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.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.