Draft questions linger for Shabazz Muhammad as he officially declares
UCLA and Shabazz Muhammad made official on Tuesday what former coach Ben Howland leaked in March and pretty much everyone had suspected since @Phenom15Balla was the most highly discussed prep recruit: He’s heading to the NBA after one season in Westwood.
Between his recruitment, the NCAA’s involvement, the early three-game suspension and his play on the court, Muhammad has never been lacking as a discussion topic, and that will continue now that he is officially a pro prospect. He had a pretty decent season as a Bruin, showing off a more consistent three-point shot than expected and mostly blending in as a 17-point-a-game scorer on the Pac-12 regular-season champs. That said, there may be as many or more questions than answers about him as a pro heading into June’s draft.
I had the good fortune last year to be in Las Vegas when Muhammad’s Bishop Gorman High School team faced Vegas-based national powerhouse Findlay Prep. It was a good opportunity to see Muhammad against a team comprised of (almost) equally hyped college prospects, even though Findlay’s Anthony Bennett (himself now a one-and-doner after a solid season at UNLV) didn’t play. Muhammad’s team lost the game and he didn’t have a great afternoon, padding his overall stat line in the fourth quarter after the result was more or less decided. The bigger takeaway, though, was how relatively average he looked physically against top prep talent, particularly now-San Diego State rising sophomore Winston Shepard. Muhammad’s well-regarded effort level on the court wasn’t enough for him to be productive on that day.
As he played his way through a college season, some of the same questions have persisted. He definitely plays hard, but he’s not an elite athlete or have plus-size in terms of playing small forward at the NBA level. He also doesn’t have an elite offensive skill in terms of projecting as a pro. He showed some ability to score in spurts. He can get out in transition and finish, and was surprisingly effective in halfcourt situations, thanks in large part to high-30 percent three-point shooting and his ability to find buckets around the rim.
However, he was average coming off screens and very poor from inside the arc, making just 22-of-82 two-point jump shot attempts, per Synergy Sports Technology. That was a little odd, since he actually was a decent shooter on contested shots overall, but it’s a part of his game he’ll have to develop because he’s not going to be able to solely feast around the rim and from the deeper arc at the next level.
Muhammad also averaged fewer than one assist a game and, to be charitable, was not a very good defender this season. With his work ethic and general size, that could improve, but he’ll need coaching and to be dedicated to adding that to his game. He’ll need to diversify what he offers, because I don’t think he’s explosive enough or skilled enough to be a one-note scorer in the NBA at the small forward spot. It could be to Muhammad’s advantage to drop a little farther down in the first round and wind up with a better team.
Muhammad obviously won’t be fazed by the spotlight of the NBA. He’s been prepping for this for awhile. And he’s certainly not a bad player, and one who looks like he has the ability and mentality to improve should he land in the right situation. I just don’t see, based on what he offered in his season as a collegian, a surefire lottery pick or a player that will make a huge impact early in his career. What he does after that will be up to him.