Muscala working to be versatile one in Hawks’ big man rotation

Mike Muscala wants to be the versatile one.

While the Hawks have traditional centers Dwight Howard and Tiago Splitter on the roster, Muscala has spent the summer working on his perimeter game. About to enter his fourth NBA season, the 6-foot-11 center has focused on improving his shooting, passing and ball-handling to be a complement to the team’s big-man rotation.

“I feel like I do have good perimeter skills for a big guy, but just getting more comfortable doing it in a game and really hammering it home and being ready to shoot the ball,” Muscala told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. “You are going to have off-shooting days, but you have to be ready to shoot because that’s what the offense needs.

“It’s getting the right mindset for it, too, and being a gunslinger, being ready to shoot. That doesn’t mean shooting all the time, but having that mindset that if you miss a shot be ready for the next one. Don’t force anything. Don’t overshoot. Play with the pass. But be ready for it. That’s a big thing I’ve been working on.”

In a typical summer week, Muscala can be found at Philips Arena working with shooting coach Ben Sullivan. He does a morning weight-lifting program Monday, Wednesday and Friday followed by a skill session. He also does sprint work at Georgia Tech on Tuesdays and Thursday with the team’s strength coach.

In the evenings, Muscala said he returns to Philips for more shooting work or attends a session of The Skill Factory for pickup games against other professional and elite players. On a recent night, Muscala was on a team that included Tim Hardaway Jr., Shelvin Mack and Rodney Hood. He has been in Atlanta for much of the offseason, except for a two-week vacation overseas with his mother.

Muscala said he “definitely” sees an improvement in his 3-point shot. He shot 12-of 39 (.308) from behind the arc last season. Overall, he averaged 3.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 9.4 minutes in 60 games. He was 76 of 152 (.500) from the field.

The power forward and center positions have been interchangeable in the offense of coach Mike Budenholzer. That will change somewhat this season with a center in Howard, who will be a rim runner, a presence who will roll hard to the basket in offensive sets. Muscala likely will see playing time as a forward as he has in the past. However, he believes he still has the inside ability to play either front court position.

“I do agree that the 4 and 5 are interchangeable in our offense,” Muscala said. “It just depends on the players who are out there. Our offense values versatility — as does every offense in the NBA nowadays. With that being said, I still think I have good qualities inside like good offensive rebounding and finishing and pick-and-rolls. I think I am versatile in that way. I don’t view myself as a 4 or a 5. I really do view it as both.”

The Hawks open training camp next month. There will be a different narrative to start the new season. It won’t be about who makes the team, but who does not. The Hawks have 16 players under contract and 15 roster spots.

Muscala has a strong chance to return. The Hawks picked up his option year this summer and he will enter the final year of his contract. Part of the big-man competition includes center Edy Tavares, who enters his second season after very limited playing time last year.

“Obviously, it’s something I know,” Muscala said of the Hawks’ need to trim a returning player barring a trade. “I understand it. All I can really do is work on my game and see what happens. I love the Hawks. I love the organization. As for who will be on the 15-man roster, I can’t say. It’s out of my control. A lot of people ask me about it but it’s out of my control. I keep working.

“I’ve learned through the years that if you do that, you make it hard on yourself. I’ve had to battle through non-guaranteed contracts. I came on a partially guaranteed two years ago. I battled through that. If I were to think I have to do this and this to stay on the team, it’s not that mindset. It’s make the right play and do good today in practice and it will figure itself out. If I obsess that there are 16 guys and 15 spots, then I’m not going to do what I need to be a better player. That’s really what I’ve found how you have to deal with it. My family will ask me ‘aren’t you thinking about it?’ My answer is no.”

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