Is Shabazz Muhammad overrated?
I’m in the process of formulated by 2013 draft prospect rankings and once again I find myself at odds with the “consensus”, ESPN/Draftexpress.com rankings of players. Both in the description of this as a weak draft (It might be my favorite since 2008), but also in the high placing of Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel as the 2 prospects. I wrote a bit on Noel before the season, my opinion on him hasn’t changed much. Shabazz however has underwhelmed me. (I’ll admit to making a video praising Shabazz based on his high school footage, before he looked like a totally different player at UCLA – one more reason I’m just going to refuse to judge any players’ athleticism until they’re on NBA style cameras).
My main concern with Shabazz is whether he’ll have the ability to slash in the NBA. He’s been a shockingly underwhelming athlete so far at UCLA. He has little blow by speed and plays almost entirely under the rim. When he moves, he looks like he’s laboring. Like the older guy playing pick up basketball that can’t keep up with the youngins’ athleticism, but at least he has the game and craftiness to make up for it. Dangerously, to this he adds unimpressive ball-handling ability. He does not look like a player comfortable with the ball in his hands a lot, instead looking to quick strike when he gets it or instead play off the ball, searching for outside shot or post opportunities.
This makes me believe he will struggle playing on the ball in the NBA. Without laboring speed and average ball-handling, it will be difficult to get past his man to create shots attacking the paint and rim, or drawing fouls. I call this “physically impacting the game” for a wing player, of which I consider of the utmost importance for upside. Players with his combination of physical tools and ball-handling are thus often relegated to jumpshots – particularly, perimeter jumpshots.
Now Shabazz does have things going for him. He’s had an excellent shooting season, currently at 45.8% of his 3s, though the small sample size of college shooting and the fact that he’s hitting a mediocre 72.7% from the FT line make me less trustworthy of him as a true sharpshooter. He’s a crafty player with a good feel for the game, able to create shots with this craftiness – and he has excellent post ability for a college SG. If he becomes a consistent 3pt shooter, he’s a good bet to be a starting SG.
But his lack of athleticism and ball-handling would seriously worry me. Shabazz’s supporters like to compare him to Paul Pierce and James Harden, two plays who play “slow” but manage to be stars based on their skill and feel for the game. But there is a significant line in the sand between Pierce/Harden and Shabazz physically. Pierce and Harden were great athletes, who had the blow-by ability to get to the rim at will. What makes them look ‘slow’ is that they are more controlled than other players. Harden actually has one of the best first steps in the league and shows tremendous explosiveness at Arizona. This play is evidence alone of how explosive young Harden was. Shabazz on the other hand is not explosive in any way. Physically he is much more like Wesley Matthews, who similarly has great size to go with middling and under the rim athleticism. The other problem with the Harden and Pierce comparisons is those are two of the best ball-handlers in the league, while ball-handling is considered a weakness for Shabazz. So as a whole, the difference between Shabazz and Harden/Pierce in regards to slashing upside is significant. Harden and Pierce are elite slashing talents, while Shabazz has shown no sign of being more than below average in that category.
Shabazz may end up such a great shooter and shot creator, to score 20 points a game on those abilities alone. But in my mind it’s very hard for wing players to stand out if they don’t attack the rim and slash on the ball at a great level. Shabazz could just as easily be a role player with 3pt shooting and size, mimicking Wes Matthews’ role in the NBA. He looks like a safe, but low upside wing prospect for this reason. I would have a hard time justifying him as a top 10 caliber pick in what I believe is a great draft.