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.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.