Trade winds are blowing in the NBA as the Feb. 7 deadline rapidly approaches. It can be tough when a player gets traded, especially for the first time in their career. But it can also bring about new and fresh opportunities.
Such was the case for Mike Muscala when he found himself as part of the three-team trade over the summer between the Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. The deal was big in that it signaled the end of the Carmelo Anthony experiment in Oklahoma City, and it brought Dennis Schroder to the Thunder.
Although Muscala had spent his entire career, five seasons to be exact, with the Hawks after being acquired in a draft night trade in 2013, he initially approached the move with an open mind.
“I was excited. I had a great time in Atlanta and was sad to leave Atlanta,” Muscala told Basketball Insiders. “But I knew it was a good opportunity for me so I was happy too.”
During his tenure with the Hawks, Muscala had developed into one of the league’s better stretch big men. He’s a career 36.7 percent shooter from the three-point line. During the 2016-17 season, he shot 41.8 percent from distance, the best mark of his career so far.
This season, he’s fit right in with the Sixers. Philadelphia lost stretch big man Ersan Ilyasova to free agency in the offseason, and Muscala has been able to fill that void. He’s averaging a career-best 22.0 minutes per game and his 7.6 points per game ties a career-high.
Although his shooting percentage from behind the arc may be down a bit (34.7 percent), there’s no doubt that his ability to stretch the defense and knock down outside shots has been a big plus to the Philadelphia offense. He’s quick to attribute his success in Philly to his star teammates, however.
“I think playing with guys like Joel [Embiid], Ben [Simmons], Jimmy [Butler], and J.J [Redick], everybody else too down the line, there’s a lot of open shots to be had,” Muscala told Basketball Insiders. “They command so much attention in the post and in transition. I’m just so fortunate to be able to fit in where I can.”
Over the past few years, the dynamic of the NBA has changed in terms of offense. Teams are moving away from the more traditional type of offense revolving around post players and shooters around them.
Three-point shooting has become such a premium, and the league has shifted towards position-less basketball with do-it-all type players who can shuffle between multiple positions. Players like Muscala, big men who spread the floor, are much more in demand.
Muscala has definitely noticed this shift in the league, but he also believes that a mix of both traditional and modern strategies is part of what makes the Sixers’ offense so unique.
“That three-point shot is a very important part of a lot of team’s offenses now. But I think what makes us hard to guard is there’s not a lot of teams with really good post up players and threats. Joel is a huge threat there. Ben also is when he’s ducking in, he’s such a unique player,” Muscala told Basketball Insiders. “I think being able to have shooters like me around them, helps give them space to operate. And then it’s important for me to stay aggressive shooting so they get played straight up.”
While he’s been known primarily as a shooter, Muscala has looked to expand his game and bring a little bit more to the table for the Sixers. His 4.3 rebounds per game tie a career-high. He’s been a solid presence on the glass, boxing out and fighting for key rebounds.
He’s also been aggressive defensively, challenging shots and not being afraid to mix it up in the paint and do the dirty work.
“I try to bring energy and being aggressive with my shot,” Muscala told Basketball Insiders. “And defensively, trying to use my length to alter some shots, and maybe crash the offensive boards.”
And as the Sixers’ season progresses, they currently find themselves sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. After finishing third last season and advancing to the second round, the Sixers might have higher expectations this time around.
Muscala knows a thing a two about winning; he was a part of some good Hawks teams including the team that won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. He can feel that same atmosphere in the Sixers’ locker room.
“There’s definitely big aspirations. I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s an exciting time,” Muscala told Basketball Insiders. “I think we would do best just to take it one game at a time, not get too ahead of ourselves, but it’s a great opportunity.”
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