As expected, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad declares for draft

13 Comments

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).

Brett Brown on Ben Simmons: ‘His jump shot’s not going to define him’

Getty
Leave a comment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are expected this season to join Philadelphia’s Big Three.

No, not as franchise cornerstones – the No. 1 draft picks were already part of that trio with All-Star center Joel Embiid.

But as long-distance shooters, Simmons and Fultz went 0 for the season on 3s; Simmons, the NBA rookie of the year, missed all 11 attempts and Fultz went 0 for 1 from 3-point range.

Sixers coach Brett Brown said both players have put in the work needed on their jumpers, though neither player will ever become defined by his work beyond the arc. Brown said Fultz took about 150,000 shots this summer under the tutelage of trainer Drew Hanlen. Simmons has worked with his brother, Liam, a former college basketball assistant coach, at 3s and shooting from the elbow.

Simmons attempted just one 3 in the postseason and he’ll have to establish some sort of long-range jumper to become a serious all-around threat in the NBA.

“His jump shot’s not going to define him,” Brown said Tuesday. “At some point, it will sure help. But I have aspirations, ambitions for him where I want him to feature on an all-defensive team. I personally want to post him more. I look forward to using him as a screener and giving Markelle the ball and let him roll out of it, that Blake Griffin-sort of half-roll and go to dunk.”

Simmons also needed work on his free throws: He made 191 of 341 for just 56 percent.

“Imagine if he can score one more point, it translates to like three to five more wins,” Brown said. “When I look at how you’re going to do that, that’s one way that interests me, let’s just get him more free throws. Can you finish, can you be a better free-throw shooter than you were in the regular season? He has to be.”

Fultz, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft, is bordering on bust territory after just one season. His rookie year was derailed by a mysterious shoulder injury, a broken shot and confidence issues. He played the first four games, missed 68 games because of injury, and then was benched in the playoffs against the Celtics. The most baffling moment came when he refused to answer questions about his shoulder, simply staring blankly ahead and rubbing his head.

Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he did play, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA. No one in the organization could pinpoint when Fultz’s form went awry, though he started experiencing soreness shortly after he was drafted.

Brown said he was part of a “Team Markelle” formed this summer to help get the 20-year-old back on track.

“When I see him now come back into our gym, you look at his swagger, his cocky side, his mojo, he’s seeking shots,” Brown said. “He really is not bashful. When I look at the actual form, there are times, from a posture standpoint, he’s a little bit backward. When you look at him rising up, or getting the ball in his shot pocket, sometimes his head will go back and he’ll play more in a fade-type fundamental that we want to try and correct.”

But if Simmons can’t shoot and Fultz can’t shoot, then how are they going to play together on a Sixers team that won 52 games last season?

“At (some) point of the game, is it the start, is it ending, those two guys will play together,” Brown said. “There’s zero doubt we’ll go through some growing pains as everyone expects and should expect.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Knicks’ Courtney Lee denies report he wants to be traded to contender

Associated Press
1 Comment

The Knicks have moves to make to ensure they have enough cap space to go big game hunting among free agents next summer. That means some kind of buyout/waive and stretch with Joakim Noah and making decisions on guys such as Lance Thomas, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Ron Baker.

Another idea that has been at least explored is trading Courtney Lee, although there was no real traction there this summer. That led to a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post that Lee wants to be traded to a contender.

Lee does not want to be traded, he made it clear to Ian Begley of ESPN.

There can be something to both reports. Does Lee want to be traded? No. He wants to stay a Knick. However, if they are shopping him, he’d probably rather land with a playoff team or contender than another rebuilding team.

Which is what the Knicks are this year with Kristaps Porzingis injured, it’s a season about new coach David Fizdale laying a foundation and starting to change the culture, not wins or the playoffs.

Whether he wants it or not, Lee’s name will come up in trade rumors this season. Whether the Knicks can ultimately find a deal is another question entirely.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

Getty
3 Comments

Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

AP
2 Comments

No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.