By Featured Columnist Brad Rowland
I love Mike Scott. It is no secret that I was begging for the Hawks to tab him with their 2012 2nd-round pick, and when they did, I was thrilled. With that said, Larry Drew failed to find confidence in Scott for the first 38 games of the season, and the former Virginia Cavalier only saw the floor in mop-up duty, responding with less-than-stellar production in limited minutes. Then, the Atlanta rotation was hit with a rash of injuries ranging from Al Horford’s absence on Wednesday to more extended absences from Devin Harris (off and on), Anthony Morrow (for weeks), and Lou Williams (for the season). In response, Scott has seen the court in each of the last four games, and has performed on a very high level. You may remember a similar introduction for John Jenkins (seen here) after his quick insertion into the rotation, and Scott has now joined him in the rotation, at least for the time being.
From the very beginning of his Hawks career, it was clear that Scott was blocked from easily reaching the Atlanta rotation. As an undersized (read: 6-foot-8) power forward, he was already trapped behind the likes of Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson, and when Anthony Tolliver was given a guaranteed contract, that provided yet another obstacle. However, the case for Scott was that he was an absolutely tremendous college basketball player with undeniable skills.
Scott posted incredible college numbers when you adjust for pace (Virginia played at a laughably slow tempo), and was a darkhorse National Player of the Year candidate from the advanced statistical community. Even with the hilariously slow pace, Scott managed to average 18 points and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 56% from the field, and he led the country in mid-range field goal percentage (54%) and long-range 2-point field goal shooting (56%) during his senior season. In short, he’s a great rebounder, especially for his size, and his pick-n-pop game is a true weapon.
After reading that, you are surely thinking: “How in the world did this guy fall to pick #43?!!?!” and I wouldn’t blame you. That said, the answer is simple: Mike Scott isn’t exciting. At. All. At 6’8, 237 pounds, he’s admittedly undersized for a power forward, he’s a very average athlete (at best), and at 24 years old, he entered the draft at an age that seems ancient in 2012. There were also concerns about whether he’d be able to adequately defend his position given his limited length, and given the Hawks lack of size at center (see Horford, Al), the floor balance would be interesting. However, Scott’s skill set is one that has certainly worked in the NBA when put into the right situation, and in the middle of the second-round, the pick screamed value.
In January, Scott’s playing time has emerged, and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity. During the month, he is averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in just 11.9 minutes per game, and over the last four games (where Scott has really emerged), he has shot 10-18 from the field and rebounded at a tremendous rate. Although it is a small, small sample size, Scott’s PER on the season is a solid 13.91 with a scoring rate of 16.8 points per 40 minutes and a rebound rate of 10.0 per 40 minutes. There’s nothing awe-inspiring about this production, but for the rookie minimum salary and a mid-2nd round pick, this is tremendous. Scott has looked right at home against NBA starters from the opposition, and there are shades of the David West comparisons he was drawing in college as a potentially lethal pick-n-pop player who can really shoot from 15 feet.
With a healthy front-court core of Horford, Smith, Pachulia, and Ivan Johnson, I’m not sure that Scott will continue to see the floor at the same rate as he has over the past 10 days, but it is highly encouraging that he has proven to be a capable option. “Upside” is an overrated term in today’s NBA and there is certainly something to be said for stability. At 24 years old, there’s probably not a scenario where Scott improves drastically enough to be a potent NBA starter, but if he can refine and adjust his game to the NBA level, there is no reason that Scott can’t outperform his minimum contract in a huge way and become a solid rotation player for Atlanta in the future.