As if it wasn’t already a given, UCLA head coach Ben Howland started spinning the conversation following the Bruins’ final home game against Arizona earlier this month when he declared it was the last game for his star freshman Shabazz Muhammad at new Pauley Pavilion.
For Howland, it was a no brainer.
“It’s just kind of obvious when a kid is a lottery pick that they’re going to the NBA in this day and age,” Howland explained a few days later.
As for Muhammad, he hasn’t declared any intentions to leave for the NBA and in the meantime, he continues to amuse any reporter who would listen about what the 2013-14 season could be like for the UCLA Bruins.
“I’m looking at our team next year and we could be really good,” Muhammad said.
Although it sounds good, chances are highly unlikely Muhammad will return to UCLA for his sophomore season. Next year for him will likely be in the NBA, where he’s expected to be a lottery pick in the June draft.
The book on Muhammad coming out of Bishop Gorman High School was that “he’s a heck of a prospect with an impressive motor,” according to Scout.com. A knock on him was his three-point shooting.
Shooting from beyond the arc has arguably been his greatest strength as a Bruin.
Muhammad was a top-five three point shooter in the Pac-12, making 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Still, that won’t be enough for the Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which many people tabbed him as coming out of high school.
“I think a lot of people were talking about him as the first guy picked or a top-five pick,” said one NBA talent evaluator speaking under the condition of anonymity. “I don’t see that happening.”
A likely destination for Muhammad is likely in the lottery or maybe top 10, the source said.
Muhammad has never been mistaken for being extremely athletic and a bigger light has been cast on that during his freshman season. As his three-point shot has improved this season, he’s been known, more or less, as a spot-up shooter.
When he catches and is able to shoot with his legs underneath him, he’s been effective. However, it’s been noted that his conversion rate decreases when he has to put the ball on the floor.
He has some “limitations,” the source said, which will affect him on both sides of the ball.
“He doesn’t have great lateral quickness when it comes to being able to guard people on the perimeter,” the source said. “The best athletes in the NBA are guys his size, other than LeBron James. That’s going to be a struggle.
“He’s not a great athlete. Great athletes …dunk the ball over big guys. He doesn’t do that. He dunks when he’s got a breakaway.”
So where exactly does a player like Muhammad fit at the next level?
“He’s going to be a scorer,” the source said. “He’s got a nose for the ball. He’s a relentless scorer.”
Shooting and scoring haven’t been a problem for Muhammad, who leads UCLA in scoring with 17.8 points per game. Passing, however, is another thing. Muhammad has been widely criticized for having just 26 assists in his first 29 collegiate games.
Those are some of the facets of the game that Muhammad will largely be evaluated on in the eyes of NBA general managers and scouts. The Los Angeles Times revealed on Friday that Muhammad is actually 20 years old and not 19 as depicted in the school’s media guide.
As a result there have been numerous reports that Muhammad’s draft stock will take a hit because he is a year older.
Contrary to those reports, Muhammad’s status won’t be determined by his age but what he does on the floor as well as in pre-draft camps and workouts, according to the source.
Howland, who is widely respected by NBA talent evaluators for his ability to get players ready for the next level, says it’s on the defensive side of the floor that helps a player have staying power in the league.
In the case of Muhammad, he says his player has grown in the area and should be able to adapt to guarding NBA wings.
“He’s really improved defensively and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can continue to grow in that area and he’ll be fine,” Howland said. “A big part of it is that he’s really competitive and he really wants it.”