With another marvelous NCAA tournament in the books, it’s time to shift our attention to the draft and evaluate prospects that could be suiting up for the Wizards next season.
Shabazz Muhammad, Freshman, SF, UCLA
32 games: 30.8MPG, 17.9PPG, 5.2RPG, 0.8APG, 0.7SPG, 44%FG, 38% 3FG
2012-13 season: Shabazz’s roller coaster season begun far before he stepped on UCLA hardwood. He suffered a right shoulder injury during a Bruins practice all the while being a victim to a highly publicized case by the NCAA that resulted in a 3 game suspension to start the season. Conditioning proved to be an issue with Muhammad once he was deemed eligible by the NCAA, as he struggled to shake off the rust and was consistently getting beat off the dribble on defense. Unfortunately, that rust never wore off and UCLA- featuring three top-20 recruits was blown out of the NCAA tournament with a round of 64 upset at the hands of 11th ranked Minnesota.
Yet, this doesn’t begin to tell the story of Shabazz Muhammad. During the wee hours leading up to the tipoff of March Madness, the LA Times dropped a bombshell on the Bruins star exposing him and his family of lying about his age in order to gain a physical and mental advantage over younger, lesser developed players during his amateur career. This may be viewed as just a menial setback had Shabazz lived up to his reputation in college, however his struggles paired with being dubbed as a prospect with “a nonstop motor that bullies defenders” manifested and intensified an already perplexing draft prospect.
Age isn’t the be-all and end- all of Shabazz Muhammad’s draft status. He was on the fast track to the NBA since birth due to the guidance of his father, Ron Holmes. He was afforded the luxury of top notch trainers, the best AAU teams, and one of the best high school programs in the nation. During the summers, his father would create teams in the popular summer circuit that tailored to his boy’s strengths. He turned down offers from higher profile programs such as Duke and Kentucky in order to join Coach Ben Howland, who he knew would cater to his boy, and a team that featured two highly unselfish ball handlers and big men that could spread the floor.
Now, the pampered prodigy is set to enter the draft process where he’ll meet with several league executives and will have to answer a lot of pressing questions.
Strengths: Muhammad can score the ball in a multitude of ways, preferring mostly to get the ball out on the break where he’s able to overpower defenders (though, those opportunities came at a premium) or filling the lane and spotting up in the corner. In halfcourt sets, he’s proficient when catching the ball in stride off screens and squaring up to the basket- though he does tend to come wide off them which impairs him from creating separation from his defender and forces the offense to run him off multiple screens. He’s a menace once he gets into the lane, using his body to his advantage and displays a soft touch around the basket.
Weaknesses: While Muhammad showed tremendous growth as a shooter both in spot up situations and off screens, the rest of his offense leaves a lot to be desired. His average ball handling skills and shortcomings going right with the ball places a huge burden on his isolation skills, which is a huge red flag for someone labeled as a “great scorer.” Defenses figured out early on once they stopped Muhammad going left, he’s relegated to resetting the offense or taking a contested jumper, which will be problematic for anyone at the next level with his limited athleticism.
His defense, particularly on ball was heavily targeted this season due to Shabazz’s poor conditioning and instincts. He’s not very quick moving laterally, and tends to overplay one side of the ball handler which puts him in an awful position once he’s hit with a ball fake or hesitation dribble. Off-ball he does a good job playing the passing lanes, lock and trailing his man, and using his strength to fight over screens. He is susceptible to ball watching, and generally has a hard time figuring out when to dig down on big men posting up and when to stay home on perimeter shooters.
His rebounding totals look impressive on paper, but diminish in substance once you take a look at the big men he played with. He’s caught leaking out too early and seems more intent on anticipating a missed shot rather than boxing out his man.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: Rookies often time struggle with adjusting to the NBA life, especially as it pertains to diet and year round training. This won’t be the case for Shabazz, who has been exposed to this regimen for years. He’s played in big games, played varsity basketball at a top ranked high school program as a freshman, and has the drive to become great (if not to simply expand a brand he’s been steadily evolving since he was 16 years young).
Muhammad’s fame at an early age is somewhat of a double edged sword. It helped him get noticed and propelled him to a top university with loads of opportunities to showcase his talents to NBA executives. However, it also exposed the world to his learning curve and how he’s moved along since his high school days. Then you start to compare him to guys less fortunate such as Ben McLemore who has struggled with poverty his entire life and has slowly adapted to the public eye, and you begin to see why he disappeared in games, or struggled to take command of the Jayhawks offense. He was a late bloomer in high school, redshirted his freshman year at Kansas, and improved his game so much that he’s considered a unanimous lock as a top 5 pick. An NBA regimen, all the luxuries that Shabazz was afforded earlier, will be bestowed onto McLemore, who will take his game to even higher levels.
The challenge is gauging just how much potential remains untapped as Muhammad leaves Westwood for greener pastures. He once was the physical freak that would bully you up and down the floor, but his peers are gradually catching up to that. His motor and physical dominance proved to be an effective veil for his rudimentary ball handling and defensive technique, but that no longer can stay concealed at the next level. He really hasn’t made the big strides that you see top draft picks generally making at his age, which begs the question, just how close to his ceiling are we?
This isn’t an investment worth making if you’re Ernie Grunfeld. This team struggled to score the ball in 2013, but similar to the Rudy Gay debate back at the NBA trade deadline, it is in no rush to shore up those weaknesses with an inefficient, one way player. You don’t select a player simply because he fills a hole on your depth chart.