Best-Case, Worst-Case NBA Comparisons for UCLA Star Shabazz Muhammad

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterApril 18, 2013

Shabazz Muhammad has been one of the bigger mysteries this year in college basketball, particularly from a projection point of view.

It's hard to knock the hustle, or the production. The batteries to Muhammad's motor rarely ever flicker. He's as competitive as any prospect on the board, and seems willing to run through traffic just to get the ball on each and every possession.

Despite all the criticism, Muhammad still managed to average 17.9 points per game on a respectable 37.7 percent shooting from three, in a system that makes it difficult to produce individual results in volume.

However, Muhammad's shoot-first, shoot-second approach has turned some people off. Scouts aren't thrilled with the fact that he averaged less than one assist per game, which can be attributed to his inability to create off the dribble.

He also hasn't shown the ability to pose as a defensive playmaker. Despite his long arms, strong frame and effortless athleticism, Muhammad averaged less than one steal per game.

His stock has taken a severe hit since the start of the 2012-13 season, as now many are questioning how his skill set will translate. Muhammad is a somewhat unorthodox scorer who relies on his physical tools and instincts when he's not spotting up on the perimeter.

He loves the one-handed push shot playing off one foot, but struggles to separate in the mid-range with any pull-up or step-back jumpers.

Muhammad's worst-case comparison? C.J. Miles of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Miles is another 6'6'' lefty with a sweet stroke from the perimeter. And like Muhammad, he's also an excellent athlete.

But Miles is somewhat limited with the ball in his hands, which has had him in a complementary role for the first portion of his career. Creating easy shots for himself is not in the repertoire, as he relies mostly on catching and shooting or line drives to the rack.

Where Miles needs the most work is on his in-between game, which is the area that's holding Muhammad back from becoming a more multi-dimensional scorer.

If Muhammad fails to improve upon his isolation skills, which are related to his ability to create off the dribble, it's likely he'll be relegated to spot-up and slashing duties. Of course, every team needs a supporting scorer to play off the ball, but it lowers his ceiling as an NBA prospect.

If Muhammad does in fact improve on his shot-creation skills, we could be looking at two potential outcomes.

The first is former lefty All-Star Michael Redd.

In the prime of his career, Redd averaged over 20 points in six consecutive years, shooting at least 35 percent from downtown in each one.

Like Muhammad, Redd was a shot-maker, and though he wasn't the greatest one-on-one scorer, he was able to separate, rise and fire at any given moment.

Redd was also an excellent athlete who could finish on the move and hit off-balanced shots. He complemented a lethal perimeter game with the ability to attack the rim and finish with touch.

But most of all, Redd had that dangerous ability to heat up and score points in bunches. Sometimes the rim must have looked like a hula hoop.

Check out Redd drop 57 on Utah:

Another best-case comparison for Muhammad is a guy he should strive to model his game after, and that's Latrell Sprewell.

On a personal note, Sprewell is without a doubt my favorite player of all time, primarily for the same reason that makes Muhammad an attractive prospect despite his deficiencies.

These guys play angry. They're mean. Sprewell used to attack the rim like he was mad at it.

Both Muhammad and Spree are aggressive, strong athletes. Sprewell really improved his perimeter game over the course of his career, particularly creating in the mid-range. He developed a pull-up 20-footer that made him difficult to guard because defenders had to play on their heels knowing he could explode towards the rim at any time.

This is where Muhammad needs the most work and will ultimately decide whether he ends up as a top-two scoring option or a complementary shot-maker.

Muhammad's projection is really all over the place. Everything will depend on his ability to expand his game off the dribble, which will in turn make him a better playmaker for both himself and his teammates.

Until then, he'll remain one of the most debated-about prospects in the 2013 field.