PBT NBA Draft Preview: Has Shabazz Muhammad slid into a real value pick?

10 Comments

For the next five weeks PBT will be profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Tonight we look at UCLA’s star from last season.

If you looked at the early 2013 NBA draft projections that came out right after the 2012 draft, Shabazz Muhammad was in everybody’s top three. He was the college recruit that was going to save Ben Howland at UCLA and go on to be a big-time NBA player.

Things look very different a year later.

In college the weaknesses in Muhammad’s game were exposed and he couldn’t just be a bully scorer anymore. Then came the revelation in a Los Angeles Times piece that he is 20 years old, not 19. (When you play a physical game, being a high schooler a year older than everyone is a big advantage.) Right now DraftExpress has him going at No. 10.

I got to see a fair amount of him in college and Muhammad can still ball — he can score a variety of ways and he can defend, he’s high energy — but he’s seen as a rotation player on the wing (he’s 6’6”). Sometimes players like this that slide can slide too far — they go from being overvalued to undervalued. We’ll see if that’s the case here.

STRENGTHS

He can score. He’s physically strong and knows how to use that to get the shots he wants — he’s what you’d call a bully scorer in a lot of ways. He made a living in college just dominating smaller defenders and he can do that in the pros. He also runs the floor really well and can score in transition.

If he goes to a team with a strong point guard already he can be very dangerous — he can catch and shoot threes, he can cut and slash, and with that strength he finishes around the rim.

But really the best thing about him is the effort — when things are going his way (he can slack when shots don’t fall). When he’s on he doesn’t take plays off at either end. He will work hard on defense, he’s physical and he can grind. He wants to get better. He has the mentality Tom Thibodeau would love. Which is a good sign.

WEAKNESSES

He’s very one-handed — he’s all left hand. That makes him easier to defend and that was already a bit of an issue. While he knows how to score he’s not a guy who can really create his own shot at the NBA level. He could be a guy taking a lot of contested runners. Again, this becomes about fit, in the right system his style of scoring would have value. But he’s not a guy you want to get in a lot of isolation situations in the NBA.

The other concern is that he’s not that athletic (solid but not explosive by NBA standards) and he’s an inch or two shorter than a handful of the threes he likely guards at the NBA. While he has the effort, is he ripe to get abused in mismatches?

There also were a number of red flags for teams — academic issues, an overbearing father, questions about how good a teammate he was. Interviews at the draft combine and at workouts will matter a lot for him; he needs to dispel all that.

WHERE DOES HE GET DRAFTED?

Probably between five and 10 (DraftExpress says 10). Again, this is a guy I think could really thrive in the right system with the right point guard next to him. Teams such as the Wizards, the Timberwolves and the Trail Blazers (with guards who can create for him) could put Muhammad in the rotation and get some value right away.

Also remember to look at the guys who have come out of Ben Howland’s UCLA in recent years (Jrue Holiday, for example) — they look a lot better in the pros than they did in his system.

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”

 

Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by the team).

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

Getty Images
11 Comments

This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.