NBA Draft Profiles: Will the Rockets target Mike Muscala?

Michael Hickey

Mike Muscala is a long, skilled center out of the Patriot League. Will he make it to the Rockets' pick, and will they take him if he does?

Mike Muscala is a mid major prospect whose stock drastically differs from team to team, depending on which scout you ask. At 6’11.5" with a 7’1" wingspan, Muscala is a pretty legitimate NBA "7 footer" that brings a lot of skills to the table. He unquestionably dominated the Patriot League with his superior size and skills, earned conference player of the year and tournament MVP twice in his college career, and left college all over the team's record books.

Amongst all college players, Muscala was 4th in the nation in rebounds, 2nd in PER, and averaged a big 18 and 11.3 double double in his final season as a Bison. He led his team in points, rebounds and blocks, 2nd on the team in assists, steals, and field goal percentage. Like all mid-major prospects, the level of competition where he played is a concern, as he faced very few NBA caliber competition at his position. Still, his dominance alleviates some of the doubt about his ability.

Very much a finesse player, Muscala has a wide array of skills that are well developed in his arsenal. He was quite possibly the most polished big man at the combine. He has range and touch on spot up jump shots, and flat-out dominated the shooting drills at the combine. For a man his size, shooting touch is such a luxury that really form and mechanic matters little, only consistency matters. He can make mid-range shot with both consistency and fluidity.

Heavily utilized in the post, Muscala has a quite few moves in his repertoire. He can finish with either hand in the short range with soft touch, using his strong understanding of how to utilize the glass. His footwork is excellent, and he uses a number of pivots, ball fakes, and spins to get the defender off-balance. He can face up, jab step and get to the middle, or hit baseline turnarounds from 10 ft.

He also takes contact and gets to the line quite a bit. In his senior season, he averaged almost 1 free throw every 2 shots and shot nearly 80% from the free throw line. The diversity of his offense allows him to dictate the terms of engagement more often than not, and he is effective in every part of the game on the offensive end. He will have to transition from predominately a low post player into more of a high post/pick and roll player in the NBA. He is well equipped to not only fill the role, but really excel at it.

It’s remarkable how similar Muscala is to projected lottery pick Kelly Olynyk in term of strengths and weaknesses. Both are relatively less athletic centers with a lot of skills and touch from range. Both have considerably improved over the course of the college career. However, the athleticism critique may be overstated in both cases. They are not as much unathletic as they are vertically challenged. They are more mobile than people give them credit for, but their inability to play above the rim hurt their reputation.

Olynyk is more creative and cerebral, but Muscala is more fundamentally sound and well rounded. Olynyk shoots a much higher percentage both on jump shots and in the post, but where Muscala lacks in efficiency, he makes up for it by being mistake free. Muscala rarely commits turnovers despite heavy usage. Like Olynyk, Muscala can put the ball on the floor from the high post and drive to the basket, albeit without Olynyk’s fluidity and ballhandling proficiency.

Unlike Olynyk, Muscala has proven to be a strong rebounder and a decent shot blocker. He rebounded 21% of total available rebounds (including 28.9% of all available defensive rebounds), a figure which put him 3rd in the country in rebound percentage. As guys like Kenneth Faried, Paul Millsap, even our own Thomas Robinson have shown over the years, rebounding is a skill that very much translates from college to the next level. No matter what level of competition you faced before, if you were good at rebounding then, you won't be bad at rebounding in the NBA.

Muscala definitely earned his rebounds, boxing out better than a lot of NBA players, and using anticipation and position rather than raw athleticism to grab rebounds.

While not a great shot blocker, it is not a weakness. Muscala times his blocks well, averaging a solid block to foul ratio of 1.14. He’s shown a willingness to rotate around the basket as well, often making the correct judgement between rotating to contest or boxing out for rebounds. Overall, he's a very disciplined and diligent defender, a very rare trait for a college player that carries the offensive load he did.

He plays defense like a center, so he does not like going out to guard pick and rolls. Occasionally he gets burnt by helping too far out and ending up out of position, but not any more so than regular college players really. Given that he played against mostly inferior competition, it is not entirely clear if his defensive impact will translate, but his athletic results at the combine provide some hope. He was not quite the workout warrior that Cody Zeller was, but he posted solid center numbers across the board, with a higher vertical than Olynyk, better agility than both Withey and Steven Adams, and a really surprisingly good modified lane agility (just side to side lateral movement) time of 2.99 seconds.

Like most NBA prospects, he needs to gain more strength, but he’s further along the developmental curve with already a solid frame. For a guy with similar measurements as Cody Zeller, Muscala appears to have a stronger base and legs. How he will fare with athletes in the NBA is a big question that he will need to answer. He is more of a half court player than a high pace player, but in the half court, he is very useful. If he shows the ability to guard the pick and roll, then he'd immediately be the perfect compliment to Omer Asik off the bench.

A center of his combination of skills, size, and mobility is rather rare, and he has demonstrated remarkable improvement every single year. Advance statistics love this guy, a lot. Win Share, Win Produced, PER, NBA efficiency, he's awesome in all of them. He’s younger than Kelly Olynyk as a young true senior, which is a bonus as he will only be 22 when he enter the league. He has 3 years of college ball experience on Shabazz Muhammad, who will be 21 2 weeks into his rookie year. He may be quite the value pick in the 2nd round.

Games available online for you to watch

Bucknell @ Missouri 1/05/13 ESPN3 archive

Pros: Big, underrated mobility, well-rounded offensive game, solid rebounder, wingspan longer than his height.

Cons: Poor competition makes his successes look a bit less impressive, is he an NBA-level athlete?

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