Draft Projection: No. 18: Atlanta Hawks
Notes: Insider Only
Positives: Insider Only
Negatives: Insider Only
Summary: June 26 Update: While it's clear that Muhammad was overrated at the start of the season, it's less clear why he's having a hard time finding a landing spot somewhere now. He's still a great scorer, a good offensive rebounder and plays really hard. But his flaws (no right-hand handle, trouble shooting off the bounce, so-so lateral quickness) are being blown out of proportion. Yet, this is where Muhammad is on the eve of the draft. He's going to be playing with a very large chip on his shoulder next season.
Quick fact: Muhammad led the Pac-12 with 1.18 points per play and a 41.1 field goal percentage on guarded catch-and-shoots.
June 25 Update: There's a point where a player's reward outweighs the risk. I'm not sure where Muhammad's floor is, but it has to be pretty close. Yes, there are flaws in his game, but at some point you can't ignore his scoring abilities. Kelly Olynyk, San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin and Tim Hardaway Jr. also are possibilities.
June 24 Update: How the mighty have fallen. Muhammad was projected as a top-five pick at the start of the college basketball season, but didn't get a single 8, 9 or 10 rating from a team for our Secret NBA Draft Big Board. His ratings are all in a fairly narrow range of 4 to 7, and they reflect the new view that while Muhammad may be a solid contributor, he's unlikely to be a star. His draft night range is 13 to 19.
June 18 Update: Muhammad's stock is all over the place. But then again, so are the Celtics. He could go as high as No. 7 to the Kings or No. 9 to the Wolves or even No. 12 to the Thunder or No. 14 to the Jazz. But if he does slide this far, it's hard to see Danny Ainge passing on him. There's just too much talent there, and what the Celtics are going to need -- if they really are going into full rebuilding mode -- is more talent.
June 14 Update: Is Shabazz Muhammad underrated?
Chad Ford: No. I think he was overrated coming out of high school. I believe scouts, fooled by his age (he was listed as one year younger) and mature game, struggled to see Muhammad's flaws because he was able to overpower his opponents.
Within the first few weeks at UCLA, it was clear that he was ranked too high. While he's a good scorer, his inability to go right or shoot off the bounce caught up with him once he was playing against bigger, more athletic opponents. Muhammad has struggled and will continue to struggle with the transition from alpha dog to important cog in a bigger wheel. He still thinks he's "the man," though his game no longer suggests that he is.
I do believe Muhammad is a hard worker and will fix many of his weaknesses. If he does those things, I think he's a late lottery pick -- which is exactly where we have him projected.
Jay Bilas: Yes. Muhammad has some question marks. He is a bit undersized, unskilled as a perimeter player and not a polished defender. But he is a tough-minded transition player who can attack the basket and will work his tail off to be good.
Muhammad was injured most of last season and got a late start at UCLA. But when he got healthy, he was in better shape and did well. I think he will bounce back from a disappointing season and work hard to be a good pro.
I don't see Muhammad as a superstar, but I think he is a lottery pick and will do well in the NBA.
June 10 Update: Muhammad finally is getting the chance to try and erase the bad taste his freshman season at UCLA left with some scouts. He's worked out in Phoenix, Philadelphia and Sacramento, and heads to Minnesota, Portland and then Utah. The feedback from his workouts has been very positive. "He really competes," one GM said. "He's not backing down. The guy still carries himself like he's a top pick, which I really like." Of the teams he's worked out for, the Wolves seem to be the highest on him.
May 28 Update: Muhammad did not have a bad combine, as some have suggested. He showed up and competed, which is something very few of the other top prospects bothered to do. His jump shot wasn't falling, and teams were mixed on his interviews. Part of the issue is just finding the right team. The Pistons are a good fit, and the same is true for the Wolves and Mavs. I doubt he'd slide past the Jazz at 14.
May 15 Update: Muhammad could have a tough time at the combine. In the drills section, scouts will watch closely to see how he's shooting off the dribble. He struggled with that shot mightily at UCLA. In the athletic testing and physical measurements, scouts also have a number of questions. How big is he really? What sort of condition is he in? Does he have the explosive athletic ability he needs to overcome his lack of size for his position?
Lastly, after the L.A. Times exposť on his father, his age and his recruitment, you can expect him to be grilled by teams on his character. His performance in Chicago could make or break his draft stock.
May 8 Update (Projected No. 7, Pistons): The Pistons have had a bit of luck the past few years in the lottery. Every year a player who is ranked very high at the start of the season seems to slide to them later in the draft and somehow fits a perfect need. First it was Greg Monroe in 2010. Brandon Knight slid in 2011. Last year it was Andre Drummond. At times, all three were ranked in the top five with Monroe and Drummond going as high as No. 2. Could it happen again this year with Muhammad? The Pistons clearly have a need for a shooter, and before the season began, many scouts had Muhammad as a top-three pick. He didn't look like one at UCLA, but draft prospects rarely shine in Ben Howland's system.
May 2 Update: The good news for Muhammad? Despite continuing to slide in our Top 100, the demand for NBA small forwards is great and a number of teams might take him with a high pick despite reservations about how his freshman season played out. The Kings, Pistons, Pelicans and Wizards all remain strong possibilities to select Muhammad in the top 10.
Apr 16 Update: Muhammad announced he was declaring for the 2013 NBA Draft. Muhammad came into the year ranked as a Top 3 prospect and was widely regarded as one of the two best incoming freshmen in the country. While he put up strong numbers as a freshman at UCLA, for the most part NBA scouts were underwhelmed. He can clearly score the basketball and plays hard on every offensive possession. But Muhammad often played selfish, looked one dimensional and didn't exert the defensive effort he could have. Given his lack of size for his position and just average athletic ability his stock has slid to mid to late lottery.
Apr 2 Update: If last week wasn't bad enough for Muhammad, this week Pelton hammered him with some depressing advanced statistics. According to Pelton's formula, Muhammad ranks as the ... gulp ... 53rd-best prospect in the draft with a projected WARP of 0.4.
Muhammad's age and poor steals rate (which tends to be a good indicator of athletic ability in wings) really hurt his overall numbers. With so many teams beginning to sour on him for his on-court play, this doesn't help. His only real argument? Ben Howland's system tends to make lots of UCLA players look less valuable than they really are.
Mar 26 Update: It was an ugly, ugly week for Muhammad. On Friday the Los Angeles Times ran a story showing evidence that Muhammad's father had lied about his age and that Muhammad was actually a year older than he was listed everywhere. The difference between 19 and 20 isn't that huge in the grand scheme of things. But in the scouting world, it does make a difference.
First, Muhammad's age matters because he's been dominating younger guys in high school for years. Scouts would have scouted and ranked him differently had they know his true age. Second, when our own John Hollinger put together his draft rater years ago, he found age to be a big factor in determining pro success. Combine that with a tough shooting night in an opening-round loss to Minnesota (Muhammad was 6-for-18 from the field), and this isn't how Muhammad wanted to end his college career -- with questions about both his basketball game and his character.
Mar 13 Update: Muhammad continues to play hard and shows a knack to score. But it's become increasingly apparent to scouts that he really struggles to shoot off the dribble. If he gets his feet set, he's money, but when he tries to score on the move, his shooting percentages plummet. Coach Ben Howland said this week that Muhammad is leaving for sure for the NBA draft. If that's the case, he's going to need a huge tournament to propel his stock back into the conversation as the No. 1 pick.
Feb. 27 Update: Muhammad's recent slide from a top-three pick into the bottom of the top 10 is based partly on a number of uneven performances (like his 11-point, 2-for-7 shooting night against USC and a 4-for-13 performance against Cal) and even more based on a growing jadedness by NBA scouts toward his game. They love his motor, but the concerns about how explosive he is and his lack of size for his position are giving them pause.
Jan 30 Update: Muhammad continues to rebound from a shaky start. In the four games since our last update, he averaged 18 points per game and shot better than 50 percent from the field. But there's a growing feeling among scouts that Muhammad might have leveled off a bit. His motor and killer instincts are apparent, and most scouts believe he could be a 20-points-per-game scorer at the next level. But does Muhammad have the ability to go from very good to superstar? Most scouts are still waiting to be convinced.
Jan 16 Update: After a shaky start, Muhammad is starting to find his groove. He's overcome a shoulder injury, lost weight and is starting to show scouts why he was ranked by many as a potential No. 1 pick. What encourages scouts the most about his game is his fearlessness and leadership. He is as hard of a worker as anyone on this board. When you combine that motor with his offensive arsenal and athletic abilities, he has a chance to be a 20-point-per-night scorer in the NBA someday.
Dec 23 Update: Muhammad's inauspicious start to the season had a lot of NBA GMs and scouts shaking their collective head. He looked out of shape and, at times, overmatched. He often reduced his game to trying to bulldoze through opposing players -- a style of play that may have worked at the high school level but won't work in college. In his third game, a horrific UCLA loss to Cal Poly, Muhammad was just 4-for-13 from the field and couldn't work his magic with the game on the line.
As the Los Angeles Times chronicled this weekend, Muhammad has been working incredibly hard on his game. He's already lost 13 pounds, is putting in daily extra sessions with his father and two former USC players, and the results are starting to show up on the court.
His conditioning is returning, and so is his explosiveness. He's averaging 21 ppg in his past five games, shooting the ball at a clip of 50 percent from 3, and is starting to look like a guy who was once considered a lock as a top-three pick in the draft.
Dec 17 Update: Jay has Muhammad a little lower, but I'd be surprised if he isn't a top-three pick. He hasn't been great in the early going, but most scouts lay the blame on a preseason shoulder injury and Ben Howland's "make every prospect look like a second-round pick" system. Scouts were so uniformly behind Muhammad in high school that it's hard to see them giving up on him even if his freshman season is a disappointment. He may be the only player on this list who is likely to average 20 points per game in an NBA season.
Nov 19 Update: The NCAA's decision was, obviously, tremendous news for the Bruins.
Muhammad gives them a player who has the potential to average 20 plus points per game. He's a great rebounder for a player his size and could easily pull down six to eight boards a game as well. Most importantly, Muhammad plays with an infectious energy that elevates the game. While he doesn't quite have former UK Wildcat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's motor (no one does), he can have that sort of impact on both ends of the floor.
Place him on the court with three other terrific freshmen -- Anderson, Adams (who's averaging 24 ppg in 25 mpg!) and Tony Parker -- and lots of veteran help like Larry Drew II, Josh Smith, Tyler Lamb, Norman Powell and the Wear twins and UCLA has a ton of weapons on both ends of the floor.
Now, how will that impact the Pac-12 race? While Arizona has its own trio of special freshmen and look especially intimidating up front, I don't think they have the balance of UCLA, nor do they have a player like Muhammad who can take over a game in the final minutes. Moving beyond the Pac-12, I think it's possible that UCLA ends the season with a Top 5 ranking and a trip to the Final Four.
But I'm not totally convinced the re-instatement was a positive development for Muhammad's draft stock. Muhammad is a clear Top-3 pick right now. With Kentucky's Nerlens Noel looking a bit raw and scouts a little concerned about the long-term upside of Indiana's Cody Zeller, Muhammad had a strong shot at being the No. 1 pick in the draft -- whether he played or not.
Multiple NBA GMs and scouts told me that they would consider Muhammad as a potential No. 1 pick regardless of the outcome of the NCAA investigation. In other words, he has nowhere to go but down. And while UCLA players who have played for Ben Howland have had a lot of success in the NBA, his system has a way of making it tougher for NBA scouts to see it.
Every single top UCLA player who has been drafted since 2007 has gone lower than they should have on draft night -- some by a little, some by a lot.
UCLA's best draft year was in 2008 when Russell Westbrook went fourth and Kevin Love went fifth. In hindsight, they should've gone second and third behind Derrick Rose. That's a small bump upwards, but it doesn't reflect the genuine handwringing scouts had going into the draft about both players. Many scouts felt that Westbrook, especially, was a major reach for OKC given his production at UCLA. And while the stat heads loved Love (he was ranked No. 2 in John Hollinger's draft rater) they thought Westbrook would be a bust.
In 2007, Arron Afflalo was drafted at No. 27. Many scouts, including me, thought the Pistons made a reach at 27. A re-draft would put him in the Top 10 of the '07 draft class. Hollinger's draft rater didn't have him in the Top 30 players of the draft.
In 2009 Jrue Holiday fell to No. 17 despite being ranked as a Top-5 player coming out of high school. Darren Collison slipped to No. 21. Redo the draft three years later and both players would've been Top-10 picks. Again, the major concern from scouts was that both players didn't exactly fill up the box score at UCLA. Hollinger's draft rater -- which had them at 13 and 18 respectively -- still had both players underrated.
In 2011, Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, both elite high school prospects, slid into the second round.
Hollinger, noticing how Howland's players consistently performed well above their statistical draft projection, actually introduced a "Howland variable" into his draft rater formula to compensate for it.
I'm not pinning this on Howland. He's a very good coach and his players have come to the NBA well prepared to be pros. I'm just saying that UCLA's system doesn't highlight players to pro scouts or to statistical measures the way Kentucky's or North Carolina's does. That's not UCLA's problem, it's a scouting issue.
If Muhammad doesn't dominate in Howland's system, will scouts cool their heels toward him too?
Nov 15 Update: On Friday, the NCAA ruled that Muhammad was ineligible for the start of UCLA's season. Whether that ban continues all season is anyone's guess. Even if Muhammad doesn't play one game all season, every NBA scout I spoke with still believes he's a top-three pick. He's got a terrific motor, is a great scorer and is versatile.
In fact, if Noel doesn't improve, I wouldn't be shocked to see Muhammad go No. 1. Plenty of scouts have concerns about Cody Zeller's long-term upside in the NBA. They may feel Muhammad has more sizzle. At this point, I'm not sure it behooves Muhammad to play for UCLA. His draft stock may be better off sitting the season out.
Oct 22 Update: If ruled eligible by the NCAA, Muhammad has a terrific shot at being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He's blessed with elite athleticism, a motor that runs nonstop and plenty of tools on both ends of the floor -- scouts say he's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with more offensive game.
Muhammad is tough, relentless and has an NBA-ready body. He should be a monster at the college level. Muhammad has his weaknesses -- he's still a reliable jump shot away from being a dominant offensive force and needs to work on that right hand -- but he's blessed with so many gifts that scouts believe he's a can't-miss prospect at the next level.
The biggest question facing Muhammad is eligibility. The NCAA is investigating whether he received improper benefits while in high school. If Muhammad is ruled ineligible it will do little to affect his NBA draft stock. It might keep him from going No. 1 overall, but he's going to be a top-five pick regardless.
June 27 Update: Muhammad is a powerful, aggressive player with good scoring instincts who finds different ways to score and is never satisfied with his last performance. He thrives in the transition game, whether it's finishing a fast break or sprinting back to chase down a breakaway layup. In the half-court set, he's always looking to get closer to the basket and create fouls with his relentless straight-line drives. He will also look to post up smaller defenders, capitalize on offensive rebounds, knock down midrange jumpers and make open 3-pointers.
Defensively, he will get after his opponent, thanks to his ability to level dribble penetration, deny passing lanes, chase shooters off screens and rebound down from the perimeter. Overall, Muhammad is an intense player noted for his consistent energy and effort. He is a major part of UCLA's No. 1 recruiting class and has the daunting task of help bringing back the Bruins. -- by Paul Biancardi
Mar 28 Update: Muhammad is a super-athletic scoring machine who gets to the paint at will with NBA-level strength and explosive leaping ability. He plays hard on every possession on both ends of the floor. His outside shot has improved but can still use work. A number of scouts believe he could be the next Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He's a likely top-three pick in the 2013 NBA draft. According to Telep, Muhammad has narrowed his school choices to UCLA, Kentucky and Duke (with Kansas and UNLV still in the running).