As usual, the Atlanta Hawks are flying under-the-radar. Mike Budenholzer is working his magic once again, turning yet another squad with sub-par talent into a team of world beaters.
The Hawks are sitting pretty at the moment, with a 9-3 record that is good enough for second place in the Eastern Conference. They’ve had a mostly cupcake schedule to open up the season, but have still pulled off a number of impressive victories, including one against the defending champs (which snapped their 11-game losing streak to Cleveland) and a blowout versus the Rockets.
Just as they always do, the Hawks are succeeding despite clearly lacking star power, which is paramount in the modern day NBA. Sure, Paul Millsap’s an excellent two-way player, Dennis Schroder is developing into a nice young point guard and Dwight Howard is having a resurgent season, but not one man on Budenholzer’s squad can go toe-to-toe with the NBA’s elite.
Instead of using stars to rack up wins, Atlanta rely on their incredible depth to swing games night after night. According to nbawowy.com, in the 36 minutes this season that Bud has rolled out lineups with no starters, the Hawks are a ridiculous plus-26.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s insane! It’s the contributions of vital role players like Mike Muscala, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha (who are all scoring at career-high rates) that have gotten the Hawks to where they are right now.
Of the players apart of Atlanta’s free-scoring bench mob, one man in particular has caught my eye. As you can probably guess by the title of this piece, that man is Malcolm Delaney.
For those of you who aren’t Hawks fans or just don’t watch that much Hawks’ basketball for whatever reason (you should), you probably have no idea who Delaney is. For all you know, Malcolm Delaney could just be a pseudonym invented by Barney Stinson. But that’s alright, neither did I before the start of this season and there’s a good reason why.
You see, even after a fantastic collegiate career at Virginia Tech, the 6’3” point guard was passed on in the 2011 NBA Draft. Front offices were scared off by the ambiguity surrounding his position at the NBA level and his focus. As Colby Giacubeno over at Fansided discovered in a recent interview, after going undrafted in 2011, Delaney opted to head overseas, as he had no intention of battling for 10-day contracts and trying to wiggle his way on to an NBA franchise as the fifteenth man.
In a decision that took serious guts, Delaney ditched his NBA dream and headed to Europe. As he bounced around, playing for teams in France, Ukraine, Germany and Russia, Delaney refined his skills and made a name for himself. In his four seasons away from the States, Delaney averaged 15 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, while shooting over 40% from the field and three-point range. He became one of, if not the, best basketball players on the continent. He secured MVP honors in both Germany and Ukraine, in addition to grabbing championships in both of those countries and in his final European year, Delaney was named to the All-EuroLeague First Team.
After showing that he was able to play at a high level, Delaney came back over to the U.S., finally ready to make his mark. He signed a two-year deal with the Hawks and was immediately thrown into the deep end. After trading away Jeff Teague and after losing free agency acquisition Jarrett Jack to injury, the Hawks were left with just one other point guard on the roster in Dennis Schroder. This meant that the unproven Delaney had to soak up big chunks of minutes right from opening night. A lot of Hawks fans and analysts held their breath, fearing the worst for Atlanta’s offense when Schroder had to be subbed out of the game.
But with his excellent play to open the season, Delaney has turned those doubters into believers. Fans now adore him and better yet, the legendary Hawks play-by-play guy, Bob Rathbun loves him too!
If you just looked at his counting stats, you’d probably wonder why the hell I’m raving about him.
But it’s not the numbers that he’s putting up that make him stand out for me. It’s his feel and approach to the game, combined with his basketball intellect that make him such a gem.
What has also been impressive about the 27 year old, has been his adjustment to the NBA game.
Overseas and at Virginia Tech, Delaney was the go-to scorer for every team he played on. He put up big numbers and was the offensive fulcrum for each of his squads. But as a reserve guard in a league with a far superior level of competition, Delaney has had to adjust his ga. Instead of jacking up 20 shots a night, Delaney has settled in well as a role player who knows his limitations. Through 12 games this season, Malcolm has given the Hawks exactly what they’ve wanted from a backup point guard.
Offensively speaking, Delaney is an aggressively intelligent playmaker. He doesn’t try to bulldoze his way into the lane without thinking about it first, like some headless chickens such as Ish Smith, but he also doesn’t just defer to his teammates and play passively, à la Rajon Rondo. He puts pressure on the defense every time he touches the basketball, but with a smart, controlled style of play.
With that smart, controlled style, combined with his aggressive nature, Delaney always seems to get exactly where he wants to on a basketball floor. He knows his limitations, but he also knows where on the court he is most comfortable.
A lot of young point, backup point guards wouldn’t have done what Delaney did on those two plays. Many would’ve attempted to flail their way to the basket for a wayward lay-up, while others would’ve deferred to a teammate. Delaney saw what the defense was giving him on both plays and took it gladly with direct, intelligent, destructive drives.
He mixes his brilliant scoring bursts in with some incredible vision and playmaking for his teammates. Delaney was never a great passer in college or in Europe, but this is a part of his game he has clearly worked on. Just check out how awesome this pass is to Hardaway Jr., after he spots Shumpert sleeping for a split second.
To add on to his playmaking ability, Delaney is just as comfortable slotting into an off-ball role in an offense. His usage rate this season is sitting at around 18%, which is pretty darn low for a primary ball-handler. He’s able to do this because he can shoot it with ease (40% career three-point shooter in Europe) and attack close-outs as well as any other player in the league.
Defensively speaking, Delaney still has a long way to go. His quick feet and IQ should translate into solid defensive ability, but his instincts and defensive awareness just isn’t there yet. But this side of his game barely takes away from the brilliance he has shown on the other end.
If he continues playing like he has throughout the first 12 games of the season, there is no doubt in my mind Malcolm Delaney will be in the league for a long time. Considering that this is his first year in the league, his game should only improve. If given the opportunity, after what I’ve seen from Delaney, there’s a chance he could be a solid starter one day for any number of NBA teams.
He’s still got a long way to go, but Malcolm Delaney is finally getting his NBA chance and he’s running away with it.