Shabazz Muhammad UCLA: Grades and Analysis for Debut Against Georgetown
Shabazz Muhammad made his UCLA debut on Monday night in a loss against the Georgetown Hoyas. The Bruins' top freshman came off the bench and played 25 minutes in the Legends Classic, but his team fell short.
While he wasn't at 100 percent and he came off the bench, Muhammad gave us our first look at what he can do for UCLA this season.
Let's break down how Muhammad fared in each aspect of his game.
You can't win a game without scoring, and Muhammad did what he could to put up some points on Monday night.
He went for 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 from three. While his range was a bit of a question heading into the season, he proved that he can stroke it from behind the arc tonight.
However, Muhammad's game was far from perfect.
He didn't have the best shot selection in the game, with his first basket coming on a tough pull-up jumper in transition when he didn't have any teammates down low to rebound and should have tried driving to the hoop. He also rushed a few shots throughout the night, and simply didn't make things easy on himself.
Muhammad's first half was a shoddy one, shooting 2-of-6 from the field. However, in the second half he took better shots and made them, shooting 3-of-4.
There's definitely room for improvement, but it wasn't a bad start for a kid who hadn't played a college game and only practiced three times with the team.
Muhammad is a big 6'6", 225-pound wing, and his athleticism should let him rebound well at the collegiate level. However, he struggled against the Hoyas.
Muhammad finished the game with just one rebound, and while part of that was that the ball didn't always come his way, he needs to do better.
A big part of the equation is that he played along the perimeter, taking himself out of the rebounding equation. On offense he was often seen behind the arc, which limits what he can do.
In addition to his positioning, Muhammad didn't give great effort when going for boards, expecting things to come to him. He also failed to box out on defense at times, especially against Otto Porter, who finished with 11 rebounds in the game.
He simply needs to do better; this was an unacceptable performance from Muhammad.
Muhammad's primary role is not as a facilitator, but his assessment has to be partly based on how he moved the ball.
Muhammad was not selfish against Georgetown, moving the ball quickly and very rarely sizing up his opponent, instead passing the ball.
However, most of his passes were right back to the point guard who passed to him. He rarely ever looked inside, and seemed to have tunnel vision on the wing.
The Hoyas saw what Muhammad was doing, and it led to an easy transition basket on an awful turnover with 18 minutes left in the second half. He also almost threw it away with four minutes left in the first half when trying to pass cross-court, but Kyle Anderson bailed him out with a nice save.
Muhammad was below average tonight, but he will likely improve in time.
It's probably a bit unfair to Muhammad to judge his chemistry with his teammates given that he only had three practices with the team before suffering a sprained ankle that kept him out until his first game on Monday...but I'm going to do it anyway.
Muhammad didn't look as crisp as we would like in the first half, exemplified by him fumbling a pass from Kyle Anderson in transition when he thought Anderson was going to take it to the hoop.
However, in the second half he adjusted and made sure to snag a similar pass from Anderson when he was given a second chance. What's more important is that he coexisted with Jordan Adams, who is leading the team in scoring this season with 23.5 points per game.
Muhammad played surprisingly well in the second half with his teammates. While his first half brings his grade down a bit, I'm weighting what he did in the second half more heavily here.
What makes Muhammad so dangerous is his play in transition. He is a freakishly gifted athlete who excels when the pace of the game picks up.
Whenever UCLA stopped Georgetown he would quickly run down the court, looking for an easy transition basket. In time, he and his teammates will develop a chemistry where they know he is down there and they can launch long passes, but tonight he was only rewarded a couple of times.
However, playing in transition isn't all about offense.
On defense he lost his man a few times, or seemed reluctant to jump in the way of opponents. He didn't make it down the court nearly as fast as he did on offense, which hurt his team at times.
Muhammad played well, but we will soon see him play much better in transition.
I'm excluding Muhammad's transition defense in this category since that was mostly about effort. This category is all about his half-court game.
Muhammad had the difficult task of guarding Otto Porter for most of the game, but he also had to guard Markel Starks when the team needed to shut him down, and Jabril Trawick at times.
UCLA played a tight man-to-man defense, which suited Muhammad perfectly. He was always on his man, not even leaving when opponents looked like they might cut to the basket, knowing that his man was the biggest threat on the floor and couldn't be left open.
Muhammad really shut down his opponents, allowing just six points by my count to his man when defending them, including a cheap two points by a big man who scored on a hook shot inside.
The only knock on his game was that he didn't play well inside against Porter (something that Dick Vitale and Bruce Pearl were quick to point out and very critical of). However, that was a one-time thing, as he played good post defense against Porter three times, giving himself a 75-percent success rate.
Overall I was very impressed by Muhammad's defense, as I had previously considered it to be among his worst aspects. However, he proved me wrong on Monday night.
Considering this was Muhammad's first college game and he hasn't had much time to adjust to the game, and is still recovering from his sprained ankle, I was impressed by his performance tonight.
His game wasn't perfect, and there are a few things he needs to work on (going right on offense, always giving 100 percent on both ends of the floor). But he showed a lot of potential tonight.
Muhammad played with a sense of urgency late in the game that suited him well, and if he brings that intensity for an entire game he could easily go for 30 points and 10 boards.
For now, we just have to wait for him to get adjusted and reach his full potential.