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Better Know a Prospect: Shabazz Muhammad, F - UCLA

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Bio: Shabazz Muhammad was born in November of 1992 in Long Beach, California.

It's impossible to cover his backstory without delving into that of his father, Ron Holmes, the performer of some truly bizarre antics in the name of assisting his son's professional basketball aspirations. It starts, apparently, well before Muhammad's birth; the Los Angeles Times reported in a remarkable March profile of Muhammad's father that Holmes essentially "selected" his wife through what sounds vaguely like eugenics.

Holmes went by the monikers "Ron Muhammad," and "Ron Shabazz," with pieces of those names eventually transforming into those of his son. The Times, in that same piece, also uncovered the fact that Holmes misled people about Muhammad's real age, allowing Muhammad to compete against basketball players a year younger than him all the way through college.

Shabazz rose to national prominence as a junior in Las Vegas, going on to earn MVP honors in the McDonald's All-American game and ranking in the top 2 overall prospects during his season year according to various scouting services. His father later explained the family's selection of UCLA in rather cynical terms -- the squad's lack of depth would force Ben Howland to showcase Shabazz, and relatively low expectations would mean even a first round appearance and victory in the NCAA tournament could paint Shabazz in a rosy light.

Unfortunately for the Holmes/Muhammad/Shabazz family, the revelation of Shabazz's real age during the season, an early season NCAA suspension due to suspected improper benefits, and underwhelming play from Shabazz himself caused his draft stock to plummet from preseason top-3 to barely top 10. That's where he sits today.

Stats: Muhammad's statistical profile is a bit strange as well, starting with a bizarre discrepancy -- Draft Express lists him at a 1.28 points/possession rate, which would be outstanding, but in an article citing Synergy stats, DX lists him at 0.96 points/possession, which would be awful. The difference, I suspect, is that the Synergy numbers don't incorporate his great offensive rebounding figures in the same way, but it's not clear.

The majority of Muhammad's offense came through transition play, offensive rebounding, post play, and catch and shoots, the latter three of which he proved particularly adept at. UCLA used him in shockingly few isolation and pick and roll plays; both play types accounted for just 6% of his overall offense.

Extremely aggressive in the paint, Muhammad ranked second among all small forwards both in free throw rate and offensive rebounds. Shabazz's assist rate is shockingly low however; DX points out that he'd have the fifth lowest assist rate of any top-10 perimeter player in the last decade.

Skills: Shabazz has size (6'6", 220, 6'11" wingspan) and he knows how to use it. He punishes defenders with his back to the basket, proving very effective at using his length to finish with either hand.

Muhammad is very dominantly left handed while ball handling and conspicuously can't go right in half-court situations, though we've seen overly hand-dominant players like Manu Ginobili succeed in the NBA due to pure talent before. He's very, very good at moving without the ball, finding crevices and openings in the defense; coupled with both his ability to finish and draw fouls as well as hit catch and shoot jumpers out to the three, he'll likely be able to carve out a niche in the pros on that skill alone.

At the same time, his ability to create his own shot is virtually nonexistent, and his inability to find wide open shooters is borderline criminal. In the halfcourt, Shabazz is a crazed madman with one singular goal on his mind: getting to the rim. When he can't get there, he's infinitely more likely to throw up half-baked, air-balled runners than pass to open teammates. That's the primary reason he was branded with the selfish label as a freshman, though I suspect it likely couldn't have been a conscious decision to not pass in many cases.

Muhammad is defensively inconsistent, and his offensive rebounding prowess doesn't translate to the defensive side. Often lackadaisical on that end, he still does have good size for the position though.

Conclusions: There's a lot of weirdness here which will scare off teams, but there's equally a ton of legitimate talent. Muhammad certainly doesn't make much sense in the top 5, and that's a testament to just how far he fell as a freshman. But you could make a strong case that he'd actually be a great value selection in the 10-15 range. Based simply on his activity level alone, Muhammad would be an interesting addition to most teams selecting in the top ten. Ultimately though, the fact that he can't produce his own own shot in the half-court will likely be what hurts him more than anything else.