Sixth Pick Tournament Round One: Alex Len vs Shabazz Muhammad

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Published: May 28, 2013
Shabazz & Len

In the second match-up in round one of the Sixth Pick Tournament, Michael Pellissier and Ryan Schwan face off, arguing the merits of drafting Alex Len vs Shabazz Muhammad. Read and vote for your pick at the bottom. 

The Case for Alex Len (Pellissier)

True 7-foot centers always carry a high level of intrigue because there are so few of them. They are so rare, in fact, that serious deficiencies in their skill sets are often overlooked by GMs. For instance, many strong 7 footers are unable to defend on the perimeter; conversely, the rail-thin 7 footers get thrown around like rag dolls in the paint. The 7-footer who can both hold his ground and defend near the perimeter is an unusual and substantial asset to his team.

Enter Alex Len, the sophomore from the University of Maryland. Len is currently rated as the 7th best prospect in the DraftExpress database and has an excellent physical foundation to build upon. Jonathan Givony says this about Len:

“The intrigue around Len begins with his outstanding physical profile. Standing 7-1, with a huge wingspan, big shoulders, and a frame that will surely fill out nicely over the next few years, Len clearly has terrific tools to work with. He’s also a very good athlete for his size, as he runs the floor well, elevates off the ground quickly, and is capable of playing above the rim with ease.”

But Len is more than just a 7-footer with athleticism, as he has already shown signs of an emerging jumper. He also has a soft touch around the rim and is nimble enough to execute spin moves to navigate around his defender. Most importantly, Len is an excellent fit next to Anthony Davis. Len can rebound, step out and hit a jumper, and defend in the post against bigger post presences.

Len had a breakout performance versus fellow draft prospect and surefire top-5 pick Nerlens Noel, posting 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. He also did some of his work that night on Willie Cauley-Stein, who is a raw player but an excellent athlete. Len showcased many of his abilities that night: he ran the floor, executed some spins in the post, blocked shots, finished at the rim, hit a turnaround in the post, and drilled an 18 footer in Cauley-Stein’s face; most importantly, he did all of this versus players with very good NBA athleticism and size to match.

Here are a couple of things that Len does that will translate to him becoming a very good NBA player.

Shot-blocking

7-footers with large wingspans are a threat to block any shot near the rim, even if they are not particularly athletic. Consider that Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez are among the league leading shot-blockers even though neither is mobile. You cannot teach size, and Alex Len has it. Opposing defenses can take shot-blockers out of the paint by bringing the men they defend out to the perimeter: the shot-blocker is forced to give up open shots (to the Kevin Garnetts and Chris Boshes of the world) or to abandon the paint and limit his ability to alter shots near the rim. Anthony Davis is going to be an excellent shot-blocker for years, and other teams will draw him out of the paint, but what if the Pelicans had another shot-blocker on the floor? Having Len and Davis on the floor together would ensure that there is always a legit shot-blocking big near the rim.

Defending in space

Here is where most 7-footers lose their bearings. These guys are almost never adept at defending away from the basket, as their heavy feet prevent them from adjusting to the quick movements of opposing guards and forwards. Conversely, according to Jonathan Givony, “Len has quick feet and good timing stepping out and hedging screens on the perimeter, something you usually don’t see 7-1 centers do too often. His main virtue lies as a rim protector, though. He’s so tall and long he often doesn’t even have to leave his feet to block a shot, and he has a tremendous knack for using his wingspan to alter and reject shots around the rim.”

Len’s offensive skill set is still raw, but he should be able to step in as a pick and roll threat right away due to his athleticism, size, and soft touch near the basket. If nothing else, this, combined with his ability to both defend in the paint and on the perimeter, will make him a very valuable piece for the Pelicans. If and when he does develop his offensive game, he will be a mid-range threat, pick and roll threat, and should easily be able to post up small-ball centers due to his size advantage.

His physical foundation and emerging skill set give him excellent potential as an NBA center, and he should fit wonderfully next to Davis. Selecting him would give the Pelicans a versatile frontcourt that could deal with anyone once he and Davis have developed.

Why You Shouldn’t Want Shabazz Muhammad

1. Let’s hope the apple falls very far from the tree. Muhammad’s dad is legitimately crazy. From picking out his wife based on breeding science, to falsifying Shabazz’s age, and to bribing reporters, Ron Holmes, Shabazz’s father, is nuts. They are two separate people, but if you believe at all in “nurture,” you should be absolutely terrified that Ron Holmes is the man that raised Shabazz.

2. Muhammad has been compared by some to James Harden, but that comparison is completely unsubstantiated. Every left-hander with any scoring ability is compared to Manu Ginobili or Harden, but those guys are special players and rare finds. Harden was far more efficient in his freshman year at ASU than Muhammad was at UCLA, registering a full 10% higher in TS%. This is an enormous difference in efficiency. Harden also averaged 3.2 assists while Muhammad averaged 0.8. Also keep in mind that, because Muhammad’s age was lied about, he is the age of a college sophomore.

3. Muhammad’s assists per game average was 0.8. To put it in perspective, Carmelo Anthony averaged 2.2 assists per game in college. Muhammad is also rumored to not pass the salt at team dinners.

4. Most of Muhammad’s intrigue comes as a scorer, and his supporters point out his “alpha male mentality” as an asset to his NBA future because it’ll allow him to take big shots down the stretch.. but will his offense translate to a #1 option? According to DraftExpress, he received just 6% of his offense from initiating the pick and roll or in isolation. This is an astoundingly low number, and if you envision Muhammad as a Kobe or Melo type, you will be seriously disappointed. The best NBA scorers have the ability to create their own shots, and although it isn’t the prettiest basketball, they must be able to score in isolation. Consider these statistics:

% of offense in isolation and pick and roll
LeBron James: 24.2% + 17.1% = 41.3%
Russell Westbrook: 18.9% + 29.5% = 48.4%
Kevin Durant: 23.7% + 13.7% = 37.4%
Carmelo Anthony: 27.1% + 10.6% = 37.7%
Kobe Bryant: 28.3% + 20.5% = 48.8%
James Harden: 27.0% + 24.8% = 51.8%

Shabazz Muhammad (college): ? + ? = 6%

*DraftExpress did not provide how much of Muhammad’s combined 6% from the pick and roll and isolation came from each category.

Muhammad will have to drastically alter the way he operates on offense to fulfill the role of a primary scorer. NBA offensive sets don’t always work, and teams need guys who can get the ball after a broken play and create their own offense on the fly. Muhammad has not shown an ability to operate in isolation and may be better served as a secondary scorer in the NBA.

Well, that’s where things get tricky. Muhammad wants the ball in crunch time. In a game this year versus Washington, he was infuriated when Larry Drew II didn’t get him the ball for the final shot. Drew made the shot and won the game, inciting a full team celebration, but Muhammad, still steaming from not getting the ball, chose to walk away and ignore his teammates.  Truthfully, I could understand Muhammad’s reaction if the shot had missed, but it didn’t. UCLA won the game and he just didn’t care.

If Shabazz is going to act like that when he doesn’t get the ball, and he hasn’t shown that he can create for himelf, how is he going to fare in the NBA? He is known for his competitive streak, but my biggest litmus test for athletes is how they respond when things aren’t going well. Players concerned with “getting theirs” are often not a problem when times are good, but when the road gets rough, these players can be cancerous on the court and in the locker room. In fact, Givony points out this about Muhammad: “his energy level (on defense) is highly dependent on how he’s faring on the other end of the court. When he misses a shot or doesn’t touch the ball on a given possession he can be slow to get back on defense, and his lateral quickness appears to be just average on top of that.” This kind of conditional effort is not something you want in any of your players.

In sum, Muhammad has very questionable intangibles, he is a terrible passer, his effort on defense comes and goes, he wasn’t efficient in college, his dad is crazy, and he’s already a year older than his classmates. There are far too many question marks surrounding Muhammad to justify selecting him 6th, and it’s debatable whether Schwan could even pronounce (or spell, see below) Muhammad’s name.

The Case for Shabazz Muhammad (Schwan)

And now, dear friends, we come to a contest between what seems to be a very unequal contest.

In this corner, we have Shabazz Muhammad, the Fallen Star, former consensus #1 High School prospect of Rivals, Scouts, and ESPN.  After just one season, no player has had as much bad (or at best, luke-warm) press, dealt with an age-related scandal, and has looked more one-dimensional as a basketball prospect that Shabazz Muhammad has.  At the combine, he measured small for his position, shot poorly,  and no one seemed impressed by his athletic testing.  Previously assumed to be a lock for a top three pick, he now faces falling to the back end of the lottery.

In the other corner, we have Ukranian Olexiy (Alex) Len, a true seven foot behemoth with a wingspan that could put a Golden Eagle to shame.  Scouts are always talking about his athletic profile, his quick feet, and his ability to cover ground in the paint.  He is an athletic big man auditioning for a league where athletic big men are more desirable than Anne Hathaway in black leather.

It seems it should be a run away in favor of Len, until you take into account one simple measure:  Can the guy play basketball?  Does the guy have a skill he can hang his hat on in the NBA?

Muhammed can play.   If you normalize the NCAA numbers to take into account pace and playing time, Shabazz rises, ranking as the second most prolific scoring small forward in the country, and the fourth highest scoring forward overall.  He trails only one wing as an offensive rebounder,  and does it all while almost never turning the ball over or fouling.   Muhammed can shoot, attack the rim, post up, draw fouls.   If you need to put some scoring punch on the floor, Muhammed has all the tools, strength, and relentless attacking focus to make him anything from a great second or third option to an explosive scoring sixth man.

Alex Len?  There’s nothing there.  Blocked Shots? He’s 8th among center prospects – but he actually fouls more often than he blocks shots.  Compare that to Noel’s 5.4 blocks per 3.2 fouls or Jeff Withey’s 4.9 per 2.6.   Not good.  You want scoring?  His true shooting % is in the bottom half of centers – as are his raw scoring numbers.  In fact, he’s a middling post option and only two centers in this draft drew fewer free throws per field goal attempt as Len managed.  How about rebounding, the skill that most transfers from college to the pros?   No luck, he’s fifth from the bottom among centers.  So right now, Len is an athletic, seven-foot behemoth who cannot score, cannot draw fouls, cannot rebound, and fouls anything that moves.  To round it off, he’s in the bottom half of centers in assists, is dead last in steals, and despite touching the ball infrequently is only middle of the pack in turnovers.

However, you can take all those numbers and say “He’s only 19!”  It’s true.  He won’t turn twenty for another two weeks.  But . . . already his body is breaking under the strain of being over seven feet tall.   His ankle has a stress fracture he is re-habbing right now.  The previous season he had issues with his other ankle that limited him.  Ironically, he’s being compared to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a player who managed 179 out of a possible 328 games his first four seasons – due to ankle and foot injuries!  Imagine what will happen when he fills out?  When he’s got a man’s weight on those feet?  I can’t take another player fighting through injuries – especially a player that desperately needs minutes and time to even hope to become a contributor.  Can you?

This is no contenst.  I’m taking the guy who already is a basketball player.  I’m taking Shabazz.

For all Sixth Pick Tournament Matchups and the Bracket, click here.

41 comments
chiefyoungblood
chiefyoungblood

I think their is a danger with Shabazz to get to distracted by superficial criticisms , I mean why not be encouraged by superficial praise like his name is Shabazz Muhammad , that's a name.  Great names always pan out in the NBA ( ie.the championship pistons they had an incredible 4/5 great name rate, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton , Tayshaun Prince, Rasheeeeed Waaaaallaaace ).  But if you prefer to look at what you actually know... here's  what we know he's long and strong enough to play the 3 , he's strong enough to continue to score in the post against NBA athletes, he has always been able to score, he rebounds fantastically for his size and he cares ( it seems the argument is rather he cares the right or preferred way their is no real argument that he does not care about basketball or winning ) .  He is the reality to Len's expectation .  Len could be this or that , but all you really know is he is 7 ft, 19 , and has foot problems.  Vote Shabazz ya'll.

twowatt8
twowatt8

"You can take all those numbers and say 'He’s only 19!'  It’s true.  He won’t turn twenty for another two weeks."

That made me laugh so hard I could hear the grumbling from the neighboring cubicles. Well said! Ryan's stats on (against? haha) Len are compelling-- I went Shabazz.

JayDogon
JayDogon

Also, you say Shabbazz's dad is crazy for picking his wife based on breeding science but isn't his son proof that he made a wise choice?? Crazy like a fox I say

JayDogon
JayDogon

After reading Len's argument and knowing he was going against a player I don't like in Shabazz I was all in on Len... But then Ryan made a masterful argument that totally swayed me to Muhammad. Great job, Schwan

fran186
fran186

I am taking Len over Muhammad. First of, Muhammad is one of those players that can ruin a team's chemistry. I do believe that his character issues and poor performance at the combine can put him outside of the lottery unless his individual workouts are an improvement. It's funny how MM said last year that the Bobcats could tank to get this guy. Besides that, I really don't see how he can be the second best wing player on the draft board.

Len, on the other hand, I really like his offensive game; he kind of reminds me of Arvydas Sabonis and Rik Smits.  He has the most potential than any 5 in the draft, but the foot is a big issue. Although it is a stress fracture,  it could affect his stock depending on what the doctors think. His stock could fall a la Jared Sullinger. Right now, I would not take him at 6, because it is too much of a risk to take a shot on him if he is injury prone. If he falls, then I would see a possible trade.

HollisBuckeye21
HollisBuckeye21

I want to like Muhammad. I want to drink the kool-aid and be happy with a great scorer. But, I can't. Muhammad left me surprised with the fact my jaw never dropped watching him play and I found myself shaking my head more than anything. I was set to reference the Larry Drew shot and you did. As you said, if the shot misses, it's one thing. If it goes in and you refuse to join the celebration. What?!? People compare Rivers and Shabazz with what people thought of their personalities. Rivers was confident with an upbringing that would set him straight if needed. Shabazz is just cocky to me and does not have that same upbringing. Eric Gordon's already making things weird when it comes to the locker room, I don't want to risk another Type Me personality in the locker room. Not when his game is the level Muhammad's is.


What is interesting is just 2-3 months ago, I cringed when a mock draft had the team taking Alex Len. I hated it. I hoped it would not be a possibility. The more I watch, the more I read, the more I research, the more I support. Don't get me wrong, I'm still on the Zeller bandwagon (maybe by myself) but I'm starting to believe in Alex Len. I would love pairing him with Davis down low. New Orleans Block Party anyone? It would be a nightly occurrence. He has a mix of the finesse game and the man's game down low. The scary part for me is the ankle issues. It would be heartbreaking for this franchise to have the #6 pick not playing due to injury concerns. 


However, I'm still taking my chances there over Shabazz mayhem. Worst case. Len ends up a better trade bait because teams convince themselves they can mold the 7 footer and we re-stock. Best case. This team has one of the most fearsome frontcourts in the NBA, and they could be together a LONG time.

dschmid4
dschmid4

This an interesting dilemma, big man with foot issues  versus inefficient self-centered gunner.  I think in comparison I will take Len, not because I believe he will be great, but because he takes less of the table. 

I think there is an interesting comparison between Rivers and Shabazz. Last year the bad press Rivers was getting as far as attitude was concerned turned out to be unfair or at the very least did not predict how we would carry himself.  You do have to wonder what we really know about Shabazz's personality. Crazy Dad or not. Nature or nurture.  My guess a lot of people out there succeed in spite of wacked out parenting. 

Still I'll vote for Len, though Schwan made me think about this one a lot more than I though I would

504ever
504ever

Schwann,

I think your center stats are not normalized to per 40 minutes, as you did for Shabazz (Shaputz?).  Since Len played much fewer minutes than most centers, that explains his low comparative rankings.


I am not a huge Len fan but, compared to Shabazz, Len is the runaway winner to me.

jsl05
jsl05

I'm drafting Alex Len.  He's a guy that has a complete game and still has a lot of room to grow.  He could fill our starting center position of the future and be our version of Roy Hibbert.  I love his game and believe he could help solidify our frontcourt as the best in the league in a few years. 

mjtaylo3
mjtaylo3

Lol not to pick on you Pellissier, but "nurture" in the nature/nurture debate refers to one's influences (a.k.a. their enviornment), whereas nature refers to their genes, or what is passed on by the parents.

ericsnow
ericsnow

Trading down to 9 and picking up shabazz makes perfect sense n picking up a center or euro player at 26 would work maybe Keep lopez another yr n boost up his trade value n trade him next off season

JabberWalker
JabberWalker

To me both of these prospects will be picked based off of potential.  Shabazz has not looked good and has had off-court issues.  There was also a lot of bad press about Austin Rivers and what a bad team guy he'd be and he's been a great team guy.  Without being able to sit down and talk to him and try to find any more about him (as the Pels should do), I'm picking him based off of what we know he can do.  He has every physical gift and has shown that he can be a good pick.  He was still in the top 5-6 before the whole age thing came about.  If we can get through to him he could be the best player in the draft.

I don't see a world in which Len becomes the best pick.  If it had to come down to these two, I'm sticking with Shabazz.

ericsnow
ericsnow

Ill take shabazz only because we cant afford another injured player ill trade down n pick up shabazz n maybe pick up a center later n the 1st maybe the center from gonzaga or deing

kmatt404
kmatt404

My only problem with Shabazz are his off-court issues. Other than that he ain't as bad as everybody thinks. Jason Smith came here without knowing what the heck a boxout or ''help the helper'' was. Shabazz can play defense, or least learn a couple of things about it. Len could be EG10 2.0 and already sick of injury prone players. I won't draft none of this 2 but if I had to, I'll pick Shabazz.

nolafredo
nolafredo

I went with Len for two reasons.  First, because it seems obvious that there needs to be another physical presence in the paint alongside Skybrow.  I'd wager that Dell and Monty are looking for someone to be the partner for Davis.  Secondly, because Shabazz scares me.  Not in the "Michael Myers/Candyman" sense, but in the "there's no real ceiling or floor for him."  I could see him turning into the next great scorer or end up out of the league in 3 years or move to India and become a cosmic masseuse, learning under Baba how to do the world's greatest head massages.  I don't know of anyone who can say with certainty what the next few years will bring for Shabazz.

Pelicans3fan3
Pelicans3fan3

The best route to contention is the Spurs model. With that said, we already have some nice pieces  that are very similar.

Duncan- Davis

Parker- Rich man's Gordon

Bonner- Poor man's Anderson

Ginobilli-   Really think Vasquez is much better fit in this type role than PG

Diaw- Smith

Neal- Roberts

Green- Even though they don't have similar play styles, I could see Rivers filling this type of role.

     Which leaves us with two gaping holes- Splitter and Leonard. Now the Kawi players are much harder to find, but Otto Porter really could fill those shoes nicely. He's a little thin right now, but once he fills out I think that's a great comparison. However, he'll likely go too early which will let Len fall right in our laps. Len could very well wind up being even better than Splitter and form one of the best defensive front lines ever with Davis somewhere down the road. When you look at it this way, we realy aren't that far off from one of the top 3 teams in the league (when healthy!). This is a copycat league, and it's all about finding players with specific roles, so I say if Dipo and Porter are off the board we need to draft Len. (I know some of the comparisons are a stretch, but basing them off of potential.)



Papa Pelican
Papa Pelican

To those who want to wait til next years draft are insane not every player you like is going to be one and done.I want the Pels in the playoffs in 2013-14 season not be a lottery team again.What a bunch of homers.I perfer Len over Shabazz i don't think the Pels need a headcase like Shabazz.

Houpgarou
Houpgarou

Nice attempts by both to turn lemons into lemonade

M.P., you managed to squeeze out bout 1000 well composed words and still avoid the humongous elephant in the room. Can't see delmonte picking Len without seeing him workout even, despite montys thirst for a big 5. Don't think this would always be the case, but Len didn't show his capabilities at college supposedly because his guards couldn't get him the ball?!? .( there's always two sides to a story like that)

As for shabazz, look at our roster of choirboys briefly to remind yourself how important character and chemistry is to delmonte and shabazz is pretty much dead at the doorstep.

I have to go with Len cuz he would ha e more value ina trade, which is what I would hope we do if faced with these choices

daThRONe
daThRONe

Just to be clear choosing your mate based on genes doesn't make you crazy, that's about sa sane of a thing one can do.

I went with Len. Teams don't usually do well with ball-stoppers. That's exactly what Muhammad is and his assist numbers says it all. Guys like this tend to kill team chemistry. While he's not over limited how he project to be affective in the NBA may not work at his projected position. As a 2 he can bully smaller guards as he's proficient in the post. As a short 3 I don't see that working very well.

So I guess I'm choosing Len more for what Muhammad isn't more than what Len is.

Caffeinedisaster
Caffeinedisaster

I had to choose Len.  I really don't want a guy with a Carmelo-playing-style (see selfish) and a headcase history in the locker room.  True, the foot injury scares me, but look how many chances Portland gave Oden.  These things are often overlooked in Bigs.  If Len eventually proves to be injury-prone, we'll still have teams willing to trade for him.  If Muhammed proves to be a black hole with the ball and insane in the membrane, I doubt we will fare so well in getting rid of him.

Caffeinedisaster
Caffeinedisaster

Shabazz doesn't even PASS THE SALT AT TEAM DINNERS?

Classic.

Edbballin504
Edbballin504

Nice argument by both sides, but at the end of the day I had to go with Shabbaz because the Pelicans are trying to make that leap forward next year. Len is gonna take some time before he's ready to contribute whereas Shabbaz should at least be able to score from day one. The injuries also scare me, along with the fact that our front court is already pretty good as is. Our weakness is the wings and Shabbaz is a wing I'd be willing to gamble on.

MasonGinsberg
MasonGinsberg moderator

Loved the "% of offense in isolation and pick and roll" stat. For the NBA players that you listed (who played college ball), are their college numbers in these areas available anywhere? Would provide an even better comparison.

Houpgarou
Houpgarou

To play devils advocate, how about Scottie pippen who moped and left the game when his name wasn't called for the final shot? You can still be a hall of farmer even if you're a lousy teammate and all around dck

macs21
macs21

@504ever 
Also his Guards were both ball hogging gunners.. Can we normalize for that too?

Also, he has a jump shot so wasn't just baging all the time therefore has a lower FG% and draws less fould per shot

macs21
macs21

@mjtaylo3 
He's not talking about Genetics, he's referincing upbringing..

However, you could just as easily have said both sides of Nature and Nurture aren't in his favour haha

Michael Pellissier
Michael Pellissier

@mjtaylo3 I'm used to getting picked on, but how is that wrong? I'm referring to how Ron Holmes influenced the upbringing of Muhammad, i.e. "nurture"

Houpgarou
Houpgarou

Yes, vote for Len then vote he be traded to Phoenix for Gortat

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@champsworld504 Yeah, it's called voting for Cody Zeller or Trade for a Veteran when one of these guys moves on to the next round. I will be right there voting with you on that one

Caffeinedisaster
Caffeinedisaster

@JabberWalker I like your argument regarding Rivers.  Perhaps Muhammed will be humbled by coming into the NBA and change his perspective on things.

Michael Pellissier
Michael Pellissier

@MasonGinsberg I was shocked at how little Muhammad operated in isolation and in the pick/roll and I was really mad that I couldn't find more detailed stats like that.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@MasonGinsberg hoop-math.com will show you % of their points in each area that is assisted on. I think you can safely assume for wing players that an unassisted basket is either an isolation or pick and roll a large percentage of the time.

HollisBuckeye21
HollisBuckeye21

@Houpgarou Oh yeah. I definitely agree. That's why I said I can't do it when the level of game is where Muhammed is. Winning changes everything. If Eric Gordon complained, did the Phoenix thing, and then played say 65-70 games as leading scorer. Everyone would forgive the comments and move on. Pippen was a hall of famer so he is allowed to be an "all around dick". That's just how sports work.

 I personally, do not feel the benefits of what Shabazz brings in outweigh the cost of the headache he could cause. I still haven't completely written him off like many people, but there are just other options I prefer. 

mjtaylo3
mjtaylo3

@macs21 @palochak


Oops my bad.  I thought you were going with a "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree approach", but I guess he could be equally screwed on the nature and the nurture.  I'm going to focus on this instead of the idea of drafting Bazz or an oft injured center.

Houpgarou
Houpgarou

You mean Dario saric 1.0, yes it was he who hit the gamewinner while Scottie sulked