Mike Muscala scored 16 points, had five rebounds, three assists, one block and played 33 minutes in his first NBA start in more than 18 months Wednesday night. The former Roseville High School standout started for Atlanta in place of banged up center Dwight Howard and helped guide the Hawks to their ninth win of the season and sixth in a row.

The Hawks have a roster full of All-Stars, but Muscala has stepped up to play a contributing role for the Eastern Conference's best team in his fourth year in the league. 

The 6-11, 240-pound center is averaging a career-high 21.6 minutes per game, nine minutes better than his previous high, and is averaging 9.9 points per game, just more than double what he averaged in 2014-2015, the last time he started a game. 

The former Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist might get a few more starts this week as Howard nurses a bad quad, and occasionally fill in for the big man throughout the season, but Muscala's primary role will be adding depth off the bench, something he has already succeeded at 11 games into the season. 

Muscala has scored double figures already six times as the first big off the bench this season. He is one of the Hawks’ most efficient shooters with a 63.8 field-goal and 36.8 three-point percentage. Big man Tiago Splitter is close to returning from an injury and could threaten Muscala’s playing time, however, his impact on the team has been noticed.

Fansided wrote this week "In his first three seasons with the Hawks, Mike Muscala was mostly the third, or even fourth option when it came to the team’s big men.

"Never averaging more than 12.6 minutes per game in a season, Muscala was at times the odd man out of the team’s rotation, earning a string of DNPs here and there. Despite that, Muscala made the most of the small doses of playing time he’d receive throughout the year.

"Now in his fourth season, the story has changed for Muscala. … As is often the case this early in the season, it’s too early to determine whether Muscala’s impact is a trend or is here to stay.  No matter the case, it’s important for the Hawks to get reliable backup big man minutes behind Dwight Howard. Right now, that’s exactly what Mike Muscala’s doing."

Muscala, who was drafted 44th overall out of Bucknell in the 2013 NBA draft, credits the success to an offseason dedicated to changing his jump shot. 

He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his shot “just feels better."

"Watching guys like Steph Curry," Muscala added, "he is the epitome of that shot. More from the center of your body. Maybe it’s not as high of a release point because it’s just straight up and out but it’s quick. It’s easy to repeat because there aren’t as many moving parts.”

Chris Vivlamore wrote "The Hawks’ forward/center spent hours in the gym changing the release of his already steady shot. It has paid dividends early this season. ... Tim Hardaway Jr. and Muscala were constant presences at the Hawks’ facilities all summer long, according to those around the team. They worked out, ate and socialized together as both trained to make significant improvements to their games. There was a lot of stake."

Muscala is in the final year of his contract with the Hawks and will become an unrestricted free agent. 

He is already proving his worth to the Hawks and is earning some national attention after dunking over LeBron James last week. His landing needed a little work, but the highlight was still impressive. See for yourself.
 

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