Shabazz Muhammad, SG, UCLA (FR) [11/13/1992] - 6'5", 220lbs.
In what was expected to be an easy transition from top high school prospect to the next one-and-done high impact freshman turned out to be more for both sides than anticipated. Shabazz Muhammad showed flashes of what UCLA had hoped for when they recruited him to UCLA but his tenure at UCLA will be more remembered for his early season suspension and UCLA’s disappointing season. For what was seen as so much promise didn’t end as both sides would have liked.
Muhammad ran into some trouble early on, when the NCAA went on investigating a recruiting violation. While he was eventually cleared to play and only missed 3 games, it has played into the perception that he may be more trouble than he’s worth.
As the year went on, it also surfaced that Muhammad was in fact a year older than originally thought. While Muhammad never denied lying about his age, this was a surprise to many around the sport. A year difference in age might not seem as a big deal but age has shown to be one of the biggest factors in determining a prospect’s future success. 19 going on 20 are a lot different than 20 going on 21. It also calls into question if his success in high school was more so due to the age difference, where a year really can make a large difference.
Throughout the year, there were also other incidents of Muhammad that caused for concerns of selfishness to start creeping in. The main incident that sparked this was his actions on the court; during and after a teammate hit a game winning shot.
Despite all this, there is no denying the obvious skills and physical talents Muhammad possesses. When he’s on, he is one of the toughest competitors in the draft. His motor has a tendency to run hot and cold, which largely depends on if his shots are falling. When he’s tuned in, he can be effective on both ends with his attitude and intensity. When he’s tuned out, he can be a black hole on offense and a detriment on defense.
Muhammad’s offensive game is largely a power based game that has some thinking he will be a better fit at small forward in the NBA. While he doesn’t have an elite first step or blazing quickness, he is able to get to spots on the floor and create shots for himself. He is a very fundamentally sound player, showing off good footwork, good touch and showing a variety of ways to score. Largely a left-handed driver, he will need to balance this out in the NBA where scouting reports on NBA players are just a matter of time before defenses start to adjust. But, he is a very aggressive driver who creates a lot of opportunities from the free-throw line where he converts at a good rate (71%).
Muhammad is able to score on the block, in transition, from the perimeter and around the rim. He has the talent to put the ball into the hoop in a lot of different ways. To his credit, there were concerns about how well he would be able to shoot from the perimeter but he was able to put those concerns to rest this season. He shot the ball very well in spot-up situations and ended up shooting near 38% from 3 on the season. His jump shot looked mechanically sound, which should translate to the next level.
While there’s no denying Muhammad’s talent to score, he offers little else on the offensive end. When playing off the ball, Muhammad can be seen taking some plays off. He can also be seen freelancing and watching plays take place instead of staying in the play. The bigger problem is that when driving, Muhammad usually looks for his shot and his shot alone. His assist rates are very low and only totaled 27 assists on the year. For someone who has shown the ability to create, his vision isn’t there to make for a potential creator on offense.
As aforementioned, when he’s locked in on defense, Muhammad can be a pest. But the problem is, there’s never a consistent presence on the defensive end. Muhammad needs a strong coach in order to get the most out of him on the defensive end, where he can be a good player. His hot and cold motor, combined with his ordinary lateral quickness and his measurements will make for a middling defender. For a player of his physical skillset though, only 27 combined steals and blocks are unacceptable.
One other place Muhammad has shown a penchant for being good at outside of scoring is rebounding. He is aggressive mentality shines through in this aspect, especially on the offensive glass in which he attacks in search of rebounds to put back in for easy points.
Something to mention is that the UCLA system that largely plagued other UCLA players, is also the same one that could have possibly held Muhammad back.
For a team looking for a highly competitive scorer, Muhammad is a great fit for that. But for a team looking for more from their wing player, might be disappointed.
There are questions about what positions Muhammad will play, whether his game is better suited for shooting guard or small forward. These concerns could push him down the draft board, as teams are sometimes weary about players without a true position.
Regardless, Muhammad’s talent is undeniable and will ultimately warrant a team to take him in the 1st round. While he doesn’t have large character concerns, there are some red flags that teams will investigate. Muhammad is a good kid and a hard worker but will need to further diversify his game if he hopes to reach his ceiling.