As recently as last fall, “Free Shabazz” was one of the most popular social media campaigns going. UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad was being kept off of the hardwood because of elgibility concerns, and fans of the sport were outraged. How could the NCAA keep the nation’s incoming top recruit from suiting up for the iconic blue and gold? That seems like ancient history now.
Every year, a small sample of data is used to sum up a player’s resume, pushing once treasured players to the margins while young men with that new car smell shoot up draft boards. Executives nitpick guys to death, overvaluing more mysterious, rising prospects. This is where a lot of the general public is with Muhammad. An up and down freshman campaign marred by off the court stories has left a bad taste in the mouth of NBA scouts and executives. Thanks to social media and 24/7 news coverage, the public is acutely aware of every action of Muhammad’s on and off the court, from misrepresenting his age to bringing an expensive Gucci bag to a game.
Lost in the hubbub over his mistakes are an array of skills that Muhammad brings to his future team. One of his biggest strengths is an area the Sixers have struggled with for years: getting to the free throw line. Playing in Ben Howland’s famously rigid offense, Muhammad was asked to get action primarily on off-ball screens and cuts, and still averaged almost seven FTA per 40. This speaks highly to his tenacity and tendency to mix it up inside.
Another area where his ferocity is apparent is on the offensive glass. Muhammad is the second-leading rebounder among wings in Draft Express’ Top 100 prospect rankings, trailing only Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. Watch a few minutes of his game tape and you’ll see this jump off the screen. Muhammad uses his solid athleticism, large wingspan (6’11″ on a 6’6″ frame), and bulky frame (222 lbs) to outmuscle opponents and create second opportunities for his team.
He has also shown a penchant for improving his game. Coming out of high school, Muhammad was seen as more of a scorer than a shooter, relying on his own dribble to generate his offense. Playing off the ball at UCLA may have diminished the impact many thought he would have, but it helped him grow into a reliable floor spacer. Muhammad shot 37.7% from deep on 3.3 attempts per game, mostly in catch and shoot opportunities. This is important for his transition to the NBA, where he’ll be asked to shift responsibilities on any given possession.
Muhammad appears at first to be the anti Sam Hinkie player. He’s an inefficient scorer who doesn’t always bring his best effort to the defensive end, and he comes with a considerable amount of off the court baggage. Still, he’s an interesting name in the latter end of the lottery. Outside the shooting guard trinity of Bryant, Wade, and Harden, the NBA has a lack of depth at the position.
Attempting to harness Muhammad’s measurables and unique skills seems like a more tantalizing prospect than selecting one of the big men in this year’s class simply because they are tall. If Muhammad proves to be closer to the top five pick he was touted as instead of the overly scrutinized player he has become, the Sixers could steal a nice building block with the 11th pick.