“[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.
* 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.
* 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.