Draft Prospects: Shabazz Muhammad and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Blazer's Edge continues to cruise through the Portland Trail Blazers' prospective selections with the 10th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, examining Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from Georgia.

Today we continue our journey through the Trail Blazers' potential picks in the upcoming 2013 NBA Draft. Last week we talked about Steven Adams and Cody Zeller, then checked out C.J. McCollum and Trey Burke. Today we're taking a look at a couple of good-sized wing players.

Shabazz Muhammad--6'6", 222lb SF from UCLA, 20(?) y.o. Freshman

Good offensive players come in several flavors. Some are dominating athletes, overwhelming defenses. Others rely on a technical skill like shooting or fancy dribbling. Some are students of the game, schooled in fundamentals and able to out-think (if not outplay) the opposition.

Shabazz Muhammad is none of those things. Shabazz Muhammad is a point manufacturer...as in, "The product is buckets and I am a one-man assembly line." The closest analogy in recent Blazer history (not in skill or even style but approach) was Zach Randolph. He wasn't the greatest athlete. He wasn't an all-around player or cerebral master. He wasn't going to dazzle you with technique or shot-selection. But that man could score, repeatedly, in ways you didn't suspect he was capable of. That's how he made his money and he had no shame over it. That's Shabazz.

Several parts of Muhammad's repertoire look ready for the NBA already. At 6'6", 220+, carrying a 6'11" wingspan his body is pro-caliber. His catch-and-shoot J is nice and quick, the quickness aided by his complete willingness to shoot. Usually a guy contemplates whether a jumper is the best shot or whether he has a lane to dribble. Muhammad is unconcerned. You're passing it, I'm firing. That's the way of things. He has range out to the college three-point arc, although his distance shot is a work in progress.

Muhammad likes to post and can finish right or left. The most impressive thing about his post game is the rapid finishing moves. Again, where most people treat the deep post like a chess match or wrestling, it's target shooting for Shabazz. By the time you get your forearm in his back to push him out, he's already spinning for the release.

Offensive rebounding and free throw attempts provide secondary methods of scoring, rounding out the package. Muhammad actually averaged more offensive boards per game this season than defensive.

The moral of the story: if it leads to scoring, Shabazz will do it.

But some of Muhammad's offensive moves didn't fly in college, let alone the big leagues. His dribble drives read "one hand, one direction, one results". That result, of course, is getting up a shot. But he doesn't shoot the jumper nearly as well off of his dribble as he does when catching and firing. Nor does he finish above the rim unless he's already got a running start on the break. Get him out of his comfort zone and he'll hoist bad attempts.

At UCLA Muhammad passed about as often as your granny cruising the freeway on a Vespa. This isn't a mortal sin in the pros. The game needs 20-point scorers too. But Muhammad will have a harder time getting open without demonstrating passing ability. Inability to pass out of a single-direction, single-hand drive gets you stymied. Inability to pass out of the post earns you a double-team as soon as you've shown any scoring ability. As soon as Muhammad becomes a threat, one trip around the league will be enough for opposing coaches to force his hand.

Muhammad looks good on selected defensive stands. The wingspan helps make up for any lack of lateral quickness. But he doesn't have the same effort or focus on that end that he does on offense. No steals, no blocks, few defensive rebounds, doesn't stay in front of his man, doesn't rotate quickly...the dossier isn't impressive.

In short, you're getting a one-way player and hoping he develops the mindset to succeed on the other end. That story seldom ends happily. If he's a good offensive player he's going to make bank without learning to defend. If he's not a good offensive player, why are you drafting him to begin with? Only character and commitment to something bigger than the self (e.g. team, championship, the sport) gets a player out of this conundrum. It's an open question whether Muhammad has that commitment.

Verdict for the Blazers

Shabazz scores. The Blazers need scoring. Offensive rebounding, running, and the catch-and-shoot all feature prominently in Terry Stotts' ideal offense. The Blazers could even use another post-up player and aren't averse to using a wing that way, perhaps alleviating their need for another big to do so. Stotts' policy of "Take the First Good Shot You See" fits Muhammad well...too well, maybe. Coach may have to amend it to, "Take the First Good Shot You See...errr...Except Shabazz." Good is a relative term.

This would be a lot more of a no-brainer if Muhammad had a dribble drive, a little bit of a nifty finish, and was projected to play shooting guard where his size would allow him to post up against smaller, weaker players. As a small forward he'll be playing against some of the best athletes the league has to offer. He's not going to start ahead of the game in any way. He'll have to demonstrate that he can perform on this level and every scoring move except the catch-and-shoot will be scrutinized and contested.

Between the holes in his game, the lack of passing (Muhammad's most glaring anti-Stottsian trait), and the Blazers liking Nicolas Batum this probably isn't a good fit.

I'd be surprised if Muhammad's stock rises any higher than it has already. I wouldn't be surprised to see him fall down the draft order. Frankly he feels like a Minnesota Timberwolves selection, just going for the combination of name and raw production, hoping the rest will develop. They haven't found a ton of success with that M.O. and the Blazers shouldn't adopt it.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope--6'6", 204lb SG from Georgia, 20 y.o. Sophomore

I don't often draft shooting guards...but when I do, I prefer them over 6'5"

--The Most Interesting Man in the World

If you agree with our Guest GM (and keep in mind that the only reason he doesn't suit up himself is that Congress has determined it would imbalance the sport and thus be against public interest) then the only shooting guard for you in Portland's range this year is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He's the most shooting guard-ish of all the shooting guards in the upper portion of the draft: no "combo", no "small forward swing". He's a 2, pure and simple.

KCP's calling card is his jumper. And it dials long distance. More than half of his attempts last season were beyond the three-point arc and he hit 38% of them. He can stroke it any which way you please: straight up, off the dribble, off the screen. His form is good, his shots straight and clean as long as he's squared up.

Athleticism is the other tantalizing aspect to Caldwell-Pope's game. He's got quickness laterally, down the court, and up in the air. As long as he's going straight ahead he can fly. The combination of quickness and size translates into plenty of steals on defense. He's no slouch on the defensive glass either. He brings more defensive potential than most of the upper-tier wings in this draft.

KCP's super-ultra-glaring weakness is his lack of handle and ability to finish. If he gets fouled inside he's gold, hitting 80% at the line. Other than that, he's toast. He has no change of direction, little ability to keep his dribble tight, and no way to get a clean look at the hoop unless it's a gift-wrapped present. On the break he's going to jam it. In a halfcourt offense drive he's going to get stripped, blocked, or pull up for an ugly leaning jumper.

Summary: Caldwell-Pope's jump shot is NBA-ready. His defense is almost NBA-ready. His dribble drive may never be NBA-ready.

Verdict for the Blazers

If the Blazers are interested in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope they're probably envisioning him and Damian Lillard slaughtering opponents behind the arc. They would be a sick pair of shooters. Size and defensive potential also fit right in with Portland's plans.

However the Blazers also have to ask themselves whether they'd be happy fielding Wesley Matthews Jr. and Wesley Matthews III on the same team. KCP is a smidgen taller, carries 15 fewer pounds, and has more lateral quickness and leaping ability. Other than that, he's a Wes Matthews clone. Even his shooting form looks similar.

The obvious permutation would be to get a cheaper version of v1.0 Matthews with an eye towards trading Wes. The cap savings would be significant, almost $5 million. But most practical trade scenarios involve Matthews and the #10 pick changing hands. One wonders what Matthews could bring on his own. The only other player in the magic salary+talent zone for potential trades would be Meyers Leonard. The Matthews-Leonard duo isn't overwhelming from a talent or cap savings standpoint.

Of course nobody said a trade would have to happen immediately, or ever. It'd just be odd to see two players whose strengths and weaknesses coincide so much playing for the same team. But if you're the type who always wants more cowbell and your definition of "cowbell" is Wesley Matthews, then Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is your guy.

On a personal note, KCP wears #1 which means the Blazers would be 2/5 of the way to fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing a starting lineup wearing the lowest numbers possible in consecutive order. Woot!

Weigh in on these options below. How would you feel if the Blazers selected Shabazz or KCP with the #10 pick?

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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