The Missing Piece: Scouting Shabazz

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Published: April 13, 2013
Missing Piece Four

When scouts, GM’s, fans, coaches, and media really start to shift their focus to the NBA Draft, no player will be more polarizing than Shabazz Muhammad. Nearly every mock draft heading into the college basketball season had Muhammad as either the #1 or #2 pick, but since then he has had be mired in contraversy. He had to serve a suspension to begin the season due to eligibility issues, then he was accused of being a bad teammate and castrated by Bruins fans after an incident in which his teammate hit a game winner and he sulked afterwards because he didn’t get the game winning shot. And finally came the story last month where he and his father lied about Muhammad’s age and where he was born.

On the court, Muhammad had moments of brilliance, but he definitely was not the superstar that everybody was expecting. He ranked in the top five in the Pac -12 in several major categories, but he didn’t take a very talented team to the next level, and you can even argue that he was the primary reason that his coach, Ben Howland, was fired last month. Even with all this baggage, teams will still be intrigued with Muhammad because guys who can score in bunches will always be valued in the NBA.

With just two games remaining, it looks like the Hornets are most likely to be picking in the range where Shabazz is projected to go, and he does fill some glaring holes for the team at a position of need. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Muhammad’s game on the court to see if he is worth the trouble.

Offense

Muhammad’s game is nothing like the perimeter scorers you have seen come into the league over the last ten years or so. He has a very old school game, as he rarely scores off of isolations or in the pick and roll game. According to DraftExpress, only 6% of his points this season came via P&R or isolation. Instead, Muhammad is a guy who loves to curl off screens, post up, or crash the boards on the offensive end. He is also a fantastic scorer in transition and off of spot-ups. Depending on what a team wants, that can either be a great thing or a reason to avoid him in the draft. If a team wants a guy who will dominate the ball and create his own offense, then Muhammad is not the guy. But if you just need Muhammad to be a complimentary piece that can play off of others, then he is fantastic in that setting.

While Muhammad isn’t a terrific shooter, he is better than most expected him to be this early in his career. In high school, he had a solid mid-range jump shot, but he didn’t have three-point range. This year at UCLA he took more than three treys per game and shot a respectable percentage (37.7%). His form looks great when he spots up, but when he is trying to create his own three off the dribble, he often lacks balance and shoots a terrible percentage as a result. Overall, Muhammad is a very good finisher at the rim, usually getting there after he comes off a curl or after an offensive rebound. Of all the perimeter players in this draft, only Victor Oladipo is better as an offensive rebounder. That is both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because it could prove invaluable on the offensive end to have another elite offensive rebounder, but discouraging because he doesn’t put the same effort in on the defensive glass. Shabazz actually had more offensive rebounds than defensive this year, a feat that is unmatched by any other starter in the Pac-12. But we’ll touch on that more when we get to the defensive side of the ball. The other thing Muhammad does at a high level is get to the free throw line. He averaged just under six free throws per game this season, and he also has the strength to finish in the lane when he is being fouled.

Well there is a lot to like offensively, there are some worries. First and foremost, he has no desire to make his teammates better. He averaged less than an assist per game this season, including 14 games where he did not have a single assist. Most guys who play that many minutes get an assist or two just by accident. Muhammad had 14 games in which he didn’t have one. Remarkable. The other concern is that some of the things that Muhammad does well might be negated by playing against bigger defenders in the pros. He loves to post up, but in the NBA he will be an undersized small forward, making that an unlikely option for him. He also gets nearly four points per game off of going back up after an offensive rebound, but will he be as dominant on the glass playing small forward in the pros?

NBA Offensive Comparison: Richard Hamilton/Corey Maggette hybrid

Imagine Hamilton’s ability to score coming off screens with Maggette’s physicalness and ability to get to the line at will. This is Muhammad’s ceiling offensively, and that combination could easily produce 18-22 points per night when he hits his prime. What that combination will not produce is a ton of assists, and Muhammad will likely never be an elite three-point threat. But Hamilton was the most consistent and reliable scorer on a championship team, and Muhammad could be that if he is surrounded by guys who can do all of the other things that it takes to win basketball games.

Defense

Shabazz Muhammad averaged three blocks, steals, and defensive rebounds per game – COMBINED. Let that sink in for a minute. There are games when even the best scorers in the world are off, but the great players still find a way to impact a game. How is Muhammad going to do that when he doesn’t pass the ball and he cant get rebounds, blocks, or steals? It is incredibly frustrating, because as I have pointed out, he is a tremendous offensive rebounder, in large part because of the effort he puts in on that end of the floor. Unfortunately, he does not always give that effort on the defensive end of the floor.

If you are being as generous to Muhammad as possible, you might be able to excuse his inability to generate steals this year. His coach, Ben Howland, does not let his players gamble by aggressively playing the passing lane. Several players from that program have seen their steal rate rise dramatically in the pros after being given more freedom, so maybe, just maybe, we can excuse that. But what is the excuse for a 6’6″ athletic specimen with a 6’11” wingspan only getting 4 blocks TOTAL this season? I’ve got nothing. Again, like we talked about with the assists, a guy who is on the court that much should get a couple by accident. Let me put it this way, Mugsy Bogues had three in his junior year in college in three fewer games. Mugsy Bogues. Heck, Nate Wolters had four blocks this season. There is no excuse for Muhammad here.

His effort on the defensive glass is a big part of the reason that I have referred to him as the small forward version of Eric Gordon in the past. He shows no desire to crash the glass defensively and help his team to gain possession. If New Orleans were to draft Muhammad with a long term plan of putting him and Gordon at the two and three, then the other three guys on the court better be elite defensive rebounders for their position. In 13 out of 32 games this season, Muhammad grabbed one or fewer defensive rebounds. Not good.

As a man to man defender and a help defender, Muhammad is very good. He has a great combination of strength, length, and quickness, and because of that, he can stay in front of guys and make up a lot of ground quickly on rotations. On games where he is locked in, you can argue that he was one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation. Not surprisingly, he was only really locked in during games in which he also happened to get a lot of touches on the offensive end. So, if you are not actively getting Muhammad involved on the offensive end, you might as well pencil his guy in for 15-20 points on the other end. So, putting it all together, on a night where Muhammad is off, not only are you going to get nothing in the blocks, steals, rebounds, and assists column, but you are going to get bad defense too.

Comparison: Bobby Simmons floor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest Ceiling

This is where Muhammad’s legacy will be decided. Barring injury, he will be a a very good scorer in the NBA, but if he dedicates himself on defense and reaches his potential, he can be a perennial All-Star. Bobby Simmons, Muhammad, and MKG all have very similar measureables and athleticism. Simmons had games where he was locked in defensively and games where he just drifted. MKG gives his all on that end of the court every single play. Both had the ability to guard multiple positions because of length, quickness, and strength, but one gives it all every play and the other took far too many plays off to reach his potential. Which one will Muhammad become? On the court, that is the million dollar question with Muhammad.

Intangibles

I hate speculating about this stuff. With the on the court stuff, I can pour through the stats and watch the tape over and over. I can look at the scheme they played in and who they played against and project how they will do in the league. The mental stuff, how they associate with their teammates, and how they interact with their coaches – all those things are so important, but how can I possibly properly evaluate that? I am not going to fall into the trap of thinking that I know everything about Muhammad’s mental makeup because I read a couple of news clips. I’m not going to paint the kid with a broad brush because he made a few mistakes. If every mistake I made as a teenager was documented and none of the good things were reported (because they won’t get the page views), then I could have come across as the worst person in the world. We’re too smart to do that to this kid.

But what I will say is that more times than not, when there are this many reports, the player does not avoid contraversy for the remainder of his career. It usually rears its ugly head again. But sometimes these reports are just exaggerations, meant to satisfy the thirst of readers and viewers in this 24 hour sports news cycle. Remember all the reports from Chad Ford about how Austin Rivers teammates didn’t like him and how he was a diva who could tear a locker room apart? Have we seen even one iota of that since he arrived, or has it been pretty much the exact opposite?

There is smoke, and there might be fire, but I caution those who might just take everything they read as fact and label the kid as a punk or a diva or a locker room cancer if they have never even met the kid. I have also seen some say that since his father is a bit of a headcase, that the son will be as well, but if every NBA player were a reflection of their father, this would be a league full of degenerates. Making a judgement without a solid foundation of knowledge is the definition of ignorance and I am not going to fall into that trap. Dell will assuredly do his due diligence and if he picks the kid, it will only be because he is satisfied with everything in this department. That’s all we really have to know about these particular red flags.

What it All Means For the Hornets

Having a guy who can score in such a unique number of ways could be invaluable for New Orleans moving forward. I can’t remember the last guy we had who could curl off of screens in the half court and either take it to the bucket or knock down the open mid-range shot, depending on what the defense does. We saw Monty use Xavier Henry on this kind of action a few times in the Lakers game and it worked beautifully. Imagine what he could do with a talent like Muhammad in that spot.

Muhammad would also give the Hornets their first one-man fast break option since Baron Davis. Muhammad is so crafty in the open court, able to both elevate and flush it or use a Euro step to get to the bucket if defenders are ahead of him. He also has the length and strength to finish in transition and the ball handling to take it coast to coast if he has to. You can just imagine an Anthony Davis block that richochets out to the perimeter, into Shabazz Muhammad’s hands, where he takes it to the hole for an ‘and one’. Could be a thing of beauty.

Offensively, he would play beautifully alongside Eric Gordon. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to create shots for himself, so Gordon and the other guard can fill that role while Muhammad comes off screens or post-ups on occassion. The problem is that you need to get Shabazz his shots or he will be disinterested on defense, and pretty much worthless everywhere else, so that could take away shots from guys who are more efficient. But think of Rip Hamilton in Detroit. The Pistons had Billups, Hamilton, and Prince. Over their run, Hamilton got about 14 shots per game, Billups 12, and Prince 10. That would be the kind of dynamic you would need in New Orleans, with the point guard playing the role of Prince, deferring to the other two unless he had the matchup. A guy like Eric Bledsoe, for instance would look fantastic next to Gordon and Muhammad, as he could defer on offense and make up for the rebounds, blocks, and steals on defense.

No matter what happens, if the ‘Big Five’ are off the board, Dell Demps is going to have a bit of a problem on his hands. You can make the case for 5 or 6 different guys in that scenario, but none of them, including Muhammad, is without glaring faults. Anthony Bennett is a lazy defender and plays the one position you are loaded at. Cody Zeller doesn’t have the length to protect the rim and his upside is limited. Trey Burke doesn’t give you what you want defensively at the point guard position. Alex Len has high bust potential because of his raw offensive skill set and his average rebounding numbers. CJ McCollum is coming off an injury and is too similar in what he does to Austin Rivers. I can go on and on.

Shabazz Muhammad is in that conversation, like it or not. He’s a guy that most fans would have jumped at the chance at getting just a few short months ago, but now most are scared off by, rightly so. His game has huge holes and his character has been brought into question. If the perfect guy was still on the board, the choice would be easy, but more likely than not, Dell will instead be trying to find the guy with the holes that are easiest to plug up. Some of Muhammad’s holes are easy to plug if he has the right supporting cast around him, but if the off-the-court demons are real, almost nothing can be done about that. High risk, high reward doesn’t do the case of Shabazz Muhammad justice. It’s way more than that, but some team will have to take that chance and it just might be the Pelicans.

The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on Hornets247.com. For past pieces in the series, click here.

 

19 comments
lsutigers33
lsutigers33

you guys do a great job here on this site. Like xman said, wish NOLA was like this. I watched Film on Shabazz and he will do fine in the NBA, but not with us. This team needs a leader more than anything. Hey, I have emotional ties to Smart. Would never thought he would perform as well as he did as quick as he did. He will struggle at the pro 3 line, but does so many other things that Monty wants. He will fill a big hole in Defending the guard spot alone and is a great leader. As long as they don't win Wed, we will be #5 and I can live with Smart, Porter, Mc, olidipo and if we land #1, I'm sure Wash, Charlotte would trade for him. I will say this, Burke does remind me of a young CP. Doesn't pass as well, but he is still very young.

shantadiva
shantadiva

I think if we don't get one of the top five we should trade the pick. Use it as part of the deal to get Bledsoe or Jennings, or who knows maybe even Rondo.

xman20002000
xman20002000

You have to admire the level of discourse in this article... wish we could get this level out of the Saints... Anyway, this guy will be another high paid try out... Relying on lottery picks is risky business but the important thing is under this regime we are truly able to make the kind of moves CP3 would beg Bower for... You wonder the rationale for signing all those aging veterans for mid level money and extended contracts.. Both the fortunate and unfortunate thing about this discussion is we still have an opportunity to get in the top 3-5 with the probability of winning at .25... At least that is what the estimate is... Some mocks have the Pelicans taking Smart assuming we get the first pick... which is a possibility assuming a repeat of last season but withing the top 3... a guess... LOL... As to the subject player, ESPN has his stock descending... now at #9 on the Big Board assuming they have a grain of credibility considering the validity and reliability of the method of analysis..

CoReMeGa
CoReMeGa

I liked the post joking about what you'd take for Gordon right now but I know we'll be able to get something pretty nice for him. We know Houston, GS, PHO were interested and Dallas is gonna be desperate (don't have much to offer though). I would love to do a Gordon for Gordon swap (haha never thought I'd say that). If we could trade Gordon + pick to the Bobcats (only next yr left on contract) + Kidd-Gilchrist. Davis & Kidd-Gilchrist back together= FUTURE promised land. I know he has his own limitations but man he gives his all and I think pairing them together with the chemistry that they already have would be amazing! Charlotte might bite too.. they need a quasi star and they are desperate too, plus they'd have 2 top 5 picks this year. If we keep the pick though, I hope the Bobcats pick #1 because with their luck they'll prob take a bust off the table.

CoReMeGa
CoReMeGa

NO THANKS! I saw the game where he pouted off the court after his teammate hit the game winner! I don't think Gordon will be here next year, but him and ShaBaby together... it'd be like running a daycare for Monty. This draft scares the hell out of me, I just feel like there are gonna be so many busts, but if we fall to the 6th pick... http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9163993 ... Burke!!! I think his stock is rising so he might not be there and this guy thinks he might go #1!

JJacob
JJacob

At the start of the season I was saying to myself, "Man, if we could just get a guy like Shabazz, we'd be set!" Boy, how things have changed. If the Hornets did somehow slide to 6 in the draft, I'm not sure Shabazz isn't the best option. It should come down to Trey Burke and Muhammad, but I'm not happy with either as future prospects. It's crazy how different of a player Porter is to Muhammad. Porter does EVERYTHING else and adds scoring as a bonus (And sometimes a lot of it). Shabazz gets you points.. and points.. and points.. I just don't think he and Eric Gordon can coexist. EVen if Gordon were to be traded I'm still not sure I'd be content with a guy like Shabazz. In other words, top 5 or bust.

mateor
mateor

Those links with his father are just depressing, man. Same as before. If his father is moving to the city with him, I wouldn't draft him. Hard to say, but watching him try to bribe that reporter was really ugly.

edbballin504
edbballin504

I posted a few offseason options for the team about a week ago on a facebook group I am in. One involved Shabbaz. While the option of sliding AD to center then using our money to sign a big time PF (since big time centers really dont exist) might be debatable, I'd be curious to hear you alls thoughts. Here's the post: OPTION 3- Draft Shabbaz Muhammad, trade Grievis Vasquez and Robin Lopez for Eric Bledsoe, sign Josh Smith and Jarrett Jack, resign Aminu. Depth chart: PG- Bledsoe, Jack, Roberts. SG- EG, Rivers. SF- Shabbaz, Aminu, Miller. PF- Josh Smith, Ryno, Lance. C-AD, Jason Smith, Amundson. Okay guys, this team gives us the most drastic change from what the Hornets look and play like right now. I feel this is the option most likely not to happen when you look at Monty and Dell’s style, but as a fan it would be so fun to be a part of and to watch. First of all, who is Shabbaz Muhammad? He's basically the SF version of Eric Gordon (minus the health issues). He’s a monster scorer off slashing, post ups, drawing fouls, streaky shooter, yet kind of undersized...he’s like 6 6 I believe. Any night he is capable of dropping 25-30. His ceiling is as high as anyone else in this draft. The problem is despite his amazing ability to score the ball, he doesn’t do much else. He’s lazy on D, doesn’t get assists, and doesn’t rebound. However offensively, with EG and him on the wings, we’d have 2 dynamic scorers. Sort of a Poor man’s version of what we see in OKC and MIA. Perhaps if Shabbaz reaches his ceiling and improves in some other areas, we might be able to drop the poor man label. Shabbaz and Gordon together would be worth the price of admission, and we haven’t even discussed the rest of the team yet. In this lineup of 2 undersized wings, I really want a defensive minded PG even if his offense is weak. Vasquez and Rivers won’t cut it. Insert Eric Bledsoe, who’s a ball hawk at PG. His offense isn’t anything to brag about, but alongside 2 wings that could give you 30 a night, it might be a nice mix. We would also no longer need a C who can score like I would want from a Al Jefferson type because the wings will do all the scoring with AD helping out, but guess what, we still have tons of money to spend since we let Lopez and GV go to get Bledsoe, who will still be on his rookie deal for another year. Here’s where I take a leap of faith and pay Josh Smith what it takes to get him here. Slide AD to center and make Smith my PF. This team will be all about one thing: RUN AND GUN. Bledsoe, EG, Shabbaz, Josh Smith, and AD are all ready to get out and go. We would have to play like Denver on offense. In the half court it’ll be a lot of pick and rolls/pops and isolations for Shabbaz and EG. The hope is that AD develops a low post game, then that gives us another threat in the half court grind. The main issue I see so far is lack of leadership, but that’s why we bring in old man Mr. Jack. He was impressive this year in GS and I am sure he would welcome the chance to come back and be the captain of this team. Also, think about how tough it would be to game plan against a team that will run like crazy with the starting 5, then slow it down with the bench (Jack, Ryno as focal points), and then can blend things by combining some bench guys with some starters. On defense, our strength will be at the point of attack led by Bledsoe’s tenacious D, then anchored by 2 very athletic and long players in AD and Smith. Gordon can also lock down his guy on the perimeter. All in all, I think this team would be very interesting and intriguing. Could we really win big with this team though is my question?

edbballin504
edbballin504

I think this is the obvious pick, and he will for sure be a Pelican unless we trade the pick. We mention "the tank" often but it's clear we have no intentions of tanking, just have come up short alot down the stretch. I believe Dell and Monty know this kid will be available when they pick so it's all about finishing strong. If we luck up and get a top 3 pick I think we would take Smart (1), Porter (2), but after those 2 I strongly see us taking Shabbaz as our 3rd option. He fits the needs we have and he's definitely the best player available if you look at in regards to how good he can be if he reaches his potential. I could easily see Dell passing up on Noel, McLemore, and Oladipo. I could be wrong but my money is on Smart, Porter, Shabbaz, or trade. I'd be happy either way, but I kind of hope is Shabbaz. That type of player figuring it out just might put us over the top IMO.

adfly
adfly

Shabazz Is a great fit. His effort will be much better with a coach like Monty, Cause he thrives in getting the best effort out his players or they don't play. Shsbazz isti competative to let anything get in the way of his playing time.

pschafer
pschafer

Great write-up. Like many (and as you suggest), I was really high on Muhammad early on because of his game and the Hornets need at that position. And like most I've also soured on him for the reasons you mention. In the end the question I ask myself is "how coachable is this kid"? If he is like Rivers, then we would have good reason to think he can improve things like defensive rebounding and consistent energy on defense. As it now stands I'm hoping the Hornets end up with a top five pick so they can get Porter, McLemore, Olidipo, Smart, or Noel. Fingers crossed!

GerryV
GerryV

Talented high maintenance player...ask yourself..."Can your locker room handle him?" It can't unless you have some veteran leadership...Hornets better off brining in solid guys...as you develop the roster with leadership and a sense of direction players like him can be guided......Players don't change that much as far as personality ( selfish traits...immature etc)....Talented but worrisome.

edbballin504
edbballin504

Do you have a link showing his father doing that stuff on video?? If so, plz post it.

JJacob
JJacob

Too quick of an answer to a long rebuild plan. Plus, we wouldn't have any cap space to resign/extend Eric Bledsoe.

edbballin504
edbballin504

Another thing to think about is that the current makeup of the Hornets have a ton of solid role players at almost every position. We don't need any more role players. We need star potential. Players who can take over the game, esp offensively. Smart and Shabbaz both fit the profile. Smart won't be there at #5, Shabbaz will be. Let's roll the dice and see what happens.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara

A lot of the same things were said about Austin Rivers last year, but Monty and the locker room handled him just fine, mostly because all of the stories of him being a high maintenance diva were overblown and/or Austin heard about these concerns and focused on maturing himself and his game. Shabazz hasn't had domestic incidents with a girlfriend or run ins with the law, drug and alcohol problems, etc. etc. His dad put forward a lie that he went with and he has been accused of being selfish on the court. I would be more surprised if a young man went against the wishes of his father or was completely selfless on the court, to be honest. There is some smoke, and there might be fire, but I personally don't think he is coming into the league with even half the baggage of a DeMarcus Cousins or even an Allen Iverson. For me, talented, but worrisome - that describes ever single player after the 'Big Five'. All worrisome for different reasons. Muhammad is so competative, that he becomes incredibly selfish at times. Sounds like what people said about Rivers last year, and Kobe 17 years ago. Not the worst thing you can put in the "cons" column to me.

mateor
mateor

No it is a story: [here](http://www.latimes.com/news/columnone/la-fi-shabazz-muhammad-inc-20130322-dto,0,3133186.htmlstory) The money quote from Shabazz's dad (after getting caught): "Holmes expressed concern about disclosure of his son's true age and his own criminal record and questioned whether either was newsworthy. He followed up with a text message. "Bazz is going to blow up in the NBA lets team up and blow this thing up!!!" Holmes wrote to this reporter. "I'm going to need a publicist anyway why shouldn't it be you. We can do some big things together." The whole thing is depressing. The article makes it clear Shabazz has been supporting the family for several years, and that living off of his child's basketball talent has been his pop's plan since before he was born. I just feel bad for the guy.

edbballin504
edbballin504

That's correct Jason, and in essence we wont feel the hit until the 2014-2015 season for reasons you already mentioned, so it allows us max flexibility and cap room this summer to get other pieces in addition to him (Bledsoe). On top of that, by then (summer 2014) Dell could easily make another move to shed some salary if Benson feels our payroll is too high, even though it's allowable under the rules. As far as the wallet next season is concerned, Dell made it very clear at the last chalk talk that cap flexibility is no longer desired following this off season. He has the money now, and he plans to use it. He believes that in the summer of 2014 some big markets will have cap space and he does not want to compete with them. This summer its all small markets to compete with, and now is when he wants to make his move.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

JJ, if we trade for Bledsoe, we'll have his Bird rights since he would have spent with the Clippers and received him in trade. Thus, we can give him the qualifying offer and sign him to any deal. Whether we have the money practically is another story, but I want to clarify that it would not be prohibited by the CBA. The general idea of minding the wallet is a very good one. Benson is losing millions this season, and that will not be allowed in perpetuity.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I wrote in my Shabazz profile a few weeks ago, Muhammad loves to come off of screens in the halfcourt. What better player to set [...]