NBA Draft profile: Shabazz Muhammad

NBA Draft profile: Shabazz Muhammad
June 9, 2013, 9:00 pm
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On June 27, the Wizards will take part in the 2013 NBA draft, their initial offseason step toward making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Currently the owner of picks 3, 38 and 54, the franchise could go in almost any direction with those selections - including trading them. For our purposes, we'll assume selections are made in the first and second round and therefore we need to know more about the potential prospects.

Washington's primary needs, some of which will be addressed during free agency, include adding overall scoring punch, finding a power forward with perimeter touch, long-term answer at small forward, plus backups for John Wall and Bradley Beal. Between now and the draft, we’re going to identify some of the players the Wizards might target and provide analysis from coaches, scouts, beat writers and national analysts.

Up first Shabazz Muhammad, a controversial point-producer Washington could select if it trades down into the back half of the lottery. 

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Draft Express overall ranking: No. 10

Height/Weight: 6-6, 225 lb (combine numbers)

Key stats: 17.9 points, 5.2 rebounds in 2012-13

The player: A cold-blooded scorer, Muhammad entered the college ranks as arguably the top recruit in the 2012 class (Rivals put the Las Vegas resident first; ESPN slotted him No. 2 behind Kentucky center Nerlens Noel). The left-hander also entered his freshman season late because eligibility concerns led to a three-game suspension from the NCAA. That set the tone for a rocky one-and-done campaign, which included a revelation that the supposed 19-year-old is not a teenager, but 20 years of age. Once he made it onto the court, Muhammad demonstrated his varied offensive game, reaching double figures in 31 of 32 games and scoring at least 20 points 14 times. Of course, one would hope for high-scoring totals seeing as he took 456 shots compared to only 27 assists.

The fit: Regardless of position, the Wizards need more scoring punch plus players ready to contribute. Clearly, Muhammad can answer that bell with his ability to score as a wing, which is where the roster currently lacks options behind Bradley Beal. Muhammad already has an NBA physique and a professional scoring aptitude. Besides his crafty moves around the basket, he sank 37.7 percent of his 3-point attempts with the Bruins. While not considered a knockdown shooter, Muhammad's presence would provide another spread-the-floor threat for the assisting John Wall.

The issue: Tearing down prospects is inevitably part of the draft assessment process, but nobody's game has received more critique than Muhammad has. The numerous critiques seem part reality - not a tremendous athlete, selfish scorer, uncertain NBA position - and part jilted lovers with the talent evaluators playing the part of the scorned; he's not who they thought he was. Then again, the player who produced and hustled as a prep star rarely showed on the college level. "He stopped playing hard," one college basketball source told CSNwashington. "The image people have of [Indiana guard Victor] Oladipo is how Shabazz played in High School. He played hard as hell. He was all over the place. I didn't see that this year...I'm not a big Shabazz fan. I don't know how good he's going to be at the next level."

The analysis (all told exclusively to CSNwashington)

NBA scout: "My impression is he's a small forward in a two-guard's body. Lack of size and not the greatest athlete, but he has an innate ability to score the ball, for better or worse. Sometimes it's at the expense of his teammates. He can get blinders on and be a black hole, but he knows how to score. He needs to work on his ball handling. Is a good spot-up shooter and is a very good transition scorer. Also, kind of crafty around the basket. Defensively he could be better. He didn't have a great year at UCLA. Didn't come in shape, missed the first few games because of suspension, just a discombobulated year out there."

Georgetown coach John Thompson III (Muhammad's first college game came against the Hoyas): "He's got good size, a good body. Physically he's NBA ready to compete just in terms of size, strength, speed. He has a knack for accomplishing things. You can chop it up and say, 'he's not the best shooter in the world, not the best dribbler in the world', but he has a knack for being effective. That should carry over to the next level. I don't think in terms of positions, but that is how most people think. You look at Shabazz and wonder what hole people are going to try and plug him into. I'm not sure about that...(age change) We only have the players for such a short window. [The pros are] going to have him as long as the kid's career goes for so I think they start looking at when is he peaking, when is he not peaking...I would not have looked at him any differently as a college coach knowing he's a year older than reported - but the pros will."

Nicole Auerbach, USA Today: "There is so much bad publicity related to off court matters, things not even related to him necessarily and not just about basketball. Yet those are among the things teams look at when they're figuring out whether to draft guys and there a lot of guys without all those red flags...Basketball-wise, after missing those first couple of games, he was a little overweight at the start of the season. He lost around 15 pounds early in the season and started playing much better. UCLA got good in the middle of the season and that was because he was playing really well...I think he has the talent - he's not as great of an athlete as some of the other guys... He's going to be a very interesting guy to keep an eye on. I have no idea how he's going to do in the next level."

The summation: One year ago, it's conceivable if not likely that Muhammad would have been a top-3 selection. Now it feels like no team wants him; in his latest mock draft, ESPN's Chad Ford slotted him to the Celtics with the 16th pick. The loathing has gotten to the point where Muhammad might be underrated, especially if the outside touch he showed at UCLA is not a passing fad - and he remembers to occasionally pass the ball. Also note several UCLA players have performed better in the pros than expected, including Kevin Love and Jrue Holiday. The athleticism and positional concerns combined with his lack of a caring-is-sharing approach is what will have high lottery teams passing on him. The Wizards will and should after making strides as a pass-first squad last season. Same applies if they trade down into the 8-12 range -- that is unless Ernie Grunfeld and company believe the pre-college version of Muhammad is the truth. At this point, it appears that would be a rather lonely opinion.