After Career Year, Muscala Working On Range and Strength In Offseason

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Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

In the 2016-17 season, his fourth in the NBA, Hawks big man Mike Muscala compiled a career year. He set new high marks in points, rebounds and assists – both as totals and on a per-game basis. 

Perhaps more importantly, Muscala – who led the team in three-point percentage at 41.8 percent – showed that he belonged in a rapidly changing league where more and more teams are using centers who can shoot. 

Hornets coach Steve Clifford sees the league gravitating toward big men with range. When Clifford was in Atlanta for Charlotte's 82nd and final game of the season, he noted that he thought that the NBA had transformed itself more this season than it had in any other season that he could recall.

"People are playing almost always 4-out, and a lot (of times) now 5-out," Clifford said, referring to the strategy of keeping at least four or five capable outside shooters on the floor. "That has become the new trend."

The biggest part of that development, of course, is having centers like the 6-foot-11 Muscala who can lure defenses away from the basket. 

"When you play like that it changes all of the defense, and it creates space for everybody on every catch," Clifford said. "If you play five guys out there who can shoot threes – even at decent (rates), 34 or 35 (percent) – there's a lot more room for everybody. What do they teach you when you're a kid? The basic tenet of offense is spacing."

Muscala fits that style to a tee. Not only is he an above-average shooter for any player let alone a center, but he also plays a style of defense that matches the league's evolution. He defends well in space, so he can handle the different types of defensive schemes used to counter offenses where shooting predominates. It doesn't matter whether a particular pick-and-roll defense calls for switches or traps or hedges. Muscala can handle all of them.

After a productive summer of 2016 where Muscala got stronger and tweaked the release on his jump shot, he laid out some preliminary plans for his goals for this offseason.

"Skill-wise, I want to keep continuing to improve my shooting and versatility," Muscala said. "I think strength for me, defensively, it can help a lot and that is going to be a focus for me too."

Muscala also suggested that he may be able improve the volume of his three-point attempts, which is always a good thing in the hands of a capable shooter. 

"My focus last summer was to really improve my three-point shooting, but it's not like now I can just stop working on it," he said. "I want to continue to do that, and work (at getting) better at shooting slightly more contested shots as opposed to just open shots. There's levels to everything."

It probably helps Muscala's path to improvement that he takes pleasure in the process. 

"I enjoy that part of the offseason: coming up with a plan and thinking about ways to improve and being mindful of it. I'm looking forward to that this summer too."