Mike Muscala soared into the national spotlight last week in Cleveland.
The former Roseville High School basketball star exploded to the basket and elevated over LeBron James and Tristan Thompson for a one-handed, putback dunk.
While dunking on King James might be the highlight of Muscala’s career, his impact on the Atlanta Hawks’ hot start has been just as impressive.
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 2009 Minnesota Mr. Basketball candidate 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 talented veterans, but Muscala has stepped up to play a significant 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 appeared in the starting lineup.
Muscala might get a few more starts this week as Howard nurses a bad quad and should fill in at times throughout the season for the big man. Muscala’s primary role, though, will be to provide depth off the bench, something the Hawks have benefited from 11 games into the season.
Muscala has scored in double figures six of 10 games as the first big off the bench and is one of the most efficient Hawks, shooting 63.8 from the field and 36.8 from three-point range. Big man Tiago Splitter is close to returning from an injury and could threaten Muscala’s playing time, however, his early impact has been noticed.
Fansided reminded us this week that Muscala, in his first three seasons with the Hawks, was mostly the third, or even fourth option when it came to the team’s big men.
He never averaged more than 12.6 minutes per game in a season and only appeared in a combined 120 games over the past three years.
Muscala, who was drafted 44th overall out of Bucknell in the 2013 NBA draft, credits the recent 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.”
Muscala is in the final year of his contract with the Hawks and will become an unrestricted free agent.
However, he quickly is showing the Hawks and other teams around the league he can be a valuable big man. Just YouTube his highlight dunk over James if you need more proof.