Atlanta Hawks: Malcolm Delaney Settling Into His Role Perfectly

After a tough month of December, Atlanta Hawks backup point guard Malcolm Delaney has had a wonderful January. He’s becoming the reliable backup the team needs.

Over the summer it seemed obvious who would play backup point guard for the Atlanta Hawks. The team signed Jarrett Jack in July, expecting him to be Dennis Schroder‘s veteran understudy.

It was a move that made sense. Jack is a reliable veteran. Sure, his best days are behind him, but he could provide 15 to 20 minutes per game of steady play. Jack’s body just wouldn’t cooperate. Jack tore his ACL on January 2nd, 2016, causing him to miss the second half of the 2015-16 season.

By October it became clear that his knee was not healing quickly enough. On Oct. 20, the Hawks waived him. Instead of searching for another backup point guard on the trade market, Atlanta looked internally for a solution.

The team had also signed another point guard over the summer, former Virginia Tech star Malcolm Delaney. Delaney came to Atlanta after an extremely successful professional career overseas. From 2011 to 2016 he played in France, Ukraine, Germany, and Russia.

During his most recent season with PBC Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia, Delaney averaged 16.3 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game in 31 Euroleague games.

Delaney may have entered the current NBA season as a 27-year-old rookie, but he has significant professional experience to draw from.

Colby Giacubeno, then of Soaring Down South, spoke to Delaney in November about his transition to the NBA. He talked about his long journey to the league.

“I could’ve played in the NBA after my senior year I think if I wanted to stick around and wait the lockout out, I would’ve been on a roster,” Delaney said. “I didn’t want to be the 15th guy on the bench making minimum money when I could go overseas and work my way up and my goal was to try and be a millionaire by the age of 25. I knew it was definitely possible overseas if I played well. But that was just a goal that I set for myself and it was more so to make sure my family was good, to improve my lifestyle, and comfort of my living. I set goals for myself and I don’t look back or look at any other way until I achieve that goal.”

Delaney started this season well, averaging  5.6 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.1 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game through Nov. 18. His net rating was plus 9.8 for the month of November. He made Hawks fans forget that Jarrett Jack was originally supposed to be the backup point guard.

December brought a difficult regression. In 14 December games, Delaney averaged just 4.6 points and 2.2 assists per game on 36.2 percent shooting and 5.6 percent from three-point range.

That type of slump had to be frustrating for a player with such a long track record of success overseas. Especially when that track record includes being a knockdown shooter from three-point range. To his credit, Delaney hasn’t let his early season struggles tank the rest of his season.

January has seen Delaney undergo a shooting renaissance. Through eight January games, Delaney is averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 assists per game on 53.8 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three-point distance. He’s 7-for-12 on three-point attempts and has a true shooting percentage of 62.1 percent. His net rating for the month is plus 19.5. It’s a small sample size, of course, but it’s also progress.

Mike Budenholzer is clearly starting to trust him. He played 27 minutes and 26 minutes respectively in recent games against Boston and Milwaukee. He combined for 26 points, 15 assists, and four rebounds on 10-for-18 shooting and 4-for-6 from three-point range in those games.

Now that’s more like it! He’s also making passes like this on a regular basis.

There’s a renewed confidence to his play. He’s not letting his past struggles define him. Making it in the NBA hard, perseverance is a skill that’s required if a player is going to succeed. Delaney has that covered.

Call it regression (progression?) to the mean. Call it pushing through the rookie wall. Whatever you want to call this breakout, it’s nice to see Delaney bounce back this season. His story is one that’s easy to admire. His overall numbers still aren’t pretty (6 points and 3 assists per game on 41 percent shooting and 25.9 percent from three), but he’s clearly improving.

He worked hard to get to the NBA. Delaney is proving that he belongs here.

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