The Polarizing Shabazz


Will Shabazz Muhammad be the next Harrison Barnes, or Austin Rivers?


“[Shabazz] Muhammad might be the most controversial prospect in the draft. Blessed with both terrific scoring skills and a tremendous amount of hype, he was widely regarded as a potential No. 1 pick coming into his freshman season.

But expectations can be a tricky thing. Seven months later, Muhammad finds himself fighting to stay inside the lottery. Were the glowing scouting reports on him in high school just wrong? Or is Muhammad’s evaluation more complicated?”

That was Chad Ford’s take in his enlightening post yesterday about Shabazz Muhammad, and the lottery-prospect’s experience at Peak Performance Project.  It’s an athletic training facility focused on biomechanical and neuromuscular assessments to help athletes improve on any physical weaknesses that they may have.  Apparently the computers are impressed with the Bruin prospect’s leaping ability (he’s a “quick jumper”) but suggest he has work to do in the lateral quickness department. More than anything the article indicates Shabazz is doing all he can to identify and improve his weaknesses.

This matters because the Timberwolves might draft Shabazz Muhammad with the ninth pick in the upcoming draft.  It’s interesting because a large contingent of Timberwolves fan base (basically, the entire Canis Hoopus commentary community) hates the idea of the team drafting this particular player.

What’s the problem with Shabazz?  His advanced statistics stink.  Despite the freshman’s 17.9 points per game on a tied-for conference champion UCLA Bruins team, a closer look at the details paints an ugly picture. He shot a mediocre 44.3 percent from the field and averaged a paltry 0.7 assists per game.  If you never watched him play and only crunched the numbers, Muhammad would not be a lottery pick.  Hell, he might not get drafted in the first round.

Ford touches on the most compelling part of SCOUTING Muhammad: he was the top-ranked player in his high-school class.  He closely follows Harrison Barnes and Austin Rivers in a recent wave of highly touted prep stars that underwhelmed in college.  In the case of Barnes (7th pick), the stats proved to be an unreliable predictor: he’s already a solid pro on a good team, and has the look of a future star.  In the case of Rivers (10th pick), the stats were spot on: he sucks.

What will be the verdict on Muhammad?

Well for starters, the quote unquote experts have him ranked in the lottery range.  Ford has him 14th.  Givony — probably the gold standard — has him 10th.  ESPN’s college hoops guru, Jay Bilas, has a Top 30, and ranks Shabazz 11th.

The Good?

* 6’6.25″ frame (in shoes) — Shabazz has enough size to play either wing position.  He’s also 222 pounds with 9 percent body fat.  Combine all that with his quick-twitch 37″ vertical jump and he’s got impressive physical tools.
* He shot 37.7 percent from downtown.
* He can catch and shoot.  From DX:

From the perimeter, Muhammad has been better than advertised this season, as his reputation coming out of high school was that of a non-shooter. He’s very good with his feet set as a catch and shoot threat, making 40% of his jumpers in this situation, which renders him a legit floor-spacer, even if his shot-selection can leave something to be desired at times. Off the dribble is another story altogether however, as Muhammad made just 12 of his 53 (23%) pull-up attempts.

* Energy level.  From the Ford piece:

The biggest thing that stood out during the workout was Muhammad’s energy. He was relentless for the full 45 minutes. He brings a great work ethic to the table, and Hanlen was pushing him at a pretty insane pace. At the end, Muhammad was huffing and puffing, but he was still able to dunk and hit his jumpers.

* Getting fouled — Shabazz shot 5.6 free throws in barely over 30 minutes per game.

The Bad?

* Well, like I said, the stats.  Especially the low assist numbers.
* He might be a tweener.  At 6’6″ with average side-to-side quickness there’s reason to question whether SHABAZZ can defend shooting guards.  If he can’t, there’s the next question of whether he can defend forwards, and the bummer that Luke or JJ is still playing shooting guard.
* He was involved in a mini-scandal about his birth certificate and his real age.  Donald Trump didn’t get involved but it did attract some negative attention and slightly changes how his upside is perceived.

What about for the Wolves?

Well, it’s not difficult to understand why the Wolves would show interest in a 6’6″ wing player that can rack up points off of catch-and-shoot opportunities.  As Flip Saunders said today,

The biggest thing is we wanna get some guys whether it’s through the draft or free agency or through trades that can make Ricky better.  What I mean by that is that if you got guys that can stretch the floor it’s gonna have more openings for him to penetrate he’s gonna find those guys and he’s gonna be a better player.

Assuming they don’t trade up for someone like Victor Oladipo, the Wolves will likely have the opportunity to draft Muhammad with their first pick.  To me the decision boils down to whether it’s the best use of resources.  Who else is on the board?  If somebody talented like Cody Zeller or C.J. McCollum slips, is taking the true wing player worth the probability of getting an inferior talent?  What about that 26th pick?  If Allen Crabbe or Reggie Bullock — also legit-sized shooters — could be had there, wouldn’t that be the cheaper and safer play?

Then again, Crabbe and Bullock don’t project to be much beyond standing shooters.  SHABAZZ could be something more.  On a team devoid of players that can scramble an opposing defense with full-throttle scoring moves, there is definitely an appeal of what Shabazz Muhammad COULD be.  The scouts must see some things to suggest that there’s an upside.  To appeal to authority for a moment, I doubt Jonathan Givony falls victim to high school hype.  He’s been doing this for too long.

I expect a trade.  Frankly I don’t think the Wolves will want to be faced with this difficult decision.  It’s easier, simpler, and maybe wiser to move up for Oladipo or Ben McLemore, or to trade the pick to acquire a veteran shooting guard (and only draft at 26).  The latter seems most realistic so that’s what I’d bet on happening.

If the Wolves do draft Shabazz, I just hope he’s more like Harrison Barnes than Austin Rivers.



Filed under NBA Draft

14 responses to “The Polarizing Shabazz

  1. Brett A

    Maaaan, I’d say I’ve come from the basic CH stance (absolutely not, no way, no how) to being kind of intrigued lately. His upbringing was so strange; it makes me not really want to root for the guy, but it also makes you think he’s bound to succeed to some extent. That said, he is still a major risk, and there are just far too many options at 9 (both players and trade opportunities) for it to seem like a wise move.

    Good write-up, and Ford’s article was a good read too.

    • Thanks, Brett — and if the piece didn’t make clear I’m also ambivalent on all things Shabazz. I’m nowhere near a “If they draft Shabazz, I’m done” position — I don’t even know if I’d be upset with the pick as much as interested to see how it plays out. But if a talented seven-footer like Zeller is on the board, or there’s a trade opportunity to do some combination of salary cutting and adding veteran shooting ability, it is probably not worth the risk to use a lottery pick on what could be, in NBA value terms, garbage.

      • I want Shabazz at 9. If you watch him, you can easily see that he’ll be an NBA player for a long time – and probably a decent one. He can make shots off the catch and shoot, and I believe he’ll become more selective in an offense like the Wolves’, where there are more options (Love, Pek), where he’ll get better shots (Ricky), and where he already has his contract (as opposed to his stint at UCLA, where he was trying to show he was All-World in order to get to the League). Given his size, scoring knack, and polish, I’d be shocked if he were a total bust. I can’t say that about Zeller.

  2. j.

    Shabazz: it’s not that advanced stats knock him, it’s that unadvanced stats do! you just can’t have the assist and steal numbers that he does and play SG on an Adelman team. No way no how. And this doesn’t even get in to the Beasley-headcase-factor that the team spent so much time wiping away last offseason.

    I think Harrison Barnes is a lot closer to Austin Rivers than to being a “star.” i haven’t seen any indication that he will be anything more than a role player. this might be where advanced stats come in handy.

    • j.–
      The “on an Adelman team” line of reasoning might be suspect here. For one thing Adelman’s known to mold his offense around the talent on his roster. For another, with Ricky Rubio running this offense, it has seemed much more functional with Ricky carrying the load of creating opportunities for others to shoot. This has never resembled his Sacramento/”Princeton” Offense. That doesn’t mean Shabazz is the right pick, but I think it dispels the notion that the Wolves need some sort of all-around playmaker at the off-guard. I’d love to see Ricky paired next to a pure scorer, if at all possible.

      • j.

        Your logic on Adelman is as suspect if not moreso – RA has drawn up motion plays for the Wolves (especially the Love elbow three pointer screen w/Pek rolling to hoop that we saw earlier this year) and certainly will continue to do so (that’s why he prefers ballhandlers at the 2). Even Kevin Love, notorious black hole, was told to pass more (see below). The 2 in RA’s offense (let’s be clear – despite whatever he or anyone else says, he DOES have an offense, however flexible) should at the very least be able to run side pick and rolls…and if everyone knows Shabazz ain’t gonna pass, he won’t get much of an opportunity to use this supposed scoring talent. In any case, I see no reason to think that if scoring is what they want, that they would sacrifice defense and passing to take Shabazz just because he is a couple inches taller than CJ McCollum. Not sure I care about whatever a “pure scorer” is. Carmelo? Doesn’t sound like an “Adelman guy” either.

        Zach Lowe/Love
        Did that include passing more from the outside?

        Rick did tell me he wanted me to be more of a facilitator — that he was hoping to save me for later on in the season, and not have me carry such a load on the offensive end as the go-to scoring guy all year. And that, in turn, would open up a lot of stuff for everyone else.

        Did you respond by saying, “Hey, I can score 25 a game. Let me shoot”?

        [Laughs.] Well, I like to look at it as an opportunity. You see a guy like Pek, he can get so many easy duck-ins with guys on his back. And you have AK, who is such a good cutter, and takes advantage of the defense so well, it’s hard not to hit him with those passes when he cuts on the baseline. I was watching a ton of film on AK with one of our assistant coaches during camp, trying to plan out those passes. But for me, I like to take on the mind-set of an assassin. I’ll always have a score-first mentality, because that is my bread and butter on the floor. Rick wants me to be more of a passer, and I can take on that responsibility, too.

        • I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not on the Love thing. (He is kind of a ball hog, even though he’s a great player.)

          Of course there are plays that don’t involve Ricky doing everything until the final pass to the open shooter. But the offense is by and large built around his playmaking ability. The Saunders quote gets to that. Until Ricky becomes a reliable open shooter, they won’t be able to diversify their attack very much. A hypothetical Shabazz pick-and-roll would be compromised as much by defenders ignoring Ricky as it would defenders doubling the inevitable shooter.

          I’m mostly interested in the divide between the statistical projections and the scouts’. It’s enormous and I felt it was worth exploring. If this came across as “The Case for Drafting Shabazz” then I missed the mark.

          (Pat might have that post for you at a later time!)

          • Eric in Madison

            It will be interesting to see this play out, though in fact I’m not sure how much of a divide between scouts and the stats there really is anymore in the case of Shabazz.

            I actually think the media is behind the curve on this one, I’m not sure anyone likes him all that much at this point.

            I’d be surprised if he goes in the lottery.

            Anyway, the RA stuff is beside the point; it’s very difficult to be an SG in the NBA for any coach if you fail to do anything passing-wise or off the ball. This is where Pat is wrong where he says he can’t see him busting. He’s a PERFECT bust candidate. If the scoring doesn’t translate, or isn’t efficient (fairly likely) enough, what can he do? So far, nothing.

            It’s the Rashad McCants problem, to use a Wolves example. Once it became clear that he wasn’t going to be a big time scorer, what was left?

            I wish him the best.

            • The passing is my biggest concern. The RA debate got a little bit too academic up there, and I don’t mean to make light of those epically bad assist numbers. I’ve just seen too many Ricky passes followed by a too-short guard having to recreate a shot that should’ve been there when the pass was caught.

              Givony tweeted something about having some significant changes to his mock draft coming up — I wonder if the Shabazz/father news is scaring off GM’s. Then again, his mock is different from his rankings.

              Shaddy was a decent offensive player in 2007-08. He always struggled defensively. It was kind of shocking how bad he was (on both ends) from that point forward. Reading some of what’s been written about him in the years since, I suspect it’s between the ears.

  3. Dane

    The thing that concerns me the most isn’t the atrocious assist numbers, or the fact that I don’t believe he’ll be able to defend 2-gaurds in the NBA. It’s when one of his teammates at UCLA hits a game-winning shot at the buzzer he just walks off the court, as if he were on the opposing team. That not only makes me questoion his character, but also his love for the game.

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