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).