NBA

NBA AM: Is Mike Muscala The Next Free Agency Sleeper?

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NBA players fully understand that minutes in the nightly rotation are opportunities to produce. An opportunity to consistently contribute in a team’s game plan typically enhances the likelihood of a player having longevity in the league.

Without minutes, there’s no production. This is a very simple equation. But it’s just not about receiving minutes, it’s about maximizing the time on the court. One of the primary beneficiaries of increased minutes this season is Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Muscala.

Through 28 contests this season, Muscala is averaging a career-high 21 minutes per game while posting individual bests in points (8.0), rebounds (3.9), assists (1.6), steals (0.5) and blocks (0.7). The former Bucknell University standout is also shooting a career-best 44 percent from three-point range.

Muscala’s role on the team has drastically changed compared to last season, when he appeared in just 60 contests and logged only 9.4 minutes per game. It has become evident head coach Mike Budenholzer trusts the fourth-year forward and heading into the New Year, Muscala has delivered consistent results.

However, in the next few months, decisions will need to be made by both parties on a long-term commitment. Muscala is currently in the final year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The forward will undoubtedly be looking for a multi-year deal and stability. The Hawks (14-14) have struggled to start the season and will potentially have nine players hitting the free agency market next summer. For Atlanta, the next few months will be about seeing who fits in long-term with the organization.

Muscala admits free agency is on his mind but feels if he continues putting in the same work, it will ultimately be rewarded.

“Yeah, you know I think [free agency is] always in the back of your mind, but you just got to take it game by game,” Muscala told Basketball Insiders. “I think I’ve been trying to do that my whole career. The league is like that. You can have a great night one night and then the next night things just don’t go your way at all. So you got to be mentally prepared, you got to be ready to go every night, you can’t look past any games, you can’t get too complacent or also get too frustrated. If things aren’t going your way, there are 82 games, so luckily you can try to bounce back.

“I thought I worked pretty hard this offseason. I had a good offseason in Atlanta. I’ll just try to take it game by game though.”

A 6-foot-11 forward with range beyond the three-point line is a premium in today’s pace-and-space league. Muscala isn’t a high volume scorer or rebounder, but knocking down 44 percent of his three-point attempts creates spacing and must be respected. Muscala is shooting 46 percent (24-of-52) on shots 10 feet from the basket to the three-point line, so the mid-range efficiency is also in place.

After a blistering 9-2 start, the Hawks have plummeted into mediocrity – posting a 5-12 record since. Muscala doesn’t believe it’s a case of guys pressing, creating a steamroll effect on the losing. But he does believe it’s time for everyone to look themselves in the mirror and hold each other accountable.

“I wouldn’t say it like that,” Muscala said. “I think there’s—I think some teams we’ve played [did] really well offensively combined with us not having the focus we need to have on defense and that sucks. I got to look at myself. I think everybody just has to be true to themselves and look at themselves in the mirror and figure out what you can do better individually.”

The team has been without the services of All-Star forward Paul Millsap at times early this season and this has led to Muscala earning three starts. Muscala is shooting sub 40 percent in those starts from the field with a true shooting percentage of 46 percent (64 percent as a reserve).

Muscala readily admits Millsap’s absence contributed to the Hawks’ slump.

“I mean, he’s an All-Star player obviously,” Muscala said. “He’s super important for our team, he gets everybody involved, he’s a great defensive player, great passer, great scorer, so we definitely missed him.”

Muscala is on the books for $1 million this season on a non-guaranteed deal. The deal becomes fully guaranteed on January 10, 2017.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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