The Atlanta Hawks’ first agreement of the 2017 NBA free agency period will reunite the team with forward Mike Muscala. We grade the move.
This offseason is one of new beginnings for the Atlanta Hawks. The team traded Dwight Howard before the draft and said goodbye to All-Star big man Paul Millsap, but have been relatively quiet on most fronts regarding other moves. That is, until Friday afternoon at least, when reports came out that Atlanta had agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent Mike Muscala.
Muscala has been with the Hawks since the 2013 NBA Draft, when Atlanta acquired his rights from the Dallas Mavericks via a draft-night trade.
For his career, the Bucknell product has yet to make much of an impact. Muscala is coming off a 2016-17 campaign in which he averaged 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night.
However, to his credit, he did shoot a career-best 41.8 percent from three on a healthy 110 attempts last season. With the way the NBA is headed, you just can’t have enough floor-spacers — even in your traditional frontcourt spots.
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The Hawks are very clearly in the midst of a rebuild, so keeping their young guys who still have upside is absolutely the salient move. Evidence of Muscala’s upside can be seen through his per-36-minute averages: In 2016-17, the 6’11” sharpshooter scored 12.7 points per-36, to go with 7.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 threes.
If coach Mike Budenholzer can get him to play anywhere near that level next year, this signing could turn out to be one of the best (value-wise) of the offseason.
Additionally, Muscala placed in the 75.9 percentile among spot-up shooters last year, scoring 1.09 points per possession on such looks, per NBA.com. Having a center who can space the floor like that is a major luxury — just ask the Miami Heat, who recently paid $50 million over four years for another sharpshooting big in Kelly Olynyk.
Meanwhile, since Muscala’s contract is tiny in comparison, and contains a player option after next season, he will certainty feel incentivized to make the most of this upcoming campaign in order to receive a huge payday next July.
In any case, some very smart basketball pundits already consider his deal one of the most valuable of the summer.
Overall, this kind of short-term, low monetary commitment for a young player with rare abilities like Muscala is well worth the minimal risk. At the very worst, he stinks it up for two years and takes up about five percent of Atlanta’s cap space in each season.
At best, he finally breaks through in 2017-18 — his fifth season as a pro — and the Hawks, still owners of his Bird Rights, will be able to go past their cap space to bring him back on a more sizable contract.
In all likelihood, Atlanta isn’t going to be very good anytime soon anyway. They’re smart to take a longer look on Muscala on such a cheap deal, just to see if he can ever reach his potential. With Millsap and Howard gone, he’ll be able to soak up a ton of minutes on a tanking team, thus improving his chances of eventually figuring it out.