No sour grapes, but we might be missing more than we thought when Shabazz Muhammed, currently a UCLA Bruin, broke Cal’s streak on recruiting uber-talented players. The freshman is lighting it up offensively in LA in a way that this Kentucky team could really use, and you have to wonder, where would this team be with the talented guard/forward hybrid? Still ranked? Off the bubble? Undefeated? Probably not that last one, but maybe the other two, right?
Let me say first what this isn’t: an indictment of any current Cat. I’d never say that I’d rather have Shabazz than these guys, because I know that they chose to put effort and work into being at Kentucky when they could have gone somewhere else a little more… lackadaisical (like UCLA). This is a talented group of players that, as things go forward, will continue to figure it out and work hard. You can’t say that about a lot of college players, but you can say that about this team.
But the question is, looking back at what could have been, what if Shabazz was here not instead of, but in addition to, these guys?
While his scoring average is high (18+ points per game), you have to think that his high number of shots would plummet at Kentucky, where the good pass is better than the sometimes-sloppy shot. Shabazz leads his team in field goal attempts, and played three full games fewer than most of the other starters (15 compared to their 18). So instead of looking at overall volume of output, its best to look at percentages.
And that’s actually where he looks even better.
His overall field goal percentage of 47% is good, very good for a guard. Lots of forwards/centers get percentages over 50, largely due to their proximity to the basket and ability to receive passes and do work so low in the post. For a wing player who has to rely on drives and jumpshots rather than post moves, 47% is pretty good.
What’s really good, though, and what would have been the most helpful to UK, is his three-point shooting. While he’s 47.1% overall, his 46.7% from outside is extremely solid considering he’s got so many other ways to score. A lot of shooters are known as just that, so it’s easy to lock them up outside and keep them from getting their open look. I can only imagine what a 47% shooter on the outside would do to bolster Kentucky’s good, but not great, 35.8%. Open up Nerlens in the middle? Create driving lanes for Harrow and Goodwin? Last year we had Doron Lamb for this sort of thing; this year we’re feeling that loss.
Muhammed has also helped the formerly miserable Brins to a very good 15-3 start, which is good enough for the #24 ranking, even with a bad loss to Cal Poly. It’s a very real possibility that he’s single-handedly saved Ben Howland’s job, at least for right now.
KSR’s own Rashawn Franklin was big on Shabazz’s prospects during the signing period, and while it looked like things would be rough in his early going at UCLA, he’s since gotten a hold of things and is doing pretty well for himself in his pit stop to the NBA. Maybe Rashawn knew what he was talking about after all.
I wouldn’t trade any player on this team. And there’s no hard feelings against Shabazz for signing with UCLA. I hear there’s a lotta nice girls out there, and maybe he’s run into Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster over there in SoCal somewhere. If so, good for him. Sometimes it’s just interesting to play the “What If?” game in retrospect before moving on to the next SEC matchup. Right now, I can’t help but wonder what things would be like if Shabazz had chosen the Cats.
But enough retrospection, bring on Auburn.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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