with the Hawks, which may not mean much when it comes down to business. But I think it’s possible he will opt in for another $5 million next season.