As expected, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad declares for draft

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While his stock has fallen in the last few months — he’s gone from a guy considered in the top three to a guy DraftExpress has going No. 9 overall right now — this was still expected.

UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad has declared for the NBA draft, the school announced on Tuesday.

“I am so thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at UCLA and will always be proud to be a Bruin,” Muhammad said in a released statement. “From a young age, I have dreamed of playing in the NBA, and I believe that this is the right time for me to move to the next level.”

Muhammad is a 20-year-old, 6’6” swingman with a strong 220-pound frame and a crazy 6’11” wingspan. That length and a real intensity on the court make him a good defender on the wing and that is going to help him in the NBA (although his defensive focus could waiver when his offense struggled).

On the other end of the court, he’s a scorer, pure and simple. He led the Bruins with 17.9 points a game. But there are questions about how his game translates to the NBA.

First, he gets very little of his offense in isolation or in the pick-and-roll (less than 6 percent at UCLA, according to DraftExpress), which is something he’s going to have to do a lot more of at the NBA level.

Muhammad is what you would call a “bully scorer” — he used his superior strength to muscle his way into position to get buckets. He scored from the post a lot, he got to the line a lot, he ran curls to get the ball at the free throw line and made one-dribble moves a lot. There are some guys who can be successful using their strength to score in the NBA — LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony get points that way — but Muhammad is going to struggle to do that against the men of the NBA, his physical advantages dissipate. He isn’t big or strong enough to be able to post up a lot of NBA threes. He’s not such an athlete that he will dominate on the wing.

Also, he’s left hand dominant to a ridiculous degree and needs to develop a better right hand.

Scouts are picking apart his game right now and so he falls down the board (a year ago he was thought to be the No. 1 pick in this draft). There were recruiting questions. The fact that his father was heavy-handed in his development and had listed him as 19 for years when an L.A. Times investigation found he was 20 doesn’t help (it’s easier to use your strength to score as a teenager when you’re a year older than the competition). There are questions.

But he’s long and can defend, and he has a scorer’s mentality. He can fit in the NBA. He’s going to have to work and adjust, but he can become a good rotation player. And he’s going to go in the lottery, so this was a smart move for him (even if Steve Alford would have loved to have him for a year).

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.

Mike Brown still waiting on Tyronn Lue to pay up overdue bet

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mike Brown is ready for Tyronn Lue to pay up on a nearly two-decade-old bet. Yep, Lue owes him $100 and Brown plans to accept it at long last – perhaps even during the NBA Finals when they see each other.

All this time Brown never wanted the money he earned by beating Lue in a shooting contest when the Cavaliers coach was an NBA newcomer, yet Golden State’s acting coach – who spent two stints leading Cleveland – joked how Lue can surely afford it these days.

“I’m glad he finally admitted that he owes me money because for many years he wouldn’t admit that he owed me money. He does owe me $100 and since he got his new deal hopefully he can afford to pay me now,” Brown said Saturday post-practice. “I asked him many time for it but he’s denied it. He’s denied that the game ever took place.”

Lue insists he has tried to pay up – time and time again, to no avail.

“Mike, I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. That’s all I ever know about Mike,” Lue said Saturday. “I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take the money so he says I always owe him. He’s always been a great guy.”

The 40-year-old Lue was rewarded with a contract extension after the Cavs’ championship run last June for the city’s first major sports title in 52 years. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit to the Warriors, and now the teams are preparing to face off for a third straight year.

“I think what it has to do with, it has to do with the fact he’s got a nice, long, fat contract with the Cavs and he realizes that he can finally afford to pay me the money that he owes me for the shooting game back in 2000 or whenever it was,” Brown said with a grin.

Brown acknowledged he cannot recall any other details such as how many shots each man made, saying: “I don’t even remember, that was back when I was in shape and a good shooter. He’d kill me now”

“Yeah, he was with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost,” Lue said. “He wouldn’t take the money so from now on 19 years in a row always says, `You owe me $100.’ He won’t take the money. Always been close to Mike and I like Mike a lot, respect him a lot.”