Shabazz Muhammad: the next Harrison Barnes, slander and all

Ronald Martinez

The similarities in the data and slander are spooky.

Shabazz Muhammad's stock is careening out of the lottery, according to the whispers out of the 2013 NBA Draft Combine. In what's purported to be a pretty bad draft, that's especially stunning. Sure, he's a year older than he has long claimed, which is bizarre and ... well, it's pretty much just bizarre. But it's almost as if everyone has totally forgotten why he was pegged as a lottery pick -- in fact, a potential No. 1 overall pick -- in the first place!

The same thing could have been said about a similar player last year: Harrison Barnes.

Barnes arrived in Chapel Hill in 2010 as a mega prospect, as did Shabazz in Westwood in 2012. Barnes stayed two years at North Carolina, with his stock fizzling out as the bad 2012 NBA Draft approached. He ended up going No. 7 to the Warriors; some found him to be a potential steal, others thought it was a stretch and someone like Andre Drummond would have been a better choice.

Shabazz spent just one year at UCLA before announcing that he's a year older than believed (20, not 19) and declaring for the draft. Now we're talking about him falling to the late teens because he's supposedly a bad teammate, a Rudy Gay type of player, overrated, a one-trick pony.

Barnes, by the way, just finished a first team All-Rookie season in which he was a full-time starter for a playoff team, averaged 38 minutes per game through two postseason rounds, and was the No. 3 scorer in the playoffs at 16 points per game. Most teams in the lottery would take that in a heartbeat.

Let's look at Barnes' sophomore season and Muhammad's freshman season.

Player PPG 2P% 3P% 3P/FG FT/FG TS% REB% AST% TOV% PER
Barnes 17.1 .469 .358 .262 .27 .528 9.0 7.2 10.8 21.2
Shabazz 17.9 .463 .377 .232 .28 .528 9.2 5.8 8.6 21.9

They are basically, as 20-year-old college players, the same prospects. Barnes went No. 7 in a poor draft and now looks like a great pick. There's no data-based reason that we see out in the public eye for Shabazz to be treated as much worse. (I don't doubt that there could be differences when you look at more proprietary data, but no one is citing that stuff in explaining why Shabazz isn't worthy of a top-14 pick.)

I really do blame Rudy Gay's massive contract for all of this. Memphis gave him a max deal for scoring about 20 points per game at moderate efficiency, rebounding okay and playing sometimes passable defense. Gay continued to be a pretty good player, but totally overvalued relative to other small forwards. So there's a backlash against score-only, moderate efficiency wings, of which Barnes and Muhammad appear to be the heirs. But at rookie scale prices, these types of plug-and-play prospects are becoming highly undervalued. Barnes may never be an All-Star, but a guy making $12 million over four years who can start every game he plays for a 47-win team is a darned steal. Just don't overpay him in 2016!

Muhammad looks similar, assuming he is not the bad teammate that some allege. (If he is, well, that's an important consideration. I'm not sure I buy it. Reeves Nelson? That's a bad teammate.) So at the very least, Muhammad projects to be a usable starting wing. That's a draft win, probably in the mid-lottery (like where Barnes was taken). So let's not get carried away with the anti-Shabazz movement.

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