Shabazz's season at UCLA was a disappointment to many fans and it seems to many scouts who have his draft prospects falling. More on that in a minute. First, I wanted to go back and see how Shabazz really did last year and what was expected of him coming in. From the Scout.com review of prospect Shabazz Muhammad:
Talented wing prospect that has a unique scoring ability. He's constantly in attack mode and is an aggressive scorer. His long range shot is getting better, but he does majority of his work from mid-range and in. He's also confident enough in his post game to take defenders to the block and show a jump hook. We'd like to see him continue to develop range on his shot, but he's a heck of a prospect with an impressive motor.
In what may come as a shock to most UCLA fans, in some ways Shabazz exceed expectations and justified what UCLA and Howland has done for him. Until a slump to close out the season of going 3-23 on three pointers (including 0 for his last 10), Shabazz was showing some very impressive range from three, hitting 45% until that point. All that extra time in Pauley was paying off. Howland or UCLA helped improve Shabazz's range and if I was an NBA scout I would not be worried about his range.
In other ways Shabazz met expectations. Despite always being the number one option, Shabazz found ways to score. Shabazz Muhammad was the seventh best offense rebounder in the conference and the only guy in the top ten that was not a power forward or center. Since he is really only 6'4", he proved the non-stop motor part and then some on offense.
Of course there are the problems beginning with the way he played ,or did not play, defense. The scouts were very wrong on the non-stop motor part on the defensive side of the ball. If reverse was defense, Shabazz was like a formula one car, great going forward but with no reverse gear. Shabazz also averaged less than an assist per game. Put in perspective the much-maligned for not passing enough David Wear had more assists than Shabazz.
Part of Howland's downfall was not benching Shabazz and forcing him to play defense. The last similarly ranked recruit Howland had, Kevin Love, was benched and threatened for his problems on defense. Early on during Love's time Howland may have cost UCLA an early season loss to make that point.
Love played only 24 minutes, partly because Coach Ben Howland chose to play senior Lorenzo Mata-Real for defensive purposes at the end of the game. Howland used his final timeout with 2 minutes 23 seconds left, so he didn't have the option of switching Love and Mata-Real on offensive and defensive possessions.
"I missed a few hedges on defense in the first and second half," Love said. "On defense, it's a hard thing to pick up. Right now Coach Howland trusts Lorenzo a little more."
In 2012-13 a desperate Howland was never going to sacrifice the offense of Shabazz to teach him a lesson on defense. In that way Howland of 2012-13 did a disservice to Shabazz.
However that is not the biggest reason Shabazz draft stock has fallen. The larger issue is his Trojan nut job Dad. Ron Holmes reportedly had Shabazz lie about the fact his age was 20 not 19, played games with recruiting trips that almost cost Shabazz his eligibility, made his goal in life "to raise his three children to be professional athletes", and has a different name then his son because a judge told the con man he could no longer change identities. All year UCLA games were prefaced by another issue with Shabazz off the court, many his Dad's fault.
As a friend of mine who is a huge UK backer said, "I am glad we missed that mess." Shabazz's draft status is not hurt by UCLA as much as it is by questions set up by his Dad.
So when Shabazz says:
UCLA freshman swingman Shabazz Muhammad: "I know I'm a great player. I'm a guy that believes he's the best player in the draft."
I almost feel sorry for him as NBC says:
Let's not demonize Muhammad for saying something a majority of - if not all - projected lottery picks are thinking about themselves. Most players rely on a supreme inner-confidence to push them through the challenges they face in such a high-profile endeavor.
But if any top prospect can least afford to say that aloud, it's Muhammad. He was the center of UCLA's offense, and although he filled that role pretty well, he's not projected to handle such a big burden in the NBA, at least not immediately. Is he OK with that? The best player in the draft might want to remain a centerpiece, but the eighth-best player in the draft (or so) will have to come to grips with a lesser role in order to maximize his contributions at the next level.
Shabazz might have it tough because his Dad has always insisted he be number one to the point of lying about his age to give him an advantage over his peers in youth basketball. Howland's error in his desperation to win was in giving into that. It goes to show that Dan Guerrero blew it because Howland of 2012-13 was not the coach of Howland 2007-8 and Guerrero should have realized it.
Enough on the past. How does UCLA replace Shabazz? Well it turns out with two Parade All Americans. Zach Lavine AND Bryce Alford. Of course, Parade All Americans are not exactly the most reliable judge of talent. But heck, neither were the scouts who led us to believe that Shabazz would be all effort all the time.
Both Lavine and Alford are supposed to be great outside shooters and both are combo guards who can pass and maybe play point. In other words, UCLA maybe gains a bit in those two categories. I have to believe UCLA gains on defense as well as Shabazz did not play it. As far as being the number one option on offense, that may fall to an experienced Jordan Adams. So what does it mean for UCLA?
1. On paper right now at least, UCLA can adequately replace Shabazz on offense.
2. Except the poor rebounding UCLA loses a force on the offense boards that no current player is likely to replace. The second best offensive rebounder, Kyle Anderson, might be playing more point and be dragged further away from the basket.
3. Coach Alford needs to develop Tony Parker and hopefully get a transfer big. UCLA is desperate on the boards.
But most importantly Shabazz's Dad and the problems he caused are gone. How Alford deals with his son, may be a key to the season next year. Did Alford encourage Allerik Freeman to leave to open up minutes for his son? How is Coach Alford who has already shown to lack media savvy going to deal with minutes for his son if his son plays like a freshman? Or if the more physical talented Lavine plays less than Bryce early?
The Ron Holmes side show has gone to the NBA. The pieces are there to maybe even improve on last year but Coach Alford has to make it work. How he deals with his own son may be a key.