Know the Prospect: Mike Muscala

Kevin C. Cox

The Patriot League star prepares to make the leap to the pro level. How might Muscala fit on the Knicks?

Hello, friends. I hope you've been well. Lot of good music floating around the internet recently, which makes me happy. Talking about draft prospects makes me happy, too. Let's do that.

Mike Muscala is not a household name, as far as college players go. The Patriot League is certainly not a hotbed for NBA prospects, and despite Muscala's dominance there he rarely saw time in the national spotlight. Perhaps Muscala will become better known after June 27th, when he hopes to hear his name called in the NBA draft. The Bucknell graduate is a versatile, well-rounded big man with great fundamentals, but playing in a low-major conference is preventing Muscala from locking down a spot in the draft. How might the talented pivot's game fare against the best players in the world?

The Rundown

D.O.B. - 07/01/91 (21 years old)

Hometown - Roseville, MN

Measurements: Height (w/o shoes) - 6'10.25"; Height (in shoes) - 6'11.5"; Weight - 230 lbs; Wingspan - 7'1"; Max Vert - 33.5", Lane Agility - 11.76

Projected Draft Position: 36th to SAC on DraftExpress, 42nd to PHI on NBADraft.net

Actual Scouting Reports and Stats: DraftExpress, NBADraft.net, Sports-Reference, BucknellBison.com

Amateur Take - Offense: Mike Muscala is arguably the most versatile scoring big in this draft. The 2nd-leading scorer in modern Patriot League history dominated opponents using his rare combination of size, touch, skill, and athleticism. He has a developed post game both with his back to the basket and facing up. Muscala can score on hook shots over either shoulder and looks quite comfortable with his left hand. It is difficult for defenders to overplay his dominant hand because Muscala will not hesitate to attack over his opposite shoulder. He could certainly add more weight, as even in college he found himself out-muscled by tougher defenders at times. It is too easy at times to simply push Muscala out of prime position on the block, but his wide array of scoring moves often allowed him to score regardless. Still, NBA defenders will be physical with Muscala, and building strength and gaining weight will help him create offense against pro big men.

Muscala is surprisingly agile for his size, and can punish sleeping defenders with a spin move out of the post. When facing up, Muscala threatens defenders with both his jump shot and with his ability to drive to the rim. The Bucknell Bison isn't an especially gifted ballhandler but is still agile and quick enough to get past flat-footed opponents. He's a good decision-maker, and his scoring instincts guide him well as he exploits any opening the defender gives. Every so often Muscala will attack the basket in a way few players his size can, hanging in the air for reverses or exploding off of one dribble for a dunk.

While Muscala is deceptively quick and more explosive than some NBA centers, he is not a superb athlete compared to other NBA players. He can finish above the rim with enthusiasm but he won't blow you away with his leaping ability. This limits him a bit as a roll man, but his touch at the rim helps compensate some. Muscala shines as a pick-and-pop big, however, to the tune of 50% on catch-and-shoot jumpers. He has great form on his jumper and range to about 20 feet. Muscala shot over 80% from the free throw line during his career at Bucknell, further lending credence to his shooting ability. His smooth jump shot and mobility open up the possibility of Muscala playing power forward against certain lineups, which would only make it easier for him to fit a roster.

Muscala completes his triple threat talent with excellent vision for a center, and averaged a pace-adjusted 3.1 assists per 40 minutes (leading all centers in the nation). He handles double teams well, partly due to his ability to face up and survey the court, and hits both cutters and open shooters when the defense over-commits to him. While Muscala is unlikely to ever see the usage in the NBA that he enjoyed in college, his ability to pass the ball only makes it easier for him to play a role in the NBA.

Amateur Take - Defense: You'd think such a skilled offensive talent would have to be a poor defender to be projected as a 2nd rounder. Muscala doesn't bring those concerns. He was a superb defender in college, both on- and off-ball. Muscala showed great timing as a shot-blocker and averaged 2.3 blocks per game as a senior. Muscala has good size and length for the NBA pivot, standing just under 7' tall in shoes with a 7'1" wingspan. He's been excellent at defending without fouling as a collegian, though that will be tested when put against NBA-caliber athletes every night. He was a disciplined post defender in college, but he'll need to gain weight to consistently defend NBA post threats. Muscala shows all the signs of being able to defend at a high level, but much of what he showed in college was influenced by the level of competition he faced. Muscala will face players closer to his size at the next level, and might not be able to bottle them up as well as he did for Bucknell. Still, there isn't much about his style of play that suggests he can't guard in the league.

Knick Knacks:

  • First player in Patriot League history to win Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the same season.
  • The last 2x Patriot League Player of the Year to play in the NBA? Good ol' Adonal Foyle, drafted 8th overall in 1997 by the Warriors (just one pick before Tracy McGrady!)
  • Bucknell's school colors are orange and blue #orangeandblue #tape #knickstape #thetapeisreal
  • He was a pretty good student. Finished with a cumulative GPA of 3.36. Good on ya, Mike.
  • His favorite player to watch is Kobe because of Kobe's footwork and offensive skillset.
  • He blogged some about his path to the NBA draft for NBA.com. He's friends with Nate Wolters and Trevor Mbakwe! Minnesota connect.
  • Here's a Vine from Muscala at graduation.
  • I hope somebody nicknames him M&M.

Let's Get Reel:


Mike Muscala Highlights - 2013 NBA Draft Preview (via FoxSports) - Just a quick video showing some of Muscala's versatility. Catch and finish, turnaround jumper, follow slam, blocked shots, etc.


Mike Muscala Draft Combine Interview (via DraftExpress) - The biggest areas he wants to develop are his upper body strength, being a more consistent jump shooter, and extending his shooting range.


Mike Muscala - 2013 NBA Pre-Draft Workout & Interview (via DraftExpress) - "He's one of the hardest working guys we've ever had in here."

Strengths:

  • Size for position, nearly 7' tall
  • Mobility
  • Jump shooting, range to just inside the NBA three; potential to extend to 3PT range
  • Low-post scoring, versatile post game
  • Very comfortable scoring with either hand
  • Good free throw shooter, over 80% for his career at Bucknell
  • Runs floor hard in transition
  • Offensive rebounding
  • Defensive rebounding; 28.8 DRB% his senior year, led nation in defensive rebounds
  • Motor
  • Shot-blocker
  • On-ball defense
  • Off-ball defense
  • Defensive fundamentals, makes smart rotations, defends without fouling
  • Turnover-averse, 9.5 TOV% despite high usage rate as a senior
  • Young for class, still only 21 years old
  • High character, good student, well-spoken

Weaknesses:

  • Wingspan
  • Strength

Final Thoughts: Mike Muscala is generally regarded as one of the top possible sleepers in this year's draft. His combination of physical tools and advanced scoring instincts is rare, and he shows good effort and fundamentals on defense to boot. Muscala has grown every year at Bucknell, developing from an inefficient jump-shooting center into a polished, well-rounded big. It is difficult to deny that Muscala ranked among the best big men in college basketball last season. Compare some of his production to that of Indiana star and near-certain lottery pick Cody Zeller (via Statsheet, which is amazing):

Important to note: 1) Muscala accrued these stats while playing primarily against Patriot League competition. The talent Zeller faced in the Big 10 was significantly stronger. 2) Muscala is a year older than Zeller and two college years his senior. Muscala has more experience and should dominate more than Zeller did. 3) Zeller was more efficient as a scorer. All that said, this chart does show just how well Muscala compares to the elite talent in college last season. Really, the primary knock against Muscala is the level of competition he faced. While it is true that he did not see the best players in college basketball regularly, it would be unfair to hold that against him too much. He did his job and absolutely dominated his competition. After his freshman season Bucknell went on to win the Patriot League regular season title and appeared in the Patriot League tournament finals for all three of his remaining years, and won the PL Tournament twice. Muscala won PL Tournament MVP during both titles.

Muscala would provide an interesting fit on the Knicks. Though he would be situated behind star center Tyson Chandler, his agility and shooting touch may very well allow him to play the 4 as well as the 5. This would help him find minutes on a team with a stellar frontcourt. At center, his ability to rebound, defend, and shoot the ball should allow him to play alongside Amar'e Stoudemire without clogging driving lanes. He can shoot the ball off of kick-outs and put the ball on the floor to attack the rim, making him an offensive option opposing centers have to respect from anywhere inside of 20 feet. If he can defend NBA PFs, he can play minutes alongside Carmelo and Tyson Chandler and help shore up the defense with a big, mobile body and smart defensive instincts. Muscala's health would definitely be welcome in the frontcourt, as he missed a total of one game for his career at Bucknell. Muscala's smooth shooting stroke will be an important part of his transition, as extending his range to the NBA 3 would make him a tantalizing prospect for any team. He's likely too frail to reliably defend the post against tough scorers like Nikola Pekovic, Carlos Boozer, and David West, and he'll probably be tossed aside by energetic rebounders like Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao, at least early in his career. But his skill and size should allow him to contribute immediately against smaller opponents, and building his strength would help him hold ground against NBA bigs down the line.

He's not a big name, but Mike Muscala possesses some very intriguing qualities that could make for a high-level pro in the NBA. He's projected to go early-mid second round, but after shining at the NBA Draft Combine he might be rising in the eyes of many GMs at the bottom of the first round. The Knicks got the opportunity to see him in private workouts back on June 10th. What do you think?

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