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Scott Howard-Cooper

Muhammad is a prolific scorer but not much of an assist man.

Muhammad dogged by baggage, sliding play


Posted Mar 22, 2013 8:36 PM

Now, as of Friday, there is an official problem as freshman Shabazz Muhammad heads toward the draft, a lengthy Los Angeles Times story story that shines an unfavorable light on his recruiting and upbringing, including the fact that Muhammad is 20 years old and not 19 as claimed. His dominating play in high school came against younger competitors, it turns out, there are new questions about character and background, and NBA front offices will certainly factor the issues into their scouting reports.

In truth, though, it's not the biggest problem for the UCLA wing so obviously planning to come out as a one-and-done that coach Ben Howland noted at the time that March 2 against Arizona was the final college home game for Muhammad, an unusual level of honesty regarding the draft. The real issue is that Muhammad has played his way down the board, from beginning 2012-13 as a possibility for the No. 1 pick to realistically falling out of the top five on June 27.

Muhammad could touch the middle of the lottery in a development that would have been tough to envision when he opened the season as a mega-recruit already projected as a scoring weapon in the NBA, and it will not be because of a birth certificate. It will be because of his play.

"I'd like to see if he can pass the ball," one scout said, the implication being that it doesn't happen, before adding, "He's a scorer, not a shooter." Muhammad works on volume, in other words, not efficiency.

"He doesn't really make anybody better," an executive said. "He is athletic. And he can score in a lot of ways. But I'm not sure what he does for everyone around him."

One general manager, expressing the same concerns and coming up with other twists of semantics to diplomatically call Muhammad selfish, called Muhammad a "really talented kid." But also noted that "some nights he looks like the No. 15 pick."

Some of this could be typical freshman transition, or trying to do too much after arriving with great expectations, or stepping into a challenging time for the UCLA roster with talented but overweight (really) big man Joshua Smith transferring after six games and more recently when second-leading scorer Jordan Adams broke his right foot in the Pacific 12 Conference tournament. That will all be taken into consideration as part of team draft debates. But so will the fact that a player with the ball in his hands a lot is averaging 0.8 assists a game.

That makes this a particularly big moment for Muhammad as UCLA opens the NCAA tournament tonight against Minnesota in Austin, Texas. Play well, show himself to be something more than an inconsistent scorer, and his draft stock receives a much-needed boost. Continue down the regular-season path and doubts are reinforced. The questions about birth certificates are just part of it.

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