Bobcats draft primer: Why and why not McCollum, Muhammad

C.J. McCollum, PG/SG, Senior, Lehigh
2012-13 stats: 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists

Why McCollum?

The trend has been established: volume-scoring mid-major guard leads his respective school to unprecedented heights before moving on to the NBA and showing the jump in competition isn’t all that steep.

Stephan Curry and Damian Lillard pulled it off this seamlessly and it’s impossible not to wonder if McCollum’s next in line. Their collegiate numbers are similar. Now, the primary question that hounded Curry and Lillard is the same McCollum faces in the 2013 draft. Can he play point guard or is he too much of a tweener? Curry and Lillard both showed the concerns to be inane. The league’s moved more towards a scoring point guard in recent years and there’s no denying McCollum’s numbers or his ridiculous performance that downed Duke in one of the NCAA Tournament’s craziest first round upsets.

So much of the time we look at what a player can’t do or what he could potentially do in the future, rather than what they’re able to do right now. And right now, McCollum’s arguably the craftiest and most intelligent guard in this class. Combine that with ideal size (6-foot-3) with a 6-foot-6 wingspan and he’s got the tools to compete immediately.

You have to love the way he changes speeds and direction off the dribble and no one outside of Trey Burke has a comparable crossover in this class. While he’s not an elite athlete vertically, he does a tremendous job of getting into a defender’s chest to create space to finish at the rim. It’s a pick-and-roll league and McCollum is extremely heady in his attack.

He is an excellent rebounder for a guard, and he’s shown signs of becoming a dead-eye shooter, too, checking in at 52 percent last season on 64 attempts from deep (5.3 attempts per game) before a broken foot sidelined him for the remainder of the year. There’s too much to like in his game for the Bobcats not to give him a look at No. 4.

Why not McCollum?

The Lillard comparisons seem to float out there every time McCollum is mentioned, but outside of playing at mid-major schools and having a pro-ready body, the comparisons should stop there. Lillard possesses a first step and athleticism to his game that McCollum doesn’t come close to matching. They’re just totally different players.

Stephen Curry should be the mold McCollum looks to emulate. McCollum has the scorer’s mentality like Curry, and while he isn’t near as a dynamic of a shooter, he shows a similar craftiness off the dribble that Curry uses to free himself.

Where McCollum can really improve his stock is if he shows that he is capable of defending shooting guards in the NBA. If he can do that, he’d be a natural fit for the Bobcats. They needs a combo guard once Ramon Sessions’ contract is up after this upcoming season, and McCollum would be the scorer they need at shooting guard. However, he’s smallish for the two spot and although he’s extremely active defensively, that frame mixed with average lateral quickness makes you question whether he’ll be able to stay in front of NBA guards.

That’s the danger with McCollum: Is he an NBA tweener who could mask his size and quickness in college?

That concern alone makes McCollum a risky selection for the Bobcats, especially considering the limited scope of his junior season shooting. He did shoot 52 percent from three a season ago, but that was only through 12 games. The three seasons prior he shot 34, 32 and 42 percent, respectively, with his best mark coming as a freshman. That inconsistency combined with the fact that he’s three months from 23 years old lead you to believe he’s much closer to a finished product than a lot of the players ahead of him on the draft board.

Does the risk of taking another tweener outweigh the chance of potentially missing out on the next Curry or Lillard?

That’s the question Charlotte has to ask themselves when evaluating McCollum at this pick. To me there’s more Mario Chalmers to his game than Damian Lillard — that’s hard to justify with the 4th pick.

Eastern Conference Scout’s Take

I love how smart McCollum is and the way he attacks off the pick-and-roll. He’s got the body to step in and play right away, but he’s the classic tweener. Tweeners make me nervous enough, but guards who don’t have a set position set off the red light even more.

I think he’ll be fine on the offensive end and can at least be a solid bench scoring combo for someone, but I’m not sure he’s anyone’s point guard of the future. His passing leaves a lot to be desired and he’s an average athlete for a guard at the pro level. He’s more of an 8-12 pick type for me, not top five. I don’t think he’ll ever be a star but he can help someone.

Shabazz Muhammad, SF, Freshman, UCLA
2012-13 stats: 17.9 points, 5.2 rebounds

Why Muhammad?

Shabazz Muhammad is currently getting the Harrison Barnes treatment. Arrive to college with Kevin Durant-level expectations, have a great freshman year but still get crushed by the media for “underachieving.” As the college basketball recruiting world has exploded, so have the expectations. In what world has averaging 18 points per game as a freshman ever been a season that falls short?

Somehow that’s the reality we now live in, a college basketball world created by an NBA age limit that burdens top-ranked players to perform at a level seen maybe once in a decade.

That’s part of the reason Muhammad’s not only the most polarizing figure of this draft but also the one with the biggest question marks. He’s been tagged as having “red flags.”

Red flags for seeming upset that he didn’t get the last shot in a mid-February game against Washington. Red flags for his dad fudging his age to make him a year younger than he truly is. Red flags for his father’s indictment on federal bank fraud charges. Red flags for a newspaper profile of his father that makes him seem like the overzealous sports dad who forced his kid to live out his father’s dream.

In other words, red flags that have absolutely nothing to do with his ability to put the ball in the basket — something Muhammad has always done at an elite level.

The Bobcats simply have to give Muhammad a look. There is no bigger need in this draft than finding a scorer. Offensive alpha males — the type who can get a bucket when you need it and who can’t hide their disgust when their not given the burden of the last shot — are rare. Muhammad is that player and that’s the type the Bobcats have desperately missed. Call him selfish if you want, but no one in this class can match the ferocious, aggressive scorer’s mentality Muhammad has.

There’s also the thought that Muhammad’s simply a product of early maturation, making a living off of being physically stronger and more developed than his peers. But Muhammad’s long and strong even by NBA small forward standards, possessing a 6-foot-11 wingspan at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, and the NBA game fits his game more than Ben Howland’s system at UCLA did. Combine that with Muhammad’s competitiveness and it’s impossible to ignore the room for development. What if he develops a mid range game so he doesn’t have to force those one-handed runners in traffic? What if he has shooters to space the floor and is allowed to get out in transition more? What if that jump shot, which has pure form, becomes consistent?

Sure, he’s a below average passer. Sure, he’s essentially a left hand-dominant, straight-line driver. Sure, he forces shots and doesn’t have much of a mid-range game yet.

But what does that say about his talent that there’s all those areas to improve on offensively in the halfcourt and he still averaged 18 per? A great deal, in my opinion. He could become the volume scorer they’ve been in search of that you can start to build around.

Why not Muhammad?

Will Muhammad ever develop into a shooting guard? Probably not, so it’d be tough for the Bobcats to take him here with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the roster. Muhammad’s handle is shaky for a two guard and he doesn’t do a great job of moving laterally on defense, so it’s unlikely you could ever play the two together. His competitiveness and desire to win fits with Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker, but if the Bobcats are going to go wing with this pick, surely they’ll go with a shooter here or at least someone who creates for their teammates.

Muhammad isn’t known for either.

The real question with Muhammad, though: Has he peaked?

His first step is not particularly explosive and he doesn’t change directions or speed often or well off the dribble. That can be countered with a mid-range jumper, but Muhammad doesn’t have that yet. The lack of an in-between game gets exposed in the pros and it’s hard to see a rookie Muhammad bullying smaller defenders in the post the way he was able to in college.

He’s an elite offensive rebounder off his misses, too, but that’ll be tougher to come by as well. There are plenty of questions about Muhammad — both deserved and not. Couple those questions with a lack of roster fit and it’s hard to think that one of the draft’s top scorers will be in play here, regardless of the need for points in Charlotte.

Eastern Conference Scout’s Take

This is the guy who you never get the same opinion on. I’ve heard people say anything from top-five talent to wouldn’t touch him in the top 20. My main problem with his game is he shows no ability to go right. Even when he goes right, he’s always going to work his way back left. That won’t work.

He’s got other deficiencies as a driver, too — he doesn’t have a great first step, doesn’t exploit the pick-and-roll like someone with his size and athleticism should, and doesn’t have a variety of moves in his arsenal. But I do think people underestimate his athleticism. I really like how smoothly and quickly he jumps off one leg on the break and he’s got great length to finish. If he gets any right side and a mid-range game to go with his spot-up jumper and post-up game, he could be really good. He’s not a great shooter on the move, but he can really shoot it when he spots up.

And at the end of the day, I love kids with his demeanor. That killer instinct and competitiveness makes up for so many deficiencies. A lot of people don’t like him but I think he’ll develop because he’s got that rage about the way he plays.