Shabazz Muhammad

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

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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.

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NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on in the first half of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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