Shabazz Muhammad: Breaking Down the Good and Bad from Anticipated Debut

Tim KeeneyContributor INovember 19, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 19:  Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the UCLA Bruins walks down the court late in the second half against the Georgetown Hoyas during the Legends Classic on November 19, 2012 at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Georgetown Hoyas defeated the UCLA Bruins 78-70.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

UCLA uber-prospect Shabazz Muhammad may have disappointed in his collegiate debut, as No. 11 UCLA fell, 78-70, to Georgetown in the semifinals of the Progressive Legends Classic Monday Night, but that's only because the expectations were astronomically and impossibly high. 

Before we get to how Muhammad did against the Hoyas, let's take a quick look back at his past five months.

During the summer, the No. 1 basketball recruit of 2012 (per Rivals), and quite possibly future No. 1 NBA draft pick, suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the court for nine weeks. Shortly after recovering, Muhammad hurt his shoulder during a UCLA practice and was forced to miss even more time. 

Prior to Monday's debut, he had participated in just four practices

Oh yeah, and during all of this, Muhammad was being investigated by the NCAA for possible recruiting violations and it still wasn't known if he would even be able to suit up in a Bruins uniform this season. After missing the first three games of the season, he was finally cleared to play.

Despite so little action on the basketball court and so much headache off of it, everyone expected Muhammad to showcase that elite talent against a long, fast, impressive, defensively-minded Georgetown squad in his first ever collegiate game.

Impressively enough, he managed to show it a little bit. The freshman quietly knocked down 5-of-10 shots from the field (2-of-4 from long range and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe) for 15 points to go along with a rebound and two assists in 25 minutes off the bench.

It's not the stat line that's important here, however. It's how he got those stats. 

Muhammad shot the ball very well. He knocked down an impressive pull-up jumper with a hand in his face for his first basket and his pretty left-handed stroke looked pure from the outside.

Considering his biggest strength—slashing to the hoop—was stymied by Georgetown's impressive 2-3 zone, it was a good sign to see Muhammad be able to knock down the jumper while still showcasing his athleticism (he attempted—and was fouled on—two ridiculously monstrous dunks) and maintaining his high energy level.

Once the Bruins are able to get out in transition or go up against a man-to-man defense, Muhammad is going to put up some staggering offensive numbers. You can count on that. 

Still, there were slight negatives. The first, a lack of conditioning, according to head coach Ben Howland, wasn't surprising. From CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein:

Howland on Shabazz "I thought he did a very good job considering. He's got a lot of work to put in conditioning wise."

— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 20, 2012

The second, while possibly more concerning, still has to be taken with a grain of salt considering the situation—he simply failed to make a large impact on the game.

Yes, he had 15 points, but in addition to a couple baskets coming when the game was out of reach, they were very spread out. It just never felt like he was getting into a rhythm or making that big of a difference.

Still, those are just small nitpicks that will undoubtedly fix themselves as Muhammad gets accustomed to the collegiate level.

Shabazz's performance, which was accompanied by an unexpected loss for UCLA, didn't blow anyone away, but more than anything else, it was a promising start to what looks like a potentially impressive career.