It's been a strange month for UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, a player who is universally regarded as one of the top talents in the 2013 draft. In a matter of weeks, Muhammad's team was bounced from the first-round of the NCAA tournament, his coach was sent packing, and he aged a year well in advance of his birthday.
In case you missed it, it turns out that the freshman is actually 20-years-old, not 19 as previously believed. The story is bizarre and interesting for a lot of non-basketball reasons, but the headline is that the small forward figures to be less attractive to a lot of lottery teams. Dominating as a freshman is impressive, but less so when you're one (and sometimes, two) years older than your classmates. There's also the matter of potential dishonesty when it comes to Muhammad. The youngster's father appeared to be the puppet master behind the idea of fudging his birthdate, but NBA evaluators will surely probe further into that matter and try to find out why he was complicit in the plan. But make no mistake about it, Muhammad's situation isn't on the level of, say, Manti Te'o, and the coverup probably won't sink him on the draft board.
Getting back to basketball, Muhammad is a scoring machine who has a knack for finishing plays from uncomfortable spots on the floor. Muhammad has a great spot-up jumper and keeps defenders on honest with his ability to slash to the basket. He utilizes the mostly under-utilized floater and sonehow makes it on a regular basis. The forward isn't just zeroed in on scoring either; he goes to the glass and bangs with bigger defenders for the loose ball, and often finds a way to come away with it. He's also made strides with his outside shooting which was one of his main criticisms entering UCLA.
He gets hacked quite a bit when he slashes to the basket – which is great – but it would be nice if he could convert on more than 71% of his free throw attempts. His shot-selection is also questionable at times and can even be borderline frustrating. Muhammad has good basketball instincts on the whole, but if he plans to continue on forcing bad shots, then he won't get far at the next level. His defense has been up-and-down for the bulk of the year, but his wingspan should allow him to disrupt passing lanes and help get things going the other way. Muhammad won't come out of the gate and be an impact player as a rookie (few players in this class have a chance at that), but he can develop into a solid offensive option if he's groomed by the right team. The 19-year-old Muhammad had a shot at the top five, but the 20-year-old version probably figures to go around No. 10.