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).

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.