8) Detroit Pistons: Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF, UCLA
Basic Stats: 17.9 PPG, 5.2 REB, .08 AST, .07 STL
There are a lot of issues surrounding Shabazz Muhammad and that has rightfully scared some bloggers, mockers, and teams away. He has dropped out of the lottery on some draft boards, but none of that had to do with skill level; he still has the same ability he had in April. Even so, when you’re a top high school recruit, disappoint in your freshman year, lie about your age, and seem to be surrounded by generally shady decision-makers, this is what happens. Muhammad would have been a top three pick had he been afforded the luxury of entering the NBA right out of high school, but alas, NBA scouts were granted another year to pick apart his young game. And they did.
To go off on a bit of a tangent, consider that Andrew Wiggins is largely considered to be the best player not playing in the NBA right now. He has yet to play a second in college so no footage exists of him consistently battling similarly skilled players. If he entered the draft today, he’d likely go number one or two. He may still go number one next year, but he will certainly be considered less of a sure thing after we discover some flaw in his game. This is basically what happened to Shabazz Muhammad, who was widely regarded as the best player in his class. My main point is that no one’s game is perfect when they are 20 years old.
Shabazz Muhammad played some good but not great basketball and didn’t really improve as the season went on. He was the best player on a team the exited the NCAA tournament in the first round in a game in which he went 6 of 18 and 0 of 6 from deep. He never registered more than four assists and was dismissive of passing in general. He exhausts so much energy offensively that his defensive game suffers. He had more offensive rebounds than defensive, which is borderline unheard of for a guard, due to relentless attacking of the boards. Offensive rebounding, one of the ways in which he generates many of his scoring looks, is key to his game.
But that’s not the only way he scores. And it should be noted that drafting Shabazz Muhammad is all about scoring. Via DraftExpress.com,
Muhammad’s style of play is highly unconventional, as he rarely scores in isolation or pick and roll settings in the half-court, seeing just 6% of his offense in these situations. Instead, he gets most of his points leaking out in transition, moving off the ball, as a spot-up shooter, posting up relentlessly, crashing the offensive glass, and coming off short curls in the mid-range area where he’s only forced to put the ball on the floor once or twice to get all the way to the basket. He gets to the free throw line nearly seven times per-40, which is a testament to his aggressiveness and scoring instincts more than anything, as well as his ability to overpower opposing players.
Muhammad is wholly not reliant on isolation, which is about as important a skill as is possible for an offensive player in today’s NBA. There are few pure isolation players who effectively do damage without a strong post game. Off-ball movement and craftiness are underrated and difficult-to-develop skills. Shabazz Muhammad is 20 years old, already built for the NBA, and moves off the ball like a veteran. Forget lying about his age, he could be 24 and this would still be impressive.
But, can he really shoot? If he can’t hit an NBA three much of this is unimportant. He drilled 40 of 106 tries in his freshman season, but only hit 71% from the free throw line, which always makes me worry about pure shooting ability. He shot 31% from deep in high school, and while I imagine he definitely improved with an extra year of practice, I find it hard to believe he is definitely a knockdown shooter at this point in his basketball life.
But this is something the Pistons can live with. After trading Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons started Kyle Singler at the small forward position for the remainder of the season. While he was serviceable, he was certainly a net negative player and is destined to be a role player off the bench. Detroit’s offense was in the bottom third of the league, and the roster is devoid of even a single player who is approaching reliable on the offensive end. Shabazz Muhammad can someday solve a number of these offensive issues and he can do it in a variety of ways.
Shabazz Muhammad stands as a symbol for all those who campaign for a return to the early entry policy for high school seniors to declare for the NBA Draft. He stood as the No.1 player in the nation heading into a much-heralded freshman year at UCLA. His NBA comparisons were an impressive list of All-Stars and MVPs. He even had the eligibility issues that normally point to a worthwhile recruit. But after that one season in the Pac-12 playing with teammates he didn’t like and for a coach he didn’t listen to, Muhammad’s scouting report shows much less shine than it did just 12 months ago.
Everyone knows about Muhammad’s fear of passing (had an unreal 27 total assists in 32 games played) and his severe allergy to defense (Defensive Rating of 104.8 last season), but if there is one thing that he can do about as well as anyone in this draft, it’s putting the ball in the basket. He averaged 18 points a game as a one-man show for the Bruins and has constantly been praised for his high motor and competitiveness on the court. Scouts question his ability to go right and whether he can hit jumpers off the dribble but those enhancements are easier when a player has a stroke that is as fundamentally sound as Muhammad’s. His shooting percentages sank as the season progressed (possibly a sign of the wear and tear from carrying his team offensively) but he was hitting 3’s at a 48% clip prior to conference play starting up. He’s got a good body at 6’6” 225 lbs., and although he didn’t test off the charts athletically, he presents enough speed and size to remain versatile on the next stage.
Muhammad’s issues that cause me the most concern actually lie outside of the basketball court. I am wary of his selfish nature but also consider that playing with elite talent on the next stage will allow him to earn trust in his teammates. But what strikes the most fear is whether he’ll be more of a nuisance away from the stadium than it’s worth for the production on game day. He was held out of play to start the season so some academic issues could be resolved, and it was later uncovered that his father lied about his age, claiming him to be 19 when he was really 20. In addition, it’s been well-publicized that he possesses some diva characteristics and remains aloof and away from his team. There is a possibility that maturity will come as he ages and develops, and a franchise shouldn’t judge the type of person he will be before he’s even old enough to order a beer. But with a top 10 selection in play, scrutiny will be as intense as necessary.
With all that said, enter the Detroit Pistons, a team with a budding young core and promising future. They’ve spent recent lottery picks to develop a dominant front line, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and shore up the ball handling duties in the backcourt , Brandon Knight. Now comes time to add the swingman scorer who can get 20 on anyone and will automatically improve the 10th worst offense in the league last season (103.8 points scored per 100 possessions). The Pistons are looking to make a splash in free agency and have shown interest in Andre Iguodala, but given Muhammad’s ability to play either shooting guard or small forward, this pairing could actually make sense. I could see Detroit making a safer play by nabbing C.J. McCollum from Lehigh or Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse but I believe that Muhammad may be the only potential game changer of the bunch that will be available with the #8 selection. With Tayshaun Prince out of town, a spot at the 3 just opened up in Motown. We don’t know if Shabazz Muhammad will be the next OJ Mayo or Joe Johnson. But taking the risk here and rolling the dice on what many folks once thought was a generational talent could be the way to bring DEEETROIT BASKETBALL back to relevance again.