With draft stock dropping, Muhammad decision is a no-brainer

LOS ANGELES -- The brief and turbulent Shabazz Muhammad era at UCLA came to an end Tuesday when the 6-foot-6 freshman officially announced he was one-and-done.

“I believe that this is the right time for me to move to the next level,” Muhammad said in a statement. It’s the right time for Muhammad because waiting any longer carries too much risk. His NBA draft stock has been falling since the season started so he has to get out while the getting is still good.

The only surprise about Muhammad’s decision to leave school and enter the NBA draft was that he took so long to make it official. He should have been running for the NBA as soon as UCLA’s season ended three weeks ago.

The more NBA scouts saw of him, the less they thought of him. He’s still projected to be drafted at the back end of the lottery, but that’s a significant drop from his top-three projection when the season began.

Another year in college certainly could help raise his appeal, but the risk of it turning into another season like this one is too great. There were several highly publicized incidents that gave some pause, but the bigger issue was his generally underwhelming performance considering the amount of hype that followed him to UCLA.

He led the Bruins with 17.9 points per game and his scoring ability is unquestioned. Still, this was not the dominant, flashy offensive player expected when he signed. Instead of slashing, getting to the rim and finishing highlight-reel dunks, Muhammad scored more on awkward, lumbering floaters, mid-range jump shots and 3-pointers.

And for a guy who professed to raise his level under the bright lights of big games, Muhammad faltered in the postseason. He shot 39.7 percent (23-for-58) and averaged 15.25 points in four postseason games. He was 0-for-10 on 3-point attempts in those games and made only three of his last 23 attempts from behind the arc.

Those downward scoring and shooting trends are a concern for Muhammad’s draft prospects because he offers little in other areas of the game. While he improved defensively throughout the season, he was never very good and played as though he has a disdain for defense. His 23 steals and four blocked shots in 32 games were downright paltry.

His pedestrian rebounding totals (5.2 per game) showed much more of a commitment on the offensive end. He had 87 offensive rebounds and 80 defensive, making him the only player in the country with a minimum of 160 rebounds who had more offensive rebounds than defensive.

Off the court, Muhammad’s season took many twists and turns. It began with a suspension as the NCAA investigated whether or not he received improper benefits during his recruitment. It ended with an L.A. Times story that, among other things, exposed that a year had been shaved off Muhammad's true age growing up, and he had been a year older than most of his competitors.

In between, he displayed routine bouts of selfishness. He finished the season with only 27 assists in 32 games -- an alarmingly low total. On Feb. 7 against Washington, Muhammad was visibly upset on the court when he didn’t get the ball for a game-winning shot attempt in the waning moments. After Larry Drew II made the buzzer-beater to win the game, Muhammad declined to celebrate with his teammates.

When it comes to the draft, though, the off-court issues aren’t likely to matter much. There are plenty of eccentric players in the NBA and Muhammad, for all the controversies and character questioning surrounding him, has been an upstanding citizen all season. The things for which he has made headline this season won’t matter in the NBA.

On the court, Muhammad could probably use another year or two of seasoning. He could return to UCLA, play under a new coach and risk having another season that hurts his draft stock or he can take the projected NBA lottery money and get paid millions to work on his game.

That decision is a no-brainer.