The Atlanta Hawks are going through a frontcourt injury crisis of astronomical proportions.
Al Horford has already been ruled out for the season with his second torn pectoral muscle in three seasons, Pero Antic is still recovering from a fractured ankle and likely missing for anywhere up to another two weeks, while a shoulder injury could leave Gustavo Ayon sidelined for a similar time frame. To make matters worse, All-Star power forward Paul Millsap is suffering from a right knee contusion and having already missed two games as a result, is set to miss at least one more. This leaves the Hawks with a sum total of Elton Brand, Mike Scott and surprise 10-day contract signee Dexter Pittman to cover the 4 and 5 spots. Help now seems to be at hand though, as Danny Ferry has moved to recall the Hawks second-round draft pick, Mike Muscala, back to Atlanta.
Muscala was taken with the Dallas Mavericks 44th overall pick of the 2013 draft, but he was already Atlanta-bound as a result of the trade that saw Lucas Nogueira become a Hawk with Shane Larkin going in the opposite direction to Dallas. Muscala spent four years at Bucknell University, where he showed steady year-to-year growth. Having entered college as a relatively average scorer and rebounder, Muscala transformed himself into one of the best scoring centers in the nation.
In the space of four years, the Minnesota native went from averaging 9.9 points and 4.7 rebounds a night, all the way up to the dizzy heights of 18.9 points and 11.3 rebounds. When you throw 2.3 blocks and 2.3 assists into the mix, with a true shooting percentage of 57 percent, you get a clear picture of the efficiency and effectiveness Muscala achieved in his final year as a Bison. Twice an All-America honorable mention and Patriot League Player of the Year, Muscala’s four years at Bucknell gave him the look of a guy who was ready for the professional game.
Hawks general manager Danny Ferry obviously felt the same way too, as that is what Muscala has spent this season doing. Where young players can sometimes be signed immediately with the team that drafts them, only to spend much of their formative professional days in the D-League, Ferry gave Muscala a different route. The 22-year-old signed with the Spanish team Obradoiro on a one-year deal with the Hawks retaining his rights, and went on to play 20 games for the club based in the northwest of Spain. The Liga Endesa is one of the world’s elite basketball leagues and widely recognized as being second only to the NBA. Yet in his time there Muscala excelled, looking every bit the professional that his time in Bucknell indicated he could be.
During his spell with Obradoiro, Muscala played 26.3 minutes per game and was not only the team’s standout, but up there with the league’s best. He averaged 14.6 points per game, which is good enough for the seventh highest in the league, and did so at an efficient rate of 54 percent from the field. Muscala led the Liga Endesa in rebounds also at 7.8 per game, while to cap it all off his free throw shooting has been exemplary at 87.1 percent too. To put this in perspective, the highly vaunted Nikola Mirotic, who the Bulls own the rights to, is only averaging 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds on a Real Madrid team that has gone 20-0 to start the season, while Muscala fought alongside a more limited set of players currently at 9-11 in the standings.
So now that he’s stateside again, what’s next for the man nicknamed “Moose”? It’s being widely reported that Muscala is going to sign with the Hawks. With Pittman having just begun a 10-day contract, and with Muscala going to need time to recover from jet lag; if these reports are true, it’s still likely to be another week before he’s ready for action. If, and when, the deal eventually does go through, Muscala will offer the ailing Hawks some much needed size and presence inside. At 6″11, he represents a strong rebounder who isn’t afraid of shooting the ball. Although he may need to put up a bit of weight for his long term prospects in the NBA, the fact that he has had experience of competing with grown men in Europe should stand in his favor as he looks to adjust. As time goes on, and he settles into whatever limit role he’s initially given in the rotation, Muscala will be one to keep an eye on. Hawks fans will be hoping that he can emulate the success of fellow second rounder Mike Scott and become an established fixture in the rotation, while continuing to grow and develop.
He still has a long way to go, but as the second stage of Mike Muscala’s pro basketball journey begins, things are looking good for the former Bucknell Bison.