There's no doubt about who is the most talented player on this year's UCLA Bruins: Shabazz Muhammad.
The fabulous freshman wing from Vegas is a prolific scorer, putting up 18.5 PPG, and a skilled rebounder (5.2 RPG).
Muhammad is the kind of player who can absolutely go off and take over a game. He can hit shot after shot and score points in bunches.
But as much as the Bruins need Muhammad’s skillfulness, they also need someone to step up and take over the leadership role on this squad.
Coming into the last month of the season, a good question to consider is—can Muhammad be both the best player and the team’s leader?
The top scorer on any team “leads” his squad. But there is a big difference between being the statistical leader, and the player who takes charge of what happens on the floor.
Every squad needs a “top dog,” a guy who is going to kick some butts, get in some faces, or pull the team out of a hole when it is down.
A lot of times, that person is the point guard. Because he has the ball in his hands more than anyone else on the court, he becomes the default floor leader.
ESPN.com’s Luke Lapinski throws out that these Bruins may be “the nation’s most enigmatic team.”
ESPN’s Dana O’Neil was asked to predict how UCLA might do in this year’s post-season play. She said:
They could be out in the first round—and out badly—or they could make the Sweet 16. Wildly unpredictable, which really shouldn't be the case anymore.
Both comments suggest that the Bruins still haven’t found that team leader yet.
Four of UCLA’s five starters are newcomers. Three of them (Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams) are freshmen. And PG Larry Drew II is a senior transfer (from North Carolina).
Because of this, the team’s leadership is wide open.
Muhammad seems to be more of a “lets-his-game-do-the-talking” kind of player. While he is not reserved or isolated, he does not gravitate to the role of a vocal leader.
Also, Muhammad’s recent post-game reaction to a teammate’s hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater didn’t earn him any respect either.
Rather than joining in on the team celebration, Muhammad walked right past the courtside dogpile of teammates.
B/R’s Brian Mazique gives this perspective about Muhammad’s reaction:
"As the leading scorer for the team (averaging 18.6 points per game), he rightfully expected to get the ball in that situation. He had every right to be upset about not having the ball in his hands. Sometimes things work out even when the best player isn't making the decisive play.
His outward reaction was where he ran afoul. He lost self-control, and as a leader—or at least a guy with the potential to become a leader—you can't allow yourself to have that type of outburst."
Self-absorbed? Immature? Maybe not either one of these, but he didn’t score any points with his stoic disposition when his teammates were going crazy in the moments following an important, last-second victory.
Though we haven’t seen anything else as blatant as this, Muhammad will never carry the label of the rah-rah, cheerleader-type.
Because of the combination of his understated personality and less-than-mature behavior, someone else on the team may be better suited to lead the Bruins than Muhammad.