If there was any freshman in college basketball this season that fully exemplified the notion of a “roller coaster ride season,” it was Shabazz Muhammad. From issues surrounding his age, to NCAA eligibility problems, to even a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament, coupled with some disappointing play during his first season, Muhammad dealt with a lot this year.
Although the aforementioned is true, Muhammad still has plenty to bring to the table offensively for any NBA franchise at the small forward position, a place where his skills should truly shine. The 6-6, 223-pound 20-year-old from Las Vegas boasts a 6-11 wingspan that will keep many defenders at bay. To add to the equation, his physical tools, combined with quickness and explosiveness and a consistent jumper from anywhere on the floor, make him dangerous to opposing defenses.
One of the main problems plaguing the former UCLA Golden Bear won’t be that he may be an inch or two shorter than an ideal NBA swingman. It’s his off-court issues combined with him only being a solid athlete rather than a great one. Muhammad is also a player that relies more on instincts than actual skill, which could prove problematic in the future.
Regardless, Muhammad should be able to shine no matter what team drafts him on June 27.
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NBA Draft Comparison: James Harden
In no way, shape or form is Muhammad close to the current version of James Harden, let’s make that clear first and foremost. However, looking at the pre-draft measurements of Harden, his play style and height, weight and wingspan, Muhammad’s form will continue to mirror the former Arizona State Sun Devil.
Looking at the basics, both Muhammad and Harden stand at 6-4 without shoes on. When on an NBA hardwood, their heights still are pretty close, Harden standing at 6-5.25 and Muhammad at 6-6.25. Their wingspans, a big part of their game defensively, are both listed at 6-11, and both weight 223 pounds (not to mention the two are southpaws). Without adding any stats, shooting mechanics or other on-court skills, or All-Star appearances, Harden and Muhammad are identical.
Now looking at the entire package of each player, it’s obvious that Harden is still the stronger candidate and may always be unless Muhammad becomes sounder defensively and a better playmaker. But offensively, they may be closer than many people would agree.
This season, Harden only shot 36.8 percent from deep and is usually praised as a three-point specialist, whereas Muhammad shot 37.7 percent from the arc on only three attempts per contest, playing nearly eight less minutes per game. Of course, the collegiate-to-NBA comparison is a deal breaker here but the potential for Muhammad to be as offensively gifted as Harden is definitely plausible. Muhammad also shot a better percentage from the field (44.3 percent) while Harden turned the ball over almost double what Muhammad did (3.8 to 1.6 TOs respectively).
Both Muhammad and Harden are scorers but in different ways, and both draw contact around the rim. Harden gets to the rim and draws contact, uses a range of Euro hop, and step back variations to create separation from the defense. Muhammad has more of a midrange game, using turnaround jumpers from the low post, floaters and pull-up jumpers. Although they score differently, both have a knack for getting into the lane and attempting to finish, score and produce at a very high level.
Even though Harden is more sound defensively, Muhammad has all the tools offensively to mirror the way Harden plays. From the way they both set their feet when curling off a screen… to their release, their offense is almost identical, yet Muhammad still has a ways to go before he’s an All-Star.
While Muhammad has elite speed, quickness and leaping ability, he fails to finish around the rim when he gets the opportunity and usually gets his shot or dunk attempts blocked whether underneath the cup or on a straight-line drive. But when he does finish, he finishes strong around the rim with emphatic slams in transition and high-angled tomahawk dunks. He just doesn’t have elite swingman athleticism.
Muhammad has a great offensive package for a wing scorer. Possessing a deadly three-point shot, a quick trigger, solid range of midrange shots in his arsenal, and experience on the low block, Muhammad can keep any defense off guard.
NBA READINESS: 8
Muhammad is ready for the NBA in terms of his body and scoring ability. He has the perfect body for a NBA swingman at 6-6 and 223 pounds. That being said, he’s tumultuous defensively and that limits him for truly being ready to take on players with offensive arsenals like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Rudy Gay. His defense leaves him so hung out to dry that even on a switch on rotation he may be at a disadvantage against some guards in the NBA. His length and quickness will help compensate for this problem.
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Even though he has defensive woes and problems using his right hand on dribble drives, Muhammad has a load of potential at the elite level. Not only will he learn his position, but after he receives some proper coaching at the next level for his defense, he may be the biggest threat in the draft from an all-around perspective.
There are so many intangibles on the defensive end of the ball that should alert any NBA general manager. The difference though is that Muhammad can easily disperse some of these problems defensively if he just sets the right attitude. If he can’t get into that mindset, he’ll have a shorter NBA career.