Shabazz Muhammad's Work Ethic Has Potential to Lift Him Past Shortcomings
As one of the top recruits in the 2012 class, Shabazz Muhammad came with plenty of hype when he signed a scholarship with UCLA.
Fourteen months later, his NBA draft stock isn't as high as many expected it would be.
Welcome to the pressures of a young basketball prospect.
Muhammad was being compared to all sorts of players coming out of Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman High School in 2012. That included being compared to former Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was a phenom in the Wildcats' 2011-12 banner year and was selected No. 2 overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
Flash forward to today and a different story reads.
Before Muhammad even played a game at UCLA, the NCAA deemed he received impermissible benefits. After an appeal from the Bruins, he ultimately ended up getting suspended for the first three games of their 2012-13 campaign.
When Muhammad did touch the hardwood, he didn't excel the way many thought he would. He averaged 17.9 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc in his freshman campaign at UCLA, but that wasn't enough.
Critics said he wasn't efficient enough, that he didn't raise his level of play on the grand stage, that his jump shot needed a lot of work if he was to dominate in the pros.
And, to be fair, a lot of that was warranted.
In UCLA's 78-69 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game—when the Bruins desperately needed Muhammad to step up in the absence of second-leading scorer Jordan Adams—Muhammad was indeed inefficient. He scored 14 points, but he also went 5-of-13 from the field and 4-of-8 from the free-throw line.
In UCLA's 83-63 loss to low seed Minnesota in the 2013 NCAA tournament, Muhammad scored 20 points, but he also went 6-of-18 from the floor, including 0-of-6 from the three-point line.
It didn't help when Ken Bensinger of the Los Angeles Times revealed in March that Muhammad was actually 20 years old, instead of 19 years old, as his father had claimed.
And the concerns about Muhammad's jump shot are real. He was one of the worst shooters at the 2013 NBA draft combine during shooting drills, making just 36 percent of his attempts, per Chad Ford of ESPN.com.
Add in the fact that Muhammad measured in at 6'6" with shoes at the combine—short for an NBA small forward—and it's no wonder why his draft stock has slipped.
But there is one thing Muhammad can do to change the growing doubts: work hard.
If there's one thing Muhammad has that nobody can deny, it's an extremely impressive work ethic. This goes back to his days in high school. His ESPN.com scouting report in 2012 (subscription required) noted "his competitive nature is contagious" and "he's a winner and has that desire to be the best."
In response to the criticism from last season, Muhammad said, via Yannis Koutroupis of USA Today Sports, "It motivates me a lot. Looking at it, I know what I'm capable of doing. The criticism is something that I have to deal with being the player that I am."
While questions about his character (relating to his off-the-court issues) are debatable, his jump shot is clearly a weakness. But Muhammad can change that. We've seen athletic specimens in the past raise their games to another level after a couple years in the NBA.
NBA veteran Jason Richardson, who was selected No. 5 overall in the 2001 draft by the Golden State Warriors, is a great example of this. In his freshman season at Michigan State before the jump to the pros, he shot 30 percent from beyond the arc (the college arc is closer to net than the NBA arc).
Will Shabazz Muhammad become a star in the NBA?
Richardson—widely known for the incredible hops that made him a NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion in his first two years in the NBA—shot 33 percent from long range as a rookie. That number jumped to 37 percent in his second year. As of now, he's shot 37 percent from downtown in his 12-year NBA career.
Richardson's work ethic was also noticeable from the start, like Muhammad's today. It allowed him to become a more well-rounded player in the pros.
There are all kinds of doubts being thrown Muhammad's way right now, as some wonder if he will even be a lottery pick this year. He has the mentality on and off the court to change that.
It's up to him.
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