About a year ago, Shabazz Muhammad's athleticism and scoring prowess for an 18 year old was compared to that of LeBron James', when he too was first coming out of high school.
But whereas James didn't have to wait a year before venturing to the NBA to cash in on all the hype, Muhammad played this past season at UCLA. Unfortunately for him, it was there where many of his present and potential future weaknesses at the professional level were exposed.
That same athleticism doesn't appear to be as prevalent, as the 6'5" Muhammad is often left exposed trying to defend the taller players of his position. Not strong enough to cover the likes of James and Carmelo Anthony (or other "smaller" forwards who have steadily been graduating to the power forward position), the UCLA forward perhaps might also not be quick enough to keep up with true small forwards with an extra pep in their step, either.
Even more concerns regarding Muhammad's game arise on the offensive end, due to his need to be "the man" and number one option for his team. When not looked upon to carry the scoring load, the forward's attitude was reportedly an indifferent one. Not always present for his team mentally (depending on the situation), Muhammad's rising frustrations when not fed the ball were noticeable.
Such a reputation makes some wonder if he'll be able to adjust to the NBA game and embrace a lesser role if need be. Though he was originally expected to be one of the top picks of this month's NBA Draft, a more likely outcome for Muhammad appears to be him falling anywhere between the 12th and 16th pick, where teams like the Thunder, Mavericks, and Celtics will draft.
Though Oklahoma City still stands younger than the two latter teams, each squad is one with a healthy mix of veterans and younger up and comers. Should one of these three teams draft Muhammad, it'll be with the hope that they can watch him develop and adjust to the NBA game as he further hones his skills. Time will be given and mentorships (in forms of the likes of Kevin Durant, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Paul Pierce etc.) will be offered.
How well Muhammad chooses to adjust and/or embrace such an opportunity would remain to be seen. Playing with and behind such proven players, the UCLA forward would have to accept a secondary role and perhaps emerge as a scoring machine off the bench to give his team that oh so necessary boost.
If he goes that route, perhaps Muhammad will slowly, but surely, rise up an NBA star.
This all said, he doesn't appear ready enough to be thrust into such a starring role at this very moment. If Muhammad were to be selected by a team like the Timberwolves or Pistons (who pick eighth and ninth overall, respectively), or any of the higher drafting teams that he was originally tied to way back when, it's likely he'd be branded as a potential savior of sorts.
Can the forward handle that type of pressure? Would be able to live up to it? Of course, Muhammad often craves the spotlight known to shine above starring attractions, but perhaps only for selfish reasons. Putting him in such a position could leave him vulnerable to fall way short of his already decreasing expectations.
Thus, it appears as though where Muhammad begins his professional career may dictate the type of NBA player he goes on to be. Should he drafted by one of the league's cellar dwellers later this month, his likely inability to rise up and help a losing team ultimately upgrade to a winning culture would brand him as a draft bust for the rest of his days, as it has for so many other players in the past.
That said, should a team on the cusp of (at the very least, in the case of the Mavericks) making the playoffs already choose to bring him aboard instead, Muhammad will have the opportunity to take time to hone his craft and learn from those around him. Perhaps only then, will he have the chance to fulfill many of the initial prophecies that he become an NBA star.