Shabazz Muhammad joined the UCLA Bruins with extremely high expectations. He was a projected top-three Draft pick and most analysts considered him and Nerlens Noel to be, by far, the NCAA's two best NBA prospects. But Muhammad mostly underwhelmed scouts as the Bruins finished a disappointing season knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
It might not have been the type of year that Muhammad thought he would have, but he did do enough in his freshman campaign to still be considered a solid top-10 pick in the 2013 Draft.
Shabazz Muhammad's 2012-13 season:
Muhammad's freshman campaign was as bizarre a season as you'll ever see. He was suspended for the first three games for an investigation that had lasted since high school. He and his family had to repay $1,600 in permissible benefits he was deemed to have accepted.
After he served his suspension, people were expecting him to dominate on both sides of the floor. What they got was a guy who looked out of shape and, at times, overmatched. He had also been battling a shoulder strain that he suffered in a practice before the season started. But as the season wore on and Muhammad's conditioning returned, he began to prove himself as an extremely well-rounded scorer.
Muhammad scored 20 or more points 13 times during his season and hit a number of big shots. He proved to have a knack for scoring and was never afraid of the moment. But his draft stock took a hit on March 22nd when the Los Angeles Times released information that Muhammad was actually a year older than what he and his family had been telling people for years.
The bizarre story not only brought Muhammad's credibility into question but also put his draft stock in perspective. Muhammad dominating college basketball at 19 is impressive. But when he does that at age 20, that becomes less telling and is an immediate cause for concern.
Since the Times' big story, it's become apparent how controlling that Ron Holmes, Muhammad's father, has been in the 20-year-old small forward's life. Holmes has spent the last two decades mapping out a blueprint for Muhammad to become an NBA player. He's worked his whole life to make sure that Muhammad worked with the best trainers and enrolled in the best schools. He even picked the name "Shabazz Muhammad" because of its potential worldwide marketability.
Muhammad is the best scorer in college basketball. He just knows how to score. He knows where he wants to be on the floor and he attacks with such a high motor on the offensive end that it's tough for defenses to stop his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame.
Muhammad is a great knock-down shooter whether he's spotting up or running off a series of screens. He isn't great shooting off the dribble but when he gets his feet set, he's deadly. He's so resilient on the offensive end and he constantly puts pressure on opponents' defenses. He's always looking to score and he can do so from nearly everywhere on the floor. If he misses a shot, he's attacking the offensive boards with a vengeance.
He's super strong which helps him finish inside. His 6-foot-11 wingspan and his strength also help him in that regard. He's constantly hunting the offensive boards looking for easy opportunities and he follows his own shot on almost every possession. Muhammad also possesses an advanced post game where he can either bully smaller defenders by attacking, or shoot a turn around fade away jumper.
He gets to the free throw line at an extremely high rate. His 7.3 free throw attempts per 40 minutes is second among all small forwards in this year's draft, according to DraftExpress. This is mostly because Muhammad is so strong that opponents are forced to either foul him at the rim or concede an easy bucket.
Muhammad has weaknesses, along with the bizarre age issue, that have dropped him out of the Top 5 on most draft boards.
He isn't much of a creator for himself or his teammates. His 5.8 percent assist rate is alarmingly low. That and his lack of elite ballhandling prevent him from moving down to shooting guard in the NBA. He didn't shoot well off the dribble, though most misses of those were a result of bad shot selection and bad spacing, as opposed to mechanical flaws. Muhammad would take a dribble into the defense and try to force a contested shot rather than dribble away from the help defense and take an easier shot.
Defensively, Muhammad often looked either lost or disinterested. Off the ball, he'd often get caught ball-watching, conceding easy buckets at the rim. On the ball, he lacked the lateral quickness and discipline to be a real difference-maker on that end of the floor.
He's a good athlete but not a great athlete, which hurt him defensively but also hurt him on the offensive end. He didn't explode at the rim like Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore did, instead choosing to bully his way through defenses. He got his shot blocked a little more than one would like as he was never the quickest or most explosive athlete on the floor.
Then of course there's the red flags: the early suspension and the age scandal. There's also a sense around the league that Muhammad is selfish, looking out for himself rather than worrying about the team. But I think his extreme competitiveness can argue against that. I think he mostly didn't trust his teammates and coaching staff at UCLA and thought he had to do things himself in order to win.
Muhammad was raised his whole life to be in the NBA. As a collegiate athlete, there can be some speculation as to whether choosing UCLA was the best choice. Coach Ben Howland has earned criticism for under-using and mismanaging his NBA prospects. After the season ended, the Bruins fired Howland. Would Muhammad have been better off going to Kentucky to play under John Calipari? That's a reasonable question.
He has a lot of flaws as a basketball player and the age scandal is one that will haunt his draft stock. But he is a premiere scorer with a desire to be the best. He's going to give you 110 percent on the offensive end of the floor and if you're in need of a scorer, he could be a good fit.
There will be a lot of eyes on Muhammad at his pro workouts. How will he handle the interview process? How will he answer the criticism that he's selfish? How will he look physically? No one will be more scrutinized and dissected through the next few weeks leading up to the draft.
How does he fit in with the Magic?
If Muhammad were able to slide to the shooting guard, then he'd be much higher on Orlando's radar. But as it stands, with him at small forward, it's unlikely to see the Magic trade back to take a chance on him. He's only five months younger than Tobias Harris and I can't really see Rob Hennigan clouding minutes for Harris or Maurice Harkless by selecting Muhammad.
As a fan of basketball, though, I'll be watching Muhammad's rookie season very closely. I've watched him since high school and still believe he has a chance to succeed in the NBA -- just not in Orlando.