Feature Image: Marina Kobzeva/Getty Images
A lot can happen in 12 months — those possessing any meaningful life experience can attest to that. And it’s a statement that’s going to ring very true when the Hawks tip off again in October.
Last year, fans watched Dennis Schröder head to the scorers table in the latter stages of the first quarter, kneel down, and prepare to replace starting point guard, Jeff Teague. This year — instead — they’re going to watch Dennis Schröder head to the bench to check out, as Hawks PA Announcer Ryan Cameron announces to the crowd Dennis’ replacement “In for the Hawks, number five, Malcolm Delaney!”
And for the uninformed/average fan (heck, maybe even the slightly above average Hawks fan) the next word that will be on the tip of many fans’ tongues will be “Who???”. And perhaps other fans may ask, in addition, “Who is this dude, and why does he kind of look like Mike Scott??”.
(Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees the resemblance…)
And look, that first question is a very valid one. During free agency, I was waiting for the Hawks to address their point guard shortage, since Schröder was the only point guard under contract at the time. The Hawks had to make another move to bring in another point guard. And when I saw the news that the Hawks had agreed a deal with point guard Malcolm Delaney, I uttered the same thing an awful lot of people are also going to utter this October: “Who?”
So, this is going to be an educational piece for all of us. Even as I type the opening to this column, I have no idea what kind of player Malcolm Delaney is. I didn’t watched him play when he was in Europe, I don’t know a lot about his career up to this point, and I guarantee many others don’t know much about him either. In short, I don’t have a clue who he is.
So let’s go through this together: who is Malcolm Delaney?
Before we get to Delaney’s body of work, let’s get to know the guy first.
Malcolm Delaney is 27 years old from Baltimore, Maryland. Hew grew up loving basketball, and when he realized that it could become a profession, a dream was born.
“I think [playing in the NBA] is every kid’s dream. It was a dream of mine when I was younger until I realized it was a profession. [After that it became] more so a goal of mine.” — Malcolm Delaney
Sites conflict slightly on his size, between 6″3 and 6″4, and he weighs in at around 185-190 pounds (again, different sites conflict).
Delaney received offers to join college programmes including Indiana, Clemson, and Iowa State. He eventually committed to Virginia Tech, citing playing time as a huge reason for signing with the Hokies:
“The main reason [for choosing Virginia Tech] was because I was getting an opportunity to get playing time as a freshman in the best conference in the country. My family was also very comfortable with the school and the coaches.” — Malcolm Delaney
He spent four years at Virginia Tech, from 2007-2011, and originally played as a shooting guard before shifting over a point guard role in his senior year. From an interview from 2014 with HoopsHype:
“…In my senior year, they wanted me to prove that I could play the point guard position. So I tried my best to take less shots, get my teammates more involved, brought my percentages up…” — Malcolm Delaney
That transition was reflective in the number of shots Delaney took in his Senior year. He averaged 12.9 FGA in his Senior year, as opposed to the 14.6 shot attempts per game that he averaged in his Junior year. He increased his shooting percentage from 38.7% in his Junior year to 41.9% for his Senior year. Oddly though, his assists actually decreased in his Senior year, averaging 3.9 assists compared to the 4.5 assists per game that he averaged in his Junior year.
He initially wanted to declare for the draft after his Junior year (2010), but injuries forced him to reconsider, and he chose to return to Virginia Tech for a fourth year. From that same HoopsHype interview:
“…In college, my whole mindset was like trying to win and trying to get to the NBA. I had three great years in college so that’s why my focus was so stuck on the NBA. Once it got closer to senior season, I put my name in the draft early and backed out because of the injuries…” — Malcolm Delaney
In his final year at Virginia Tech, Delaney averaged 18.7 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.6 SPG, and shot 40% from three-point range, but was unable to lead the Hokies into the NCAA Tournament.
In his four years at Virginia Tech, Delaney averaged 16.7 PPG, 4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG, shot 40% from the field on 11.7 attempts per game, shot 37% from three-point land on 5.3 attempts per game, shot 84% from the line on 6.4 attempts per game, and committed 2.8 turnovers per game. He was named to the All-ACC Third Team in 2009 and to the First Team twice, in 2010 and 2011. He was also a two time Associated Press honorable mention All-American.
Looking at his four year stats with the Hokies, you can see that Delaney was a decent scorer, capable of setting up his teammates, could shoot the three-ball pretty well, got the free throw line frequently, and cashed in on his free throws once he got there.
But those stats were not enough for him to be considered among draft experts. From a feature on Delaney from the Baltimore Sun shortly before the draft 2011:
“I’m not on draft boards or anything like that. I’m just trying to get there. I have a lot to prove, so I’m going my hardest and making the best of the opportunity.” — Malcolm Delaney
Though he worked out for a few NBA teams, including the Washington Wizards, Delaney went undrafted in 2011.
Honestly, I don’t know [why I wasn’t drafted]. My sophomore year was kind of my breakout year, and at the time in the ACC we probably had the best guards in the country. I think I played well against those guards, players like Toney Douglas and all those guys who eventually got drafted. In my senior year, I had a better year, but I got hurt after 10 games and then actually I was battling through injuries the whole season. However, I led the ACC in scoring. My team wasn’t predicted to do much and we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. I think me not playing in the Tournament was the biggest thing that kept me out of the NBA because I didn’t get to play in that top, top stage. But as far as production and numbers and what I did for my college program, I didn’t see why I didn’t get drafted. I did enough. In my senior year, they wanted me to prove that I could play the point guard position. So I tried my best to take less shots, get my teammates more involved, brought my percentages up… I improved everything but my scoring average, which dropped maybe like one point, and still it wasn’t enough…” — Malcolm Delaney
Delaney, however, was able to secure himself a deal overseas with French club Élan Chalon in the Pro A league (the top tier in France) by the time the draft came around, indicating that he knew he wasn’t getting drafted.
Delaney hadn’t considered playing in Europe during his college career, but his agent opened his eyes to the idea.
“Actually, Europe wasn’t a thought at all. I mean, I knew that if I didn’t make the NBA I would probably end up playing there. But honestly, in college, my whole mindset was like trying to win and trying to get to the NBA… …I had a good advisor who is my current agent, he had to tell me a lot about the whole overseas thing. For me it was a good thing because I didn’t have a family with money or anything, so I just wanted to establish myself financially and then go after the NBA. But then up until my senior year, Europe was never an option.”
“I got a good agent who didn’t tell me everything I wanted to hear. I went into every workout, I think I went to 11 workouts, and I think there was one workout that was not great. Every other workout that I had went great. I think I did everything I could possibly do. I stayed out of trouble, didn’t do anything off the court that could hurt my chances… So I just focused on going to Europe, try to work my way up in Europe.” — Malcolm Delaney
Delaney was disappointed not to get drafted, but felt secure knowing he had a deal to play professional basketball in his back pocket, and with it an opportunity to be paid to do something he loves.
“After I was undrafted I was disappointed but I already had a contract in France [with Élan Chalon] so I knew I was going to get the opportunity to play and get paid for what I loved doing.” — Malcolm Delaney
Though Delaney could’ve played in the D-League and received more attention that way, it was simply not an option for him, and playing overseas was the best decision he could’ve made.
“It [playing overseas] was the best business decision for me; I wanted to build my future and take a different route to the NBA.”
“In the D-League, players make between $12,000 and $24,000 for a season. In Europe, most players make a starting salary between $65,000 and $100,000, often untaxed.”
“D-League definitely wasn’t an option. I wasn’t doing that.” — Malcolm Delaney
Élan Chalon — France
Though Delaney was unable to achieve success with Virginia Tech, he did find some in his first year abroad. Chalon won the Pro A league and won the Semaine des As (or the Leaders Cup as it’s known as today), a domestic cup contested by Pro A and Pro B league teams.
Delaney made a significant impact in his one year in France. France 3 Bourgogne journalist, Théo Souman, described Chalon’s season (2011-12) with Delaney and his overall impact.
“This 2011/2012 season was incredible for Chalon, a small city in France. They won the three titles on offer in France [French Cup, Semaine des As and French championship] and lost the EuroChallenge final against Besiktas. It was during the final of Semaine des As, in Roanne, against Gravelines-Dunkerque, that Malcolm Delaney had a big impact for the first time. He made incredible shots…”
“He [Delaney] was a very consistent player, he never missed a big game. This was player who was very strong mentally, with a killer instinct. He loved to take the big shots at the end of the games. He made a big impact in the playoffs and, again, in the final against Le Mans for the French Title.” — Theo Souman
But there were some internal rumblings that Delaney did not get on with Chalon’s “historical point guard” Steed Tchicamboud, who had played for Chalon from 1999-2002 and from 2010-2014. Chalon re-signed the MVP of the French League that year, Blake Schilb, but allowed Delaney to leave.
“That was a big loss for Chalon but Delaney had big problems with Steed Tchicamboud, the historical point guard of the team. I think that was a big problem for him to go on with Chalon, despite the prospect of Euroleague. Chalon re-signed Schilb, but let Delaney go and I think the club would have needed the both in order to reach the Top 16.”
“Blake Schilb was so good that he was named MVP of all, but without Delaney, Chalon would never have won three titles this season, I’m convinced of that.” — Théo Souman
In his one season with Chalon, Delaney averaged 15 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG, and shot 41% from three-point range.
BC Budivelnyk — Ukraine
In 2012 Delaney signed for Ukrainian club BC Budivelnyk. He enjoyed another successful season, winning the Ukrainian SuperLeague and winning the Ukrainian SuperLeague MVP.
Delaney proved to be the difference for Budivelnyk, who — before the season started — weren’t even considered as a title team. Delaney himself was not a very heard of character when he arrived in Ukraine, and was certainly down the pecking order when it came to ranking the top point guards in the SuperLeague.
“Personally I knew he played in Élan Chalon and won the French championship with decent stats. I’m not big fan of Pro A, so that was all my knowledge on Malcolm Delaney before the 7th August 2012, when the first reports about his signing with Budivelnyk came through.”
“My first impression was that Delaney was a quality guy but nothing extra. The Superleague in 2012/13 was packed with such PGs as Lynn Greer, Ramel Curry and Randy Culpepper, so Delaney was a bit behind them. Besides, Leo Lyons seemed to be the first star of Budivelnyk.” — Alexander Proshuta, (formerly) editor-in-chief of basket-planet.com
But it didn’t take long for Delaney to have an imprint upon the Ukrainian SuperLeague.
“When it was time for the important games, in Eurocup and Superleague, Malcolm flourished. He had exceptional scoring and creative skills along with nice decision making and leadership. He fully deserved MVP title that season. In Ukraine the MVP title is awarded for both regular and playoffs part. I’m not sure he would have got it after the regular season but after the playoffs there were no doubts.” — Alexander Proshuta
Proshuta also described the impact Delaney made for Budivelnyk, claiming their 2012-13 success would not have found were it not for Delaney:
“After 2012/13 season Budivelnyk was unanimously the strongest club in Ukraine and not because they won the championship in the national league, more for their big Eurocup [semi-final] campaign, including winning a series against Russian powerhouse Spartak. Of course, this way couldn’t have been passed without Malcolm.” — Alexander Proshuta
Despite the success, Delaney decided that one year in Ukraine was enough, and according to Proshuta, Delaney “wanted to play in bigger leagues with mild climate”.
Delaney, in an interview he performed while playing for Bayern Munich in 2014, revealed that Budivelnyk “didn’t take care of him professionally.”
“Last year in Ukraine… Everybody kind of knows the whole Eastern Europe thing is tough. You’re not being paid on time… They didn’t take care of me too much as a professional” — Malcolm Delaney
In his MVP season in Ukraine, Delaney averaged 18.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, while shooting 39.5% from three-point range.
Bayern Munich — Germany
In 2013, Delaney signed a one year deal with Bayern Munich, who were trying to emulate the success similar to that of their football side, who are one of the best teams in the world.
Just as when he joined Budivelnyk, there were questions surrounding Delaney, this time surrounding his ability to play point guard.
“The Bayern roster was talented, but they had limited on-ball talent. Delaney was clearly expected to be the main creator in their offence. I think folks questioned whether he could be a full-time point guard on this level when he came in. Then he averaged close to six assists a game during Bayern’s eight-win BBL opening run” — Simon Jatsch, formerly of euroleagueadventures.com
And just as he did in France and Ukraine, Delaney found himself winning a lot of silverware, lifting the German Bundesliga, the German Bundesliga MVP, and the German Bundesliga Finals MVP.
“He saw right away that he could score – with his great motor and drive to the rim. There were not a lot of guards who could stop him. He also quickly realised that his teammates were big time scorers as well and he got them the ball.” — David Hein of heinnews.com, a site focused on international basketball
Bayern were selected as a wild card to appear in Europe’s highest level of basketball, the EuroLeague, and they reached the Top 16 stage of the competition. It was in the EuroLeague where Delaney received quite the bit of spotlight, averaging 13.9 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1 SPG, while shooting 38.5% from behind the arc.
Delaney’s EuroLeague performances turned the heads of NBA executives, and when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley suffered an injury in 2014, Delaney’s name came up as a player the Rockets wanted to sign. However, Delaney’s contract with Bayern contained no NBA outs, and he was forced to stick with Bayern.
Speaking at the time:
“The Rockets thing was a great opportunity for me, that was official. But with how important I am to the club, how important this season is to the club, it wouldn’t had been a smart business decision for the club to let me go. I didn’t have an NBA out in the contract. The Houston Rockets thing is something nobody would have ever turned down because, you know, I’m still with a dream to play in the NBA. But FC Bayern, they couldn’t let me leave, we’re about to play the playoffs, trying to win a title. Any kid or any American basketball player wishes to play in the NBA. This time I couldn’t do it.” — Malcolm Delaney
Despite being declined the opportunity to fulfill his dream, Delaney said that he wasn’t mad about Bayern’s decision:
“No, I’m not mad at all. I understand the business side of everything. It was a great opportunity for me. I don’t know if the opportunity will ever come back again, but I will keep doing what I’m doing. Like I said, it’s all about opportunity. If somebody wants to give me that opportunity, I’ll definitely take it.” — Malcolm Delaney
However, Delaney’s performances meant that he was a man in demand across Europe, and that made it very hard for Bayern to keep hold of him. And so it proved to be, as Delaney was snapped up by Lokomotiv Kuban of Russia.
Without Delaney, Bayern haven’t been the same force since. Simon Jatsch and David Hein described what have Munich missed since Delaney left.
“A guy who can carry their offense full-time, someone who can make difficult shots, someone who’s incredibly skilled in drawing fouls, plus a never spectacular, but methodical passer. Delaney is a talented scorer, though never the most efficient one, and he deals with on-ball pressure real well. They tried spreading playmaking responsibility on more shoulders, brought in [Vasilije] Micić and [Anton] Gavel plus a more perimeter-oriented four in [Duško] Savanović; it never clicked. Micic is creative in isolated sequences but is a work in progress in terms of initiating team offense. Gavel is not the first former leader/key player to lose his intensity in a lesser role”. — Simon Jatsch
“…They also lost a true winner at the most important position on the court. What seemed like an anomaly at the beginning turned into the rare occurrence of three straight championships in three different European countries. And Munich – just like any team – really have missed that winner at that position.” — David Hein
Lokomotiv Kuban — Russia
Delaney signed a one year deal with Lokomotiv Kuban in 2014. It wasn’t Delaney’s first sighting of Lokomotiv, having faced them in the EuroLeague when he played for Bayern.
Delaney’s arrival was seen as an upgrade made by Lokomotiv, but not enough of an upgrade to challenge the big dogs in the EuroLeague (and, apparently, the richest team in Europe), CSKA Moscow.
“Krasnodar’s point guard position didn’t look as intimidating as Moscow’s trio of [Milos] Teodosic, [Nando] De Colo, [Aaron] Jackson early in the season. Still, the acquisition of Delaney was viewed as a vast backcourt improvement as he has excelled not only in domestic competition but also shined with Bayern in Top 16…” — Timur Rustamov, Sport-Express reporter
Delaney was initially brought in to help shoulder the scoring load, but found his role changing throughout the year due to changing circumstances at the club.
“Eventually, it came down to Delaney carrying the load that was previously shared by Mantas Kalnietis and Marcus Williams [one was injured all year, the other left prior to the season]. The Lithuanian was responsible for controlling the tempo while Williams provided one on one offence. Delaney could do both and was pretty stellar at it during all year…” — Timur Rustamov
Delaney and Kuban went 23-7 in 2014-15, which was good enough to secure the third seed in the VTB United League, but lost in the semi finals to BC Khimki in five games, in a best of five series having led 2-1 needing just one more win to progress.
In his first year in Russia, Delaney averaged 12.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG, and shot 36.4% from three.
Delaney re-signed for Lokomotiv in 2015 and would get another crack at playing in the EuroLeague in the process, his first since his Bayern Munich days. Delaney elevated his game to another level, leading Kuban to the EuroLeague Final Four, where they lost against rivals (and eventual champions) CSKA Moscow. Delaney scored 26 points in that game and poured out another 21 in the third place playoff game, which they won.
Delaney averaged 16.3 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG, and shot 40% from behind the arc in his best season as a professional. He was also named to the All-EuroLeague First Team.
Atlanta Hawks — USA
Delaney had a great year on the biggest platform in Europe, and his performances did not go unnoticed. The Rockets and Nets were rumored as teams who were interested in his services, but the Hawks — in need of a point guard without spending a ton of money in this new free agency market — jumped at the opportunity to sign Delaney, and the (two year guaranteed) deal became official on July 15th.
In 2014, Delaney said he would take less salary in order to play in the NBA and two years later he remained true to his word.
“Yeah, I’m willing to do that kind of sacrifice [taking less money]. I mean, it would be a hard decision if I’m deciding between a big European offer and a league-minimum deal in the NBA where I probably won’t have the chance to show my game, ending up on the bench. But I can’t say that I wouldn’t take it. Until I have those two options and I get the feedback from the NBA on what they’d expect from me, I can’t say what I’d do. But I’m really thinking about the NBA a lot right now.” — Malcolm Delaney
Speaking earlier this month to The Roanoke Times, Delaney laid out how his dilemma this summer — either stay in Europe and make more money, or try pursue his NBA dream:
“I had a better year and for me, it was either sign a long-term deal in Europe for big money — I had three-year offers for a lot of money — or push to the NBA. I felt like this was the last opportunity for me to … even think about the NBA…” — Malcolm Delaney
In an interview with the AJC, Delaney mentioned that the Hawks had been following him for the last two years and was told that the Hawks would sign him when they got the sufficient cap space to do so:
“They’ve been following me for two years. I came in last year and worked out for them and met with everybody. I thought it was going to happen last year. Wes came to Barcelona and told me whenever they had the opportunity to clear some space that they would bring me in. I’m just happy it all happened.” — Malcolm Delaney
In the news release confirming Delaney’s signing, Hawks GM Wes Wilcox also eluded to the existing relationship between the two sides, and Wilcox is happy to add a player who is accustomed to success to the Hawks’ ranks:
“Malcolm is a player we’ve watched closely and built a relationship with over the last few years. He’s played at the highest level internationally and won with every team he’s played for…” — Hawks GM Wes Wilcox
For Delaney, to have an NBA team seek him out was something that meant a lot to him:
“I’m happy. For me, I took the long route. I just work hard so now it makes me appreciate it a little bit more, having a team really believe in me and actually want me to come in an contribute to the team. It’s what I wanted.” — Malcolm Delaney
Analysing Delaney’s Game
Alright, now you know a little bit more about Delaney’s basketball journey up to this point — a very good college career, went undrafted, played abroad for five years, and now he’s headed to the NBA. I could’ve just said that to sum up his career up this point, but decided to write wrote over 3000 words about it instead… Hmmm….
Anyways, let’s get to the stuff that really matters — the on court stuff. What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses? How is he as an overall player? How does his game fit in with the Hawks?
Just something worth noting before we kick off, I’m no expert when it comes to Delaney’s game, but having watched a number of full games I feel as though this is a good sample size with which to get a grasp of his characteristics and tendencies as a player, especially given the nature of these games (both wins and losses, and league and knockout games, including the decisive Game 5 of the EuroLeague playoffs vs. Barcelona and the Final Four showdown with CSKA Moscow in Berlin).
If you were interested in checking out some Delaney footage for yourself, you can find a number of games — from 2016 — that he has played in on YouTube. “Lokomotiv Kuban 2016” is a good enough search to find you plenty of games.
Oh, and a golden rule when searching for Delaney on the court: he always wears a headband. In these clips, he’s always wearing a white headband, so if you’re unsure who or where Malcolm Delaney is on the court, just look for the white headband and you’ll be good.
Delaney is certainly a capable passer and averaged 5.5 assists in the EuroLeague last season, which was seventh most in the EuroLeague. When it came to total number of assists, Delaney ranked third with 172 assists.
Delaney is a willing passer, and is certainly capable of setting up his teammates. I wouldn’t say he’s a pass first point guard — it’s clear that his role of point guard is an adapted one — but he’s certainly not selfish and he can certainly pass.
“I can score the same as I did in college, but I’m a way better passer.” — Malcolm Delaney
Delaney’s playmaking ability should translate in the NBA, and he believes the space that NBA teams operate in (compared to the packed paint that Delaney has become accustomed to operate in) should open up even more opportunities for him and his teammates when he has the ball.
“The spacing in the NBA is going to help me out a lot because everybody’s packed in overseas and I’m still able to create for myself and everybody else. I just want to get a chance to get in some space in the NBA where people can’t just sit in the paint.” — Malcolm Delaney
That was something I noticed when watching Lokomotiv play — the floor spacing was not good. When Delaney received the ball, he never had much space to operate with, there was always help close by to slow him down. So if he was able to create offense despite the space restrictions he was faced with, he should be able to replicate that playmaking success in the NBA with more space to work with.
Delaney’s greatest strength is definitely his shooting. He has always (besides his first year at Virginia Tech) been a scorer and, if I could put it in my own words, he can just hit jump shots, man. He ranked third in the EuroLeague in three-point attempts (172) and makes (70), shooting it at a 40% clip.
As you saw in that montage, Delaney can hit some really tough shots and some clutch shots too. Look at how many times he shot with a hand in his grill, he made an awful lot of very difficult shots.
Similar to his passing, Delaney’s shooting will greatly benefit from the NBA spacing that he will now operate him. A lot the shots he made featured a hand in his face, so even though the NBA three-point line is a little further back than the international three-point line Delaney’s ability to shoot the basketball, again, should translate.
What’s great about Delaney, when it comes to him as a shooter, is that he’s not a chucker. He’s an unselfish player and for how good of a shooter he is, that is encouraging to see.
Penetration/getting to the line
Delaney isn’t a one trick pony. Yes he can shoot, and he’s good at it, but he can get to the rim too.
Operating with NBA space, Delaney will have better opportunities to beat his man off of the dribble and get to the rim, get to the line. He does a great of taking contact, and also clever when it comes to drawing contact on the perimeter, this is just one example.
Delaney led the entire EuroLeague in total fouls drawn by a considerable amount, 201 fouls drawn — the next closest in fouls drawn was Nando de Colo with 175.
Delaney is also capable of living at the free throw line. He ranked second in free throws per game attempted (5.61), and led the EuroLeague in total free throws attempted (174) and made (148) while shooting them at an 85% clip. In the Final Four game against CSKA, Delaney shot 12-for-12 at the free throw line — very reliable free throw shooter.
Delaney also appears to have a very good track record when it comes to being available to play every night. The worst injury that I could find that he sustained was a knee injury in 2014, which the team said would keep sidelined him for 2-3 weeks.
According to that interview with The Roanoke Times, Delaney broke the league record for minutes played last season. He played 1031 minutes in the EuroLeague last season, 193 minutes more than his teammate, Victor Claver, who finished second in minutes played with 838. Delaney also led the league in minutes played per game, averaging 33 minutes per contest.
Delaney seems like a player who will be available to play pretty much every night, and that’s very important for the Hawks (for beginning of the season at the very least), since it’s hard to imagine Jarrett Jack will be (a) available or (b) in game shape.
I’m very torn on Delaney’s defense — he’s very much a mixed bag when it comes to defense. He can play pretty good/adequate defense, and he play pretty bad defense.
Defensive lapses like this, where he loses his man who is right behind him (and in arms reach too), are not ideal:
And then there’s plays like this, where Delaney just stands around, completely loses his man, and then just points — as if to say “Who’s man is that?” — as CSKA’s Kyle Hines comes steaming through the lane.
This lack of focus appears to be a trend in his defensive game. Here, he loses all track of Nick Calathes and shows absolutely no urgency to recover and contest the shot.
The defensive aspect of Delaney’s game is something that has been noted as a thing of concern by multiple people who have watched him play:
“As often happens Delaney’s ability to play defence strongly correlates with his level of engagement. During the playoffs he has raised the intensity and looks quite sharp disrupting passing lanes. During the regular season he was a defensive liability every now and then, which required extra effort from his teammates…” — Timur Rustamov
“Delaney wasn’t great [on defence] but he at least worked pretty hard on the defensive end…” — Simon Jatcsh
Watching that VTB (league) game against CSKA and the EuroLeague Top 16 game against Panathinakos (which was not a knockout game as the name might suggest), Delaney didn’t try as hard on the defensive end as he did in Game 5 against Barcelona or the Final Four game vs. CSKA.
But that’s not to say that Delaney was prone to poor defense in important games too. From Lokomotiv’s decisive Game 5 vs. Barcelona:
Yikes… That doesn’t look great, does it?
But look, let’s be fair here. He does try on the defensive end, and I found loads of examples where he’s legitimately trying on defense and is adequate in doing so. Plays like this leads me to believe that he certainly has the tools to be a good defender, but the desire has to be there for him to want to be that:
Not many players are getting passed Delaney when he’s locked in like this.
And certainly no one is getting past when he’s moving his feet like this:
And my favorite defensive clip of the entire bunch vs. Milos Teodosic, the third leading scorer in the entire EuroLeague:
Delaney is also capable of the hustle plays like this:
And this (look how quickly Delaney slides over to get into position for the charge):
The defensive potential is there, he can be an adequate (heck, maybe even a good) NBA defender, but has to want to be that.
That said, a lot of these defensive plays did come in the most important games of the season for Lokomotiv, where journalists claim is the only time when Delaney is interested in playing defense on a consistent basis. The big question is will this kind of defense always be there now that Delaney has finally made it to the NBA? Will he be willing to play this kind of defense against the Phoenix Suns in March?
The signs would point to yes, not only because it has been Delaney’s dream to play in the NBA, but there’s another incentive for Delaney now that he’s made it to the NBA:
“How the salary cap is now is motivating me to try to go in and play well and set myself up and my family up for the rest of our lives. The NBA is a game-changer. You get in there, you play well and you get one of those big contracts for four or five years — that’s the dream, not just playing in the NBA. For me, just being on an NBA court was never a dream. I want to be able to make an impact on the team and get what I’m worth as well.” — Malcolm Delaney
Delaney is looking for NBA job stability and financial stability, which will mean playing well for the Hawks. He wants that 4/5 year deal and the only way he’s going to get that is if he performs and digs deep on both sides of the floor. You’d imagine — to realise this goal of stability — that he’s going to be locked in, focused, and ready to play defense.
The body language doctor would be very concerned if he saw Malcolm Delaney play. He’s very quick to point fingers and just displays generally bad body language, which is concerning.
If you look at the beginning of this play, you can see Delaney at the top of your picture. He’ll stray away from his man, who comes storming toward the rim while Delaney is looking at his teammates and pointing at him as to say “Who’s man is that?”.
That was your man, Malcolm. Don’t point fingers at others for your mistakes.
After providing a very poor defensive effort on this transition play (which led to a Barcelona bucket) Delaney again shows his displeasure.
The only person he should be angry with himself for giving such a poor effort on that defensive possession.
After his teammate fails to catch Delaney’s pass (resulting in a turnover), Delaney shows his frustration with his teammate by throwing his hands up in the air in the direction of his teammate.
He chooses to show his displeasure first before tracking back…
With four seconds left on the shot clock, Delaney decides to give the ball to his teammate on the perimeter. By the time he receives it, there’s only two seconds left on the clock and his defender is right there with him. When the shot clock violation occurs, Delaney’s shoulders drop and, again, the hands go up.
And this type of behaviour is not limited to these four clips, Delaney behaves like this often in games. Not only that, but he is constantly complaining to the refs about something — he never seems to stop. Expect him to receive a few technical fouls this season in Atlanta…
Like I said, I’m torn on Delaney’s defense, which is why I’m in limbo about it.
The on/off defensive switch was the main concern for me, but there’s at least potential there. What I’m about to bring up are very minor things, but things that stood out to me nevertheless.
Delaney’s shot selection isn’t always great (again, at least he’s not a chucker), and he goes to ground pretty easily. I’m not sure if he has a reputation for flopping, but he seemed very easy to barrel over — he’s on the ground often.
He’s also not the most active mover off the ball. He’s prone to stand around on some possessions, and wouldn’t cut as much as (for example) DeAndre’ Bembry. In a system that uses a lot of off-ball movement, that’s a little concerning. I’m sure he can adjust though…
Lastly, and I don’t know if this was a product of how Lokomotiv played defense or not, but Delaney makes very little effort to fight over picks and stick with his man, settling for a switch onto a big man almost every single time a pick and roll occurs. And I literally mean every single time. Again, I don’t know if the defensive philosophy was “switch everything” but Daleney doesn’t make much effort at all to prevent a switch that is detrimental to his team.
How will Delaney’s game translate in Atlanta?
Well, his ability to shoot and pass the ball will serve him very well, especially against the second units he’ll be facing. With court spacing that is sure to benefit the strongest aspects of his game (passing and shooting), Delaney should be able to contribute right away.
His ability to create his own offense (and for others) with his penetration will be welcomed by Coach Bud as will his ability to get to the free throw line, which is something that the Hawks will really need now that Jeff Teague is out of the picture.
However, he’ll need to be focused on the defensive end, he’ll have to work on not pointing fingers and being accountable for his own mistakes, and work on fighting over picks because NBA players will punish the mismatches created by switches an awful lot more than the players in the EuroLeague will punish you.
But I do believe Delaney will work hard to stick around now that he’s fulfilled his dream to make it to the NBA — he will want to prove he belongs here for many years and will want to earn himself a decent living in the process. You’ve seen how good his defense can be when he’s focused. I think that’s something that bodes well.
His versatility to play both guard positions and his ability to be a scorer and a playmaker is something Coach Bud will value. He’s sure to be the backup point guard, at least to begin the season.
“But what about Jarrett Jack?”
Yes, I understand Jack is a bigger, more famous name than Malcolm Delaney, but Jack is just coming off an ACL injury (and meniscus damage suffered in the same motion) and he’ll be 33 years old when the season starts. He’s not going to feature much at all to begin the season and Delaney should be considered as the definitive backup point.
It’s taken 5 years of hard work and patience, but Malcolm Delaney isn’t just here to fill a seat on an NBA bench…
“I’m too competitive to just go somewhere and just sit on the bench just to say I played there.”
“I’m just ready to play.” — Malcolm Delaney
A lifelong dream has been fulfilled, but the real work begins now.
Reference articles and quotes:
Malcolm Delaney’s collegiate offers, 2006
“Malcolm Delaney: ‘I have a lot to prove’ to NBA scouts” — Baltimore Sun, 2011
“NBA dream closer for Malcolm Delaney” — interview with HoopsHype, 2014
“All Malcolm Delaney does is win championships” — Ball in Europe, 2015
“The Path Less Traveled: Malcolm Delaney’s Journey to the NBA” — The Broken Clipboard, 2016
“Former Virginia Tech star Malcolm Delaney looking forward to playing in NBA” — The Roanoke Times, 2016
“Q and A with Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney” — The AJC, 2016
“Hawks Re-Sign Humphries, Add Jack & Delaney” — Atlanta Hawks, 2016
Malcolm Delaney’s collegiate and international stats — DraftExpress
Malcolm Delaney’s Wikipedia page