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Friday, March 22, 2013

Upside and Shabazz Muhammad - Its Not An Age Thing

Its been a wild season for Shabazz Muhammad. He started off by injuring his shoulder and missing a month of practice to begin the year. At the same time, he was the victim of a wild goose chase by the NCAA that resulted in him missing the first 3 games of the season. As expected, UCLA and him got off to a rusty start, but the rust never wore off. Both he and UCLA had flashes of greatness, but their season culminated in a Round of 64 loss tonight to Minnesota.

Thats not all that happened today, though. It also turns out that Shabazz Muhammad is a year older than he was believed to be (read the LA Times article here). Shabazz is actually a 20 year old freshman, which sounds bad, but it isn't the real concern. Ben McLemore, Kaleb Tarczewski, Semaj Christon, Jahii Carson, and Anthony Bennett are also 20 year old freshman. Jakarr Sampson will be 20 in a couple of days. Age is just a number and it is less and less relevant the older you get.

But as a high schooler, age does matter. Shabazz made a name for himself by being tabbed as a kid "physically advanced" for his age and molded his game around his strength. Unlike some of the other guys listed, Shabazz received much of his hype because of his advanced build for his age. Its never been his skillset, quickness, or shooting that has drawn an interest in Shabazz. Its been his ability to bully kids his age. Or so we thought they were his age.

This wouldn't be as much of an issue if Shabazz came out this college season and backed up his billing as the top high school recruit in the country against college players. But he didn't. And now that there is an asterisk next to him being the top recruit in his class, its even more of a reason to take this season at face value instead of making excuses for him.

After his injury and suspension, there was a timeframe everyone gave Shabazz to get up to speed. He looked a little slow and rusty and that was expected. But as the season grew on, the same Shabazz from the beginning of the year remained. There he was getting beat off the dribble time and time again and he showed little ability to handle the ball. In terms of passing or making his teammates better, there was none of that. And then there was the fit he threw when Larry Drew II made a game winning shot.

But whether he was 19 or 20, Shabazz was still going to be a top high school recruit and he still did finish second among all NCAA freshman in scoring. His strength is still impressive no matter his age. I do think the age thing makes a difference slightly in terms of his placement in the final high school class rankings, which also takes away a slight amount of hype going into this year. And as far as hype, thats what carried him through much of this season.

Lets forget about the age thing though, thats far from the most important part of the story. Everyone wants to brush off him being a year older and thats fine, sure thats not a huge deal. A good player will be a good player in the end. But its the rest of his background that deserves a second look. The character issues that the LA Times article brings up are more relevant than the age discussion.

To me, his age doesn't limit his upside at all. But the fact that he's been bred to be a NBA player his whole life does. He's had top notch training, coaching, and an environment surrounding him that was designed to help him succeed. His dad made sure he got on the best AAU teams and one of the best high school programs in the country.

He made sure that he was surrounded by players that made him look better. At Bishop Gorman, Shabazz dominated kids with his size and strength while getting plenty of looks in transition. When he went to UCLA, he joined a team with two great unselfish ball handlers, weak rebounding bigs who spread the floor, another incoming freshman who could shoot the lights out, and a coach that caters to his stars. The combination of things helped to hide Shabazz's lack of ball handling skills, outside shooting, and gave him room to operate inside and crash the boards. His coach, Ben Howland, had loss control of previous teams and would let Shabazz do whatever he wanted with no consequences.

With all the elite training he's had and all the high level games he played in high school/AAU, Shabazz has been tested for years. Its not his advanced age that makes his upside more limited, its his advanced background. Shabazz has played in more big games thanks to high school/AAU than most college juniors and seniors. And he's had the correct training, diet, and everything else that NBA players have the whole way through.

Meanwhile, you have a guy like Ben McLemore whose family struggles to put food on the table for him.

You hear questions about McLemore's ability to be a go to guy and people asking why he disappears in big games and forget he's only a freshman. And if you look at McLemore's background you will see that he wasn't a hyped up recruit since his freshman year. He didn't play on a big AAU or high school team until his final season of high school. And even then he still went to a home each night wondering if he would have food to eat. Point is, McLemore is just getting used to all the limelight which shouldn't be a surprise. He's only a freshman. But with all the AAU games and such nowadays, there are freshman that have been built up for college for years. Shabazz is one of them - McLemore is not.

Still through all of that, its been McLemore who has had the better year. McLemore is a guy who was under the radar until late in his high school career. He redshirted at Kansas as he was only a partial qualifier, improved his game even more, and is now at a point where he is a top 5 pick. He's gotten significantly better each of the past 3 or 4 years. The more and more exposure to the game and coaching he is receiving, the better he is getting. Once he gets to the NBA, he will have luxuries of training and dieting that he has never been exposed to that can take his game to an even higher level.

Then you have Shabazz who has been exposed to all of these luxuries for years. He's been considered a top player in his class since he made the varsity team at Bishop Gorman as a freshman. Yet he really hasn't made big strides as a player from year to year. He's still a poor ball handler and his shooting is just now finally starting to get better. His peers have gotten a step closer to him year after year.

I thought it was interesting how they mentioned Shabazz's older sister in the article as well, who signed an endorsement contract in tennis at age 17 and turned pro. She's now 21 and still has advanced any further. She received the same benefits that Shabazz did as a kid and because of this, she appeared to be more prepared at age 17 to turn pro than most kids are her age. But at the same time, she had already received so much professional training as a kid that there just wasn't much upside left. Her parents made sure they squeezed every ounce of talent they could get out of her already.

The same can be said for Shabazz. Just how much more does he have to grow? Just how good is he? Physically, players will continue to catch up to him. Skill-wise, players have already surpassed him. Shabazz's competitiveness, confidence, and will to score will be traits that he can fall back on though. He will always be a great competitor and he will always have a physical edge on players - just not as much as he was when he earned his reputation as the super senior high schooler in the country. 

1 comment:

  1. Good read. I agree on shabazz 100%