CHICAGO – NBA executives are raising the possibility that Shabazz Muhammad could fall out of the first top 10 picks in the NBA Draft and possibly the lottery entirely, the latest draft setback for the UCLA swingman who began the season in the conversation for the No. 1 pick.
Muhammad being on the board until the middle of the first round on June 27 was once inconceivable, and still is to some within the league, for a prospect with the potential to be a scoring star. But in noting his selfish play, poor body language and the new perspective after the discovery Muhammad had been lying about his age, some teams had turned shockingly cold as the annual pre-draft combine Thursday began the first of two days of drills and workouts.
One executive said, on the matter of Muhammad dropping in the draft, “I’m not saying it happens. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Out of the lottery?” another personnel boss said. “I guess it’s possible.”
And from another head of basketball operations, without hesitation, when asked if Muhammad could fall from the top 14: “He could.”
The climate has turned so bad that another general manager savaged the prospect even while saying there is no chance Muhammad gets out of the lottery, and maybe doesn’t even reach double digits.
“It’s his overall attitude,” that executive said. “His presentation of himself. It’s an all-about-me presentation. I think that’s his biggest knock…. His selfish tendencies on the floor show up at certain times. But that’s what scorers do.”
Indeed, there is the possibility that Muhammad is in the common role of former high school phenom struggling to transition to the college game and now the pros, all with a large spotlight as a recruit expected to help rejuvenate a prominent program. It may simply be a matter of maturing, in play and personality.
Either way, Muhammad has a bad image as the draft approaches, and not just in the moment. Scouts and executives had been increasingly hard on him during his freshman season at UCLA, noting his selfish play with various versions of “He doesn’t get others involved,” the way a star should elevate an entire team. The concern among losing franchises that might take him near the top of the draft was that Muhammad would be little more than a stat stuffer. Clubs in the lottery that already had pieces in place worried that continued work as a volume scorer would create problems on a roster.
His play is the primary concern, but that hit also comes in the wake of the strange discovery in March by the Los Angeles Times that Muhammad, while listed as a 19-year-old by the school, was actually 20. While some teams have already gotten past the concern of what other secrets could jump out down the line, the real issue of the adjusted age became his development. He had been overpowering younger players in high school and some in the one college season, an advantage he would not have among grownups in the NBA, and he suddenly had one less year to develop. Muhammad, simply, was not as advanced for his age as once thought.
“I don’t think that’ll hurt me,” Muhammad said. “To know I’m 20, I’m still pretty young, one of the youngest guys in this draft. I’m just going to see where it takes me.”
Asked what questions he anticipates from teams once he sets a schedule for individual workouts following the lottery outcome on Tuesday night, Muhammad said, “It’s up in the air. It’s going to be really interesting, so I’m looking to that and looking forward to talking to teams and telling them a little bit more about myself.”
But, there will be birth-certificate questions.
“Probably so,” he said. “But I’m going to answer the questions truthfully and tell them what’s really going on.”