Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Yes, UCLA guard/forward Shabazz Muhammad has baggage. Yes, him and his father lied about his age. And yes, Muhammad disappointed UCLA hoops fans in 2012-13.
No, this shouldn’t affect your perception of the kid.
The buzz surrounding Muhammad varies like crazy. On one end of the spectrum, executives and evaluators see an over-hyped and overrated scorer, and on the other, a kid with tons of potential that, even at his worst, was a prolific scorer in his lone year in Westwood.
Beyond the fact that his scoring ability comes into question—let’s be real; every draft prospect year in and out has their scoring ability questioned—where’s the big risk here?
Muhammad isn’t a locker room killer. He isn’t a loud-mouth. He doesn’t throw his teammates under the bus, doesn’t publicly berate his coaches, whine about his situation, or give subtle hints to the media that he’s unhappy.
And the kid still puts up points.
OK, so Muhammad wasn’t as athletic as advertised when he first came out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, NV. No, he doesn’t play above the rim and he’s not going to put anyone on posters regularly. But don’t try and tell me the implications are that he won’t succeed in the NBA.
Because despite his lack of athleticism, Muhammad’s a clever scorer. When he doesn’t have an athletic advantage over the defender, he’s savvy enough to use his strength—and, trust us, he has it—to get positioning inside. He throws his weight around over often-smaller defenders and bullies his way to the spot he wants. He’s a streaky shooter, but when left open, he’s as deadly as any NBA prospect in this draft class. Indeed, most agree that Muhammad’s a potent scorer in catch-and-shoot situations, and most would agree that he can plow through larger defenders to get to his spots, a valuable asset for any wingman in the NBA.
And let’s not forget that the kid’s a gamer.
In fact, he’s likely seething, sitting at home, working his bum off to prove this idiot wrong. He’s probably in the gym, attempting to make this guy look like a fool. Complain about his character all you like—we’re not too sure why you would—but if there’s one thing that Muhammad has going for him, it’s his obsessive work ethic.
And with a kid like Muhammad, talented and skilled as he is? Someone who “struggled” but still shot 44 percent from the floor in 2012-13? Someone who shot over 50 percent from the floor in nearly half of the game’s he’s played in? Isn’t work ethic the determining factor regarding his success at the next level?
The best comparison this writer has heard was Paul Pierce, and the parallels, when you think about ’em, are interesting. Both forwards play well below the rim and never had elite athleticism, yet both score in bunches due to their savvy positioning that they earned by throwing their weight around. Both are a problem when left open on the perimeter and both are relatively skilled in finishing around the rim. Neither are considered renowned passers and both can do a decent job at cleaning up the glass when they’re banging down low.
Even at this stage in his career, Pierce wasn’t as good as Muhammad. The Kansas star lacked the skills and I.Q. that Muhammad has displayed thus far, and when you combine that with Muhammad’s maniacal effort, are you sure you want to bet against this comparison?
Muhammad’s worth the risk associated with him that’s been contrived and exaggerated by the media folk—never pillars of integrity, those people. Whether the kid gets drafted No. 3 or No. 30, he’s a steal in this draft.
Or bet against him, too. He’ll be sure to remember that.