Shabazz Muhammad, No. 10 (Mock)
The Blazers select a fierce competitor and aggressive scorer.
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
The Portland Trail Blazers’ track record with the NBA Draft is not exactly an impressive one. This is the franchise that not only chose Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan but nearly mirrored that pick two decades later by going with Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.
But Portland also knows how quickly one pick can turn things around. By grabbing Damian Lillard with the sixth pick last year, the Trail Blazers became one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA.
That’s what makes this Draft such a crucial one. With Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in the fold, one more correct draft choice can vault this team from Playoff contender to eventual title contender.
And for that reason, this selection cannot be a bust or a project. The Trail Blazers’ choice needs to be NBA ready and an instant part of their rotation. Luckily for them, there is a perfect fit still on the board.
With the 10th pick in the 2013 SLAMonline Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select…
Shabazz Muhammad from UCLA.
A potential No. 1 pick a year ago, Muhammad is the perfect high ceiling, high floor type of player that Portland could use. At worst, Muhammad figures to be capable of averaging close to 10 points per game as a rookie, which is no small feat for a Trail Blazers team that only had five players average above 5.5 ppg last season.
Muhammad could immediately start at shooting guard or take a reserve role behind Wesley Matthews and Batum to function as the team’s Sixth Man. Either way, from the very first day he’s on the court, he will be a player who defenses have to pay attention to.
In his only year with UCLA, Muhammad averaged 17.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 regular-season title. Sounds like a pretty good debut, right?
But with insanely high expectations, his freshman year was viewed as a disaster because he did not put a dysfunctional UCLA team on his back and lead it to the Final Four.
Also, it’s important to recognize that deep down, Muhammad likely never wanted to be in college. He’s had his sights set on the NBA his whole life, and it’s possible his focus and desire wavered at times with UCLA. Changing your entire perception of him based on five months is not the best idea.
Regardless of how his one year in Los Angeles went, these three facts remain true about Muhammad—he has an NBA body right now, he should score immediately in the pros and if everything breaks right, he could be a star. Ben McLemore might be the only other player in this Draft that possesses those three attributes.
Furthermore, Portland is an ideal situation for Muhammad. With Lillard and Aldridge, this team’s stars are already clearly defined. Muhammad does not need to carry the team, he simply needs to fit in and get buckets. The presence of Aldridge on the blocks and the passing of Lillard mean that Muhammad will potentially see more open looks this year than any year of his life.
The other tantalizing option for Portland with this pick is Alex Len of Maryland. The Ukraine native’s size and athleticism have scouts drooling over his potential, and if he does pan out, he would be an excellent center to pair with Aldridge in the frontcourt.
But Portland has used its share of draft picks on big men with potential. As good as he might be, there’s also a strong chance he could wind up like Utah’s Enes Kanter. Throw in an ankle surgery that has him sidelines for 4-6 months and the fact that the Trail Blazers used a lottery pick on center Meyers Leonard last season, and Portland has enough reason to pass on Len.
The Trail Blazers want to win now. With only two years left on Aldridge’s deal, they will need to become a contender if they hope to resign him. The team has plenty of cap space and will be aggressive in free agency. With that mindset, avoiding a project in the Draft is essential.
Portland isn’t far off either. This was a team that hovered around .500 all season before losing its final 13 games of the season. The right pick could mean Playoffs in 2014.
The short-term comparison for Muhammad is Harrison Barnes. Like the Warriors’ rookie, Muhammad should be able to step into the rotation and give his team a lift whenever he is on the floor.
And while it was a stretch at the time, this is the same player that some compared to Kobe Bryant a year ago. It’s unlikely that Muhammad will ever do what Bryant has done, but there’s a reason he earned that sort of respect. He’s a really good basketball player.
If Muhammad develops and comes close to his hype, Portland strikes it rich for the second Draft in a row and has one of the best trios west of Miami. On the flip side, if all of the doubters are right about Muhammad, he’s likely still headed for at least a 10-year NBA career in which he averages in double figures in scoring, and that’s not too bad for the 10th overall pick.
|2013 SLAMonline Mock Draft|