This is the fourth in my series previewing potential draft targets for the Detroit Pistons.
Since we began exploring potential draft picks for the Pistons, something profound has happened: The Pistons have begun losing at an alarming rate.
While this has effectively ended any playoff talk, it also has contributed two positives for the team going forward.
One, the Pistons no longer are in danger of losing their top pick this year. When they dealt Ben Gordon and his exorbitant contract to the Charlotte Bobcats, they had to include a first-round pick. That pick is lottery protected this year with subsequent protections running through the next two seasons as well.
The thinking was that the Pistons would improve enough over the course of this trade to basically nullify the damage of this pick. Obviously this has not happened yet.
Two, now the Pistons are in a real solid position to find themselves drafting in the top five this year instead of just barely in the top 10.
With just over a month remaining in the regular season, the Pistons find themselves with the league's sixth worst record. They are only a half of a game ahead of being in the top three.
Of the Pistons' remaining 14 games, six are against playoff teams, including one against the red-hot Miami Heat, two against the Chicago Bulls that may have Derrick Rose back and one against the surging Boston Celtics.
Additionally, should the Pistons decide to shut Andre Drummond down for the season, this team stands little chance of improving from their current nosedive.
As such, this has opened the door for substantive conversations about some of the elite players in this draft.
Given that the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic are really the only two teams likely to draft ahead of the Pistons and those two teams each will be focusing on big men, the Pistons could have their pick of the top swingmen in this year's draft.
Therefore, the next few draft previews will focus on players that previously were thought to be out of the Pistons' sights.
Scouting Shabazz Muhammad, G/F-UCLA
Nobody, outside of perhaps Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, has had more hype attached to his name than Shabazz Muhammad.
Had the NBA not added the one-and-done rule a number of years back, Muhammad likely would have been a lottery pick last year, if not a top-five candidate.
When watching Muhammad, a few things naturally jump out.
First, he plays with a lot of basketball intelligence. Not since former Piston Richard Hamilton was in his prime have I seen a primary perimeter scorer move around so much without the ball.
He is constantly in motion, seamlessly moving in and out of screens and popping up in positions to make offensive plays.
However, his movement looks a lot more natural than most players out there. He essentially floats around the court, but always with purpose.
What separates him already from Hamilton is his range.
Prior to his first year in college hoops, I heard plenty of people talk about his need to improve his three-point shot. Either those reports were grossly overstated, or he has been cognizant of improving this aspect of his game.
Either way, ever since the year began he has been knocking down his three-pointers. With his lefty stroke, he calls to mind Michael Redd during his heyday with the Milwaukee Bucks. Additionally, he has just as quick a stroke, which should serve him well at the next level.
Another thing that sets him apart from other players his age is his body. This is a young man that is built to play professional basketball. He has long arms, a thick chest and a strong base to his frame.
He is going to be able to absorb contact at the next level and likely still finish strong. In this sense he calls to mind Rodney Stuckey. However, he shows the ability to finish quite a bit better than Stuckey and with his diverse offensive repertoire, teams won't be able to cheap him.
Everyone knows Stuckey is going to the hoop because he can't consistently do anything else; Muhammad can score in a number of ways so there won't be that cushion.
Muhammad also has a strong mid-range game, showing the ability to score from anywhere on the court. Because he moves so well without the ball, he can float to soft spots in the zone if he encounters that defense.
Muhammad also has a nice post-up game, though he still needs to work on his baby hook shot, a weapon that he could use against smaller defenders like Tayshaun Prince has been doing for a decade.
Athletically, Muhammad is good but not elite. He isn't going to be a guy who lives above the rim like some hoped coming into college.
The good news is that he has enough of an offensive game where that isn't necessary. This also portends a longer career at the next level as he isn't in danger of being a one-trick pony like former offensive juggernauts from his conference, like Harold Miner.
Some have called Muhammad a slasher, but I just don't really see that in the professional game. He can use his body to get to the hoop and should open lanes given his range, but I see him more as a spot-up shooter.
There are certainly concerns about his game, concerns that could make his draft stock slip.
He does not have a consistent handle on his right hand. While he can score from either side of the hoop, he tends to favor his left hand and drive in that direction. This certainly will be an aspect of his game that he will need to improve.
Secondly, there should be concerns over whether or not he is better suited for the small forward or shooting guard position. His game and build suggest that he is built for the small forward spot, while his height (6'6") would point to the two-guard position.
There is no question that Muhammad should have a fine career; however, there should be legit concerns over his ceiling as a pro.
How he fits Detroit
The Pistons need to address their wing positions drastically.
Part of the Pistons' strategy for this draft is tied to their views on Brandon Knight. If they think Knight is their point guard of the future, then they will need to bring in not only a small forward but also a shooting guard as they don't really have an ideal option on the roster.
However, if they decide to keep Knight at the two-guard spot, then they will need not only a point guard (provided they don't bring back Jose Calderon) but also a small forward.
Muhammad should not be considered a small forward for this team. He is not an elite defender and his lack of size, paired with a starting backcourt that could be very small, could make the Pistons perimeter defense an absolute embarrassment.
The only way he fits in Detroit is if they decide to groom Knight to be their point guard. Muhammad could step in at the other guard spot and provide relief. He also would provide spacing through his deep range and another larger body on defense to take pressure off of Knight.
Muhammad, should he fall to Detroit, might be too tempting to pass up, regardless of how he fits the team.
We saw this two years ago when Brandon Knight slipped in the draft. He didn't necessarily fit with the team, but he was just too good to let slip further.
While this might be tempting, it isn't clear exactly what the Pistons would be getting and if that is worth a top-five pick.
Muhammad will score at the next level, but it isn't clear if he would do much else. He is a strong rebounder in college, but if he is playing outside in the pros at the off-guard, he likely won't get as many opportunities.
He isn't a great passer and is not an open-court menace. He is a good scorer that probably will be a 14-17 PPG player at the professional level.
Overall, I think the Pistons have better options in this draft. Muhammad doesn't have the ceiling or athleticism of Oladipo, the ability to create like Burke or the overall defensive game of Porter.
While he is far from a potential bust, I just don't see him as an ideal fit for the Pistons.