Shabazz Muhammad Would Be Wise to Declare for NBA Draft After Freshman Season

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 28: Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the UCLA Bruins stands on the court in  the game with the Missouri Tigers at Pauley Pavilion on December 28, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  UCLA won 97-94 in overtime.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Shabazz Muhammad has been impressive in his short career at UCLA. In all likelihood, it is coming to an end soon.

After the Bruins defeated Arizona in the final home game of the season, coach Ben Howland had a very interesting quote about his star player (via Peter Yoon of ESPN):

That was his last game in Pauley, no doubt about it.

I'm very much a realist now. I knew going into this deal that this was a one-year deal, and it should be. He's a lottery pick. He's a top-five pick. When you have that going for you, it is absolutely the right thing.

UCLA fans might not want to hear this, but the coach is correct in this matter. Muhammad will leave after this season and it is the best move for the freshman to make.

Coming into the year, the small forward was known as one of the top recruits in the nation. On most publications, Kentucky's Nerlens Noel was the only player rated higher.

He was suspended by the NCAA, missing the first three games of the season, and then took a few more to finally find his rhythm. After that, however, he has been incredible. The Las Vegas native averaged 18.3 points per game this season, scored 20 points on 12 occasions and was only held to single-digits once.

Throughout the year, he showed that he could finish around the net or shoot at an incredible 44.6 percent rate from three-point range. He also got to the free-throw line at a great rate and made 71.9 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Additionally, Muhammad showed his all-around game as a good defender and solid rebounder for his size.

All of these tools make him an ideal candidate to be selected in the lottery of the NBA draft.

ESPN NBA draft analyst Chad Ford had Muhammad as high the No. 3 prospect a few weeks ago, although he has since fallen to eighth on the big board.

However, he said the slide is "based on a growing jadedness by NBA scouts toward his game. They love his motor, but the concerns about how explosive he is and his lack of size for his position are giving them pause."

Many times, college players will return to school to improve in a specific area to improve draft stock. This usually implies the development of a better outside shot or cutting down on turnovers.

Unfortunately, Muhammad is not going to improve his athleticism or size by returning to school. This means that he is at his peak value after a great year as he should be selected in the Top 10 at the very least.

The other issue at play is the strength of next year's class as compared to this year. An NBA GM told Adam Zagoria of

It’s a historically weak draft that, as a result, you’re going to see a lot more guys putting their name in knowing they’ll go higher in this draft, even though they may not be ready, just because next year’s class has such incredible depth that they could actually play better and improve and drop their draft status next year.

The incoming class of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and others are all considered to be better prospects than anyone in the 2013 class. Muhammad would almost certainly be selected lower in the draft by returning.

Howland knew what he was getting into when he recruited the talented player to UCLA. The wing might give some extra thought about staying, but in reality, there is little reason to stick around.

Muhammad has to do what is best for him, and that is declaring for the NBA draft once this season ends.