Philadelphia 76ers: Regardless of price, Mike Muscala is a clear upgrade

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Even though he cost two players to acquire, Mike Muscala is a clear upgrade for the Philadelphia 76ers as a sharpshooting reserve big man.

When the Philadelphia 76ers decided to trade Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, even after I finally memorized how to spell his last name, to the Atlanta Hawks and OKC Thunder respectively to acquire Bucknell big man Mike Muscala, it was hard not to be a bit skeptical about the swap.

While neither Anderson or TLC had developed into full-time starters, both were still young, cost-controlled wingers locked into rookie scale deals, and in the modern NBA, that’s a serious value. Why cash that value in for a player that openly hates Joel Embiid?

Well, if the preseason is of any indication, the move was clearly the right one.

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After watching LeBron James, Ben Simmons mentor and good friend, consistently throttle opposing teams with a four shooter lineup known fondly as ‘the death lineup’, Brett Brown made cultivating his own equivalent a priority over the summer and restocked the pantry in his lone offseason as the team’s de facto GM with a bunch of shooters across the board to aid in the Fresh Prince’s development.

Muscala is one of those shooters.

Serving as a pretty substantial upgrade over the team’s previous reserve big men like Richaun Holmes, Ersan Ilyasova, and Amir Johnson (though he remains on the team), Muscala brings some serious deep ball accuracy from the 4-5 positions that the team has sorely lacked with any consistency, effectively filling the role vacated earlier this summer by Nemanja Bjelica, who’s now a member of the Sacramento Kings.

With Muscala filling the five-spot, Philly can now run their own version of the ‘death lineup’ pairing Ben with four above average three-point shooters. The team experimented with this before their Chinese road trip with Landry Shamet and J.J. Redick in the backcourt and the terrible threesome of Muscala, Simmons, and Dario Saric filling out the frontcourt, and it looked pretty darn formidable, even if it was only an exhibition game.

Could this lethal pairing finally deliver Brian Windhorst the Simmons as a rim protector-scenario that he’s long dreamed of? Technically yes, and it’s all thanks to the inclusion of Muscala.

In a recent episode of Zach Lowe‘s podcast The Lowe Post, ESPN’s senior writer sat down with Elton Brand and discussed a variety of topics from his playing days, to his new position within the 76ers organization, but one tidbit that stuck out to me was the former Atlanta Hawks unprovoked praising of Muscala, a player he’d watched develop first hand while still on the court.

Though this could simply be looked at as EB being a good GM, he had yet to take over when the Muscala trade went down, likely meaning that he banged the proverbial table to get his man in a red, white and blue uniform, high praise from a borderline Hall of Famer.

Now it’s hard to write anything about Mike Muscala without also addressing the elephant in the room: his father Bob, who said some pretty racist things about Jimmy Butler and African-American athletes in general.

While racism, regardless of context, should never be tolerated, especially in an ethnically and culturally diverse sport like basketball, it would appear that these feelings are not shared by the younger Muscala, who has condemned his father in a public statement. Though I’m sure this instantly flashed some fans back to the now infamous #CollarGate Bryan Colangelo scandal, it would appear that this burner accounts backlash will have a much smaller body count.

With all of the facts now on the table and enough hindsight to make an informed decision, I think it’s pretty safe to assume Muscala will not be a distraction off the court this season.

However, on the court, he could give opposing team’s problems.

Now entering into his sixth professional season in the NBA, the only NBA player from Bucknell University has really come into his own as an outside shooter, knocking down an 1.2 of his 3.2 three-pointers a game last season for an above average 37.1 3-point shooting percentage. This consistent outside shot, when paired with a more than solid 0.44 NBA Real Plus-Minus could make Muscala an immediate upgrade over Ilyasova as a foil to Saric, or a complementary piece if the two were on the court at the same time.

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Mike Muscala’s versatility and the oppertunity to give Ben Simmons yet another shooter is certainly worth the price of two young players with shakey outside shots, and could prove to be one of the more genius moves of Brett Brown’s tenure as the Philadelphia 76ers GM.