Hawks’ Scott goes from humbled to confident

ATLANTA — Humbling.

That’s the word that Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott used to describe his rookie season.
A year ago, he was a First-Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference player for the University of Virginia, runner-up for its player of the year award and capable of dominating games. In the final regular-season game of his collegiate career against Maryland, the 6-foot-8 Scott posted 35 points and 11 rebounds in powering his team to a 75-72 overtime victory.
As a second-round pick last year for the Hawks, he has registered a “did not play – coach’s decision” 34 times, unable even to get on the court. He has spent two different stints in the NBA Development League, four games in early December and three games as recently as late March.
Through it all, Scott has persevered and he has worked – traits for which he was richly rewarded on Saturday in a 99-97 loss at San Antonio when he posted career highs in field goals (eight), attempts (15), minutes (36) and points (22) to go with six rebounds.
“Mike is a worker, man,” teammate Al Horford said. “I think, for him, he really hasn’t been able to showcase his ability because Josh (Smith), myself — there’s a lot of guys ahead of him (on the depth chart). But he’s a great kid. He’s a worker. He’s in here every day, every morning — even before me, he’s in here working and what you guys saw doesn’t surprise me.
“He works on his game so much that that’s what I expected of him. Hopefully, that shows coach and gets him confidence he can put him in there and he can contribute for us.”
To Scott’s credit, he did not crow about the performance against the Spurs. He felt in some ways he could have done more.
“I don’t know if I would say satisfying,” Scott said. “I only had six rebounds. I had to fight off DeJuan Blair and (Hawks center Johan) Petro. Petro was taking all the rebounds (15).

“When your name is called, you’ve been on the bench watching, you’ve got to be productive, no matter if it’s scoring, rebounding or playing defense. Making sure you’re productive in your minutes out there.”

Scott’s development – necessarily gradual as it has been – is an encouraging sign for the Hawks, as it also serves as a window to illuminate general manager Danny Ferry’s first draft. It’s been a long time since a second-round pick made any sort of impact for the franchise. Perhaps the most recent example is Salim Stoudamire in 2005. Stoudamire, the first pick in the second round that year, averaged 8.0 points in 17.0 minutes over 157 games in three seasons with the Hawks.
When the Hawks took Scott 43rd overall, they knew he would be something of a project. He’s too small to play power forward – possessing the kinds of skills for that position – but, at 237 pounds, not quick enough to play on the wing. Much of his work this season has focused on trying to become the quintessential NBA “tweener” – a player who can find a niche despite that mix of size and skills.
“I know people labeled him as a tweener,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said, “and I really feel that I think some day he will get there, as far as being a true tweener. Right now, I think he’s kind of finding his way with some guys.
“Obviously, there are some guys, from a matchup standpoint, he might have some problems with (defensively), but they might have some problems with him down on the other end (of the court), as well, because he’s a good post-up player. But I think he has finally begun to find his niche and, when he’s in there, he plays with a lot of confidence, which I really like.”
As Horford noted, Scott is earning trust in Drew, who said that Scott “is a real pro.” Perhaps some of that is maturity. At 24, Scott is considerably older than most NBA rookies, having played five seasons at Virginia, including a medical redshirt year. In comparison, fellow rookie John Jenkins is three years younger.
“His attitude, the way he approaches everything,” Drew said. “He has not played a lot of minutes but in that time he has he has made the most of his minutes. I’ve always said this guy’s got some NBA skill to his game and that’s the ability to pick and pop. Chances are I’m going to be using him probably more down the stretch, given what our injury situation is, but I thought he did a magnificent job the other night.”
Scott credited working with Hawks’ first-year assistant coach/player development Kenny Atkinson and strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watkinson. He said a lot of practice days have been like Monday’s, which he called more of a “mental day,” lower intensity with some players like Smith and Petro not participating.
With little game action, that has left Scott to try and simulate game action himself and in one-on-one sessions with the assistants. He also credited his teammates like Horford, Smith, Ivan Johnson and Anthony Tolliver for helping him out. He said they have told him how to use his speed to defend bigger players.
“It’s a lot different defending in the post in the NBA than it is in college,” he said. “… I’m still learning but they’re definitely helping me.”
In addition to liking Scott’s confidence, Drew said he was proud of how the forward played on Saturday. Scott said he is feeling that confidence right now and ready for any role.
“Whatever they need me to do,” he said. “Most times, it’s defensive rebounding. You know, score whenever my teammates give me the ball or whenever it’s time for me to score, but the first mentality I’ve got to think of when I’m coming into the game is rebound, defense. Just running, playing with energy.”
He seems on his way to figuring it all out.