With the OKC Thunder readying for the stretch run TI examines the one area each player can improve to bolster the team. Next up Mike Muscala.
The OKC Thunder stood pat at the trade deadline much to the delight of the fans. Mike Muscala was never high on the trade list, but in the final hours before the deadline, anything can happen.
Muscala was tried at the start of the season as the backup to Steven Adams. He was given some of Nerlens Noel‘s minutes until Noel proved to be the better option as a backup. There are a number of reasons Noel is preferred and this brings us to what Muscala needs to add.
The OKC Thunder pride themselves on their defense, this is why Noel is the primary backup at the pivot. When Adams is out, Noel is the starter without question. The problem for Muscala is that he is not as gifted physically or athletically as Adams or Noel.
There is no questioning his effort but it is his execution that lets him down. His lateral quickness is not strong, nor is his vertical leap. He is not strong enough to hold out players like Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert when they attack in the post.
Where Muscala needs to improve is in his positional defense. He is only averaging 0.2 blocks and 0.2 steals per game. Combine this with a defensive rating of 110 and it is easy to see why Muscala is getting game time when either of the preferred centers is hurt or at sporadic times to change the look of the offense.
Adams has a defensive rating of 106 and Noel has a team-best 101. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, it was painfully obvious that Muscala was not up to the task defensively. The team was missing their two superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the night.
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When Steven Adams left the game, the Thunder were only down by a couple of points. By the end of the first quarter, the Thunder were 22 points down. This is not good enough for a team looking to compete at a high level in the postseason.
While this is a lot to live up to for a third-string center, he needs to be able to hold his own much better than this. This is particularly true for a player who has made a career in the NBA by being able to shoot the long ball at 36.2 percent while standing 6’10”. This brings us to the next element Muscala needs to add to his game.
Muscala started the NBA season going 1-of-19 from deep in seven games, this is good for a lofty 5.3 percent. However, since this horrid start, Muscala has been a lot better. In the next 28 games, Muscala has gone 36-of-88, good for 40.9 percent.
In fact, Muscala has embodied the next man up philosophy which has defined the OKC Thunder this season. Muscala has the ability to go over 40 percent for a season, a number he was able to hit twice with the Atlanta Hawks.
If Muscala can get his numbers up to this level consistently for the OKC Thunder to end the season above 40 percent then he should get more game time.
And, if he is able to do this the OKC Thunder second unit will be unstoppable.