With many Cavaliers' fans already having their eyes on the draft, I've been scouting college basketball pretty intensely over the past month or so. Until the draft, I will hopefully be able to bring you a set of profiles every week.
This set of profiles is dedicated to the wing position, with two potential lottery picks and then one sleeper that I'm particularly high on. The two lottery picks are Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA and Victor Oladipo of Indiana, then the sleeper is Michael Snaer of Florida State. Unfortunately this weekend has been crazy with school work so I did not get a chance to do any video work for you guys on these three, but hopefully I was descriptive enough that you guys understand their games.
Shabazz Muhammad, Fr. SG/SF, UCLA
So, Shabazz Muhammad's freshman season was not all it was cracked up to be at UCLA. He and 2012's best recruiting class were unable to get the Bruins out of the first round (yeah, it's the first round. Stupid NCAA calling it the second...) in the NCAA Tournament, as they were upset by Minnesota. Then, it was discovered that he is actually a year older than most collegiate freshmen at 20 years old. Not only did that hurt his future potential, but it also called into question his past dominance of high school competition. However, I don't think his age is a prohibitive factor towards his future.
To start his scouting profile, he's a little bit undersized for the small forward position at 6'6", but he makes up for it with an NBA ready body of about 225 pounds and a 6'11" wingspan. I do think he'll be able to play some shooting guard in the league as well, but he possesses fairly average quickness that will make it somewhat difficult to guard faster NBA 2 guards. Also, even though he plays below the rim offensively, he's actually a pretty decent leaper. For instance, despite being the third tallest player in the UCLA starting lineup this season, he took jump balls (partially due to his excellent standing reach).
Muhammad will make his living on the offensive end. Before beginning, I have to mention that his work ethic and motor is outstanding on this end. He never quits moving. Specifically, he's excellent at moving without the ball in order to get space on his man and find an open shot. Already, he has a sense of how to rub off of screens and cut into space to get good looks. I think that this particular part of his game will continue to improve as he plays with better passers in the NBA. This is how he creates for himself, because he's not a particularly good ball-handler. Normally a one-or-two dribble-and-pass-or-shoot player, I'm not sure he has the requisite ball skills necessary to create plays for himself in the NBA. One thing he does is make the most of his motions while dribbling in order to get space, especially with a solid spin move. Basically, this has to do with his strength. At the collegiate level, Muhammad is one of the stronger wing players I've ever seen. If he can improve his ball-handling, that strength is going to be tough even on NBA wings.
Somewhat in this same vein, I don't think that he's particularly a "ball-dominant" player as he's been called. He nearly NEVER passes in transition situations (which make up a high amount of his possessions), but he's assuredly a willing passer in the half-court. Like any scorer, he does jack up some bad shots, but I was somewhat surprised at the low total of these. I don't think that Muhammad is a bad passer either. Much has been made of his 0.8 assists per game mark, and in that realm it is correct that Muhammad is not a good creator for others by any stretch. But one thing he doesn't do is turn the ball over while passing. He knows his limits while looking for others, which can be seen by his remarkably low 8.6% turnover percentage (2nd in the Pac-12) despite his high usage rate of 29.8% (also 2nd in the Pac-12)
Offensively, the two moves you see most with Muhammad are his patented left-handed floater in the midrange (he does this at least five times per game) and a left-handed finger-roll that uses his length as an asset to make it easier around the rim (he shot 65% at the rim this year). Also, with his arms being long, they tend to get hit a lot when he goes up for lay-ups, which leads to a high free-throw rate (he does need to convert these better though, as he only shot 71% on about 7 per-36 minutes). The inferior ball-handling comes into play though with the floater, because it seems that at times he does have to settle for it (over 50% of his shots are actually 2 point jumpers because of this). He's also improved as a shooter from his high school days, shooting about 38% from three-point range this season. Finally, it's also worth mentioning his exceptional offensive rebounding ability. He was fifth in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding, and this is a place where you see his motor at work as much as any.
I'm not sure his defense is even worth mentioning as far as this report. The problem with it is that he expends so much of his energy offensively that he doesn't expend as much on defense. He wasn't a disaster by any stretch, especially on somewhat bigger guys due to his length and relative quickness compared to them. But it's far from a strength. With his desire to leak out in transition, his relative defensive deficiencies are somewhat made up for by getting easy buckets. He'll never be a defensive dynamo against NBA small forwards, but I do think he can at least be passable to the point where he won't be a liability.
So what is Shabazz? He's going to score in the NBA. He might even be able to do it somewhat efficiently if he can cut down on the midrange floaters and concentrate on shooting more threes and getting to the line on lay-ups (this will require considerable work on his ball-handling skill). But I don't think that he has the star potential that people believed he did while he was in high school. His best bet is going to be as a spark plug off the bench who can provide offense in bursts. Honestly, that skill alone is probably worth a top ten pick in this draft. He's not as versatile as Otto Porter, and he doesn't have the high end potential of Nerlens Noel, but I do think that Muhammad is still a lottery selection as long as his character checks out when NBA teams look into his background.
Victor Oladipo, Jr. SG/SF, Indiana
With Victor Oladipo, we kind of see the antithesis of Shabazz Muhammad. By all accounts a great kid who is young for his age class, Oladipo has never regressed from the moment he stepped onto campus. He's actually done the opposite in that he's gotten better by leaps and bounds since his freshman season.
He's also different from Shabazz in his play. An supreme athlete, Oladipo relies on that as opposed to his skill level to produce. At 6'5" with a wingspan reported anywhere from 6'8" to 6'11" with at least a 35 inch vertical leap, Oladipo is one of the best athletes in this class. With measurements like that, he should be able to consistently guard either shooting guards or small forwards in the NBA -- along with switching onto point guards at times -- and also get out into the open floor and be an excellent threat offensively in transition immediately.
Of course, defending is where Oladipo is strongest right now. He uses his superior gifts and hellacious motor to deflect and defend anything that comes his way. In a game against Green Bay this season, Oladipo had 22 deflections, which the most that Tom Crean has observed since Dwyane Wade suited up for his Marquette teams. This lines up with his Big Ten leading 2.2 steals per game, along with nearly a block per game. He has quick feet to go along with his hands, making him a tough matchup for any opponent. Nearly impossible to get by, Oladipo is a defensive dynamo that truly has potential to be the among the best wing perimeter defenders in the NBA.
While most people coming into this season thought that Oladipo had first round potential due to his defensive ability, it's his offense that has made him rise up draft boards and placed firmly into the lottery. He led the Big Ten and was top ten nationally in both effective and true shooting percentage. Obviously, Oladipo is extremely efficient, plus knows his limits, having shot 60% this season from the field and having averaged 13.6 points per game on only about 8 shots per game. Two of these shots per game were three pointers, where he's seen the most improvement in his game. Having only shot 21% from behind the arc last season, Oladipo worked on his stroke in the offseason and saw a vast improvement up to 44%.
Unsurprisingly given his athleticism, Oladipo has displayed a strong first step this season, along with vastly improved footwork in order to get to the rim and score. He took 61% of his shots at the rim this season, and even though only 38% of his shots at the rim were assisted, he still shot 70% at the rim. This means he's not only good at getting to the rim, but also finishing there (also that he's an excellent offensive rebounder, which I'll touch on soon). His ball-handling needs improvement, but his improved footwork once he gets around the post area helps him get around defenders and get into open shots. From three-point land, he's still much more of a spot-up shooter that needs his feet under him to make the shot, but his form is solid and this looks translatable to the NBA.
As I mentioned earlier, he possesses excellent rebounding ability for a probable guard. Oladipo averages about 8 rebounds per 36 minutes. His 11.8% offensive rebounding percentage is extremely strong, and is a product his high motor when crashing the boards. He gets at least one bucket per game on a put-back. Also, his athleticism will lend itself to getting out in transition in the NBA with guards who will be find him streaking down the floor.
Simply put, the Oladipo profile is much shorter than the Muhammad profile because he's just a much simpler player, and is far more ready to step into a supporting role. Oladipo is at worst going to be a defensive specialist that can make the spot-up three pointer and get out in transition. But his potential is much greater than that. Given the level of improvement that we've seen from him over the past three years at Indiana (and the fact that he's still only 20 years old), there is a chance that he can become an all-star level player due to his combination of athleticism, defense, and efficiency. Sure, I wouldn't put that chance at even 20%, but it exists, and that's more than you can say for a large majority of prospects in this draft. I actually even understand the Wade comparison, even though I don't think he's going to come close to reaching Wade's level. Wade's a much more fluid athlete (which is the most important part here), but they're both extremely explosive athletes that use their length as defensive threats. They also both improved vastly until they left in their junior season. He's a pretty clear third on my draft board among the prospects I've looked at, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him retain a top five rating by the time I'm done.
Michael Snaer, Sr. SG, Florida State
A McDonald's All-American who chose to go to Florida State because he wanted to create a legacy instead of adding to one, Michael Snaer has been one of my favorite players in college basketball over the last four seasons. He's one of the toughest players to play college basketball over the past decade, and that mentality will translate well to the NBA.
Snaer is a shooting guard with prototypical size for the position, at 6'5", 210 pounds with a 6'7" wingspan. He doesn't possess explosive leaping ability, but he possesses strong quickness and speed that will be essential to his NBA success.
His offensive efficiency went down somewhat this season, but mostly that's because he became the complete focus of opposing defenses. Without any other credible scoring threats, defenses schemed around him. Due to this, Snaer actually developed some decent ball-handling skill, along with a better ability to create for himself off the dribble. He got to the line a little bit better in his senior year, and once he's there he converts at an excellent percentage. However, I'd say that he's going to be more of a spot-up shooting threat as opposed to a creator in the NBA.
As a shooter is where Snaer thrives. He has great mechanics, and a pretty quick release. He won't have any problems getting his shot off in the NBA. And once that shot is off, it's very consistent and accurate. He was a 38% shooter over the course of his college career, peaking at 40% in his junior season. Over his last two seasons, about 43% of his shots were three-pointers. However, the percentage of his assisted three-pointers dropped by 8% in his senior year, which shows how much he had to shoot off the dribble as opposed to the preferred catch-and-shoot. He should see more catch-and-shoot situations in the NBA; therefore his solid percentages should be fairly consistent. Also, NBA three-point range shouldn't be an issue. He has range out to about 24-25 feet.
Of course, most people know of Snaer because of the numerous game-winning shots that he's hit throughout his career. Just this season, he hit four shots at the end of games to win for Florida State. Most of the time these take the form of clutch three-pointers as time expires. Snaer is arguably the clutchest player I've ever seen in college basketball. While he probably won't be taking big shots like that in the NBA, it does show a mental toughness.
However, where he separates himself is defensively. With great lateral quickness for his size, he's able to stay in front of most opponents. You'd like to see him force turnovers at a slightly higher rate (as he only averaged about 1.6 blocks and steals per game), but his focus never wavers at this end and his energy level never falters. Another great asset is that he's extremely strong for a guard. He looks like he'll be able to step immediately into a defensive role on a good team. It's also worth mentioning he's a pretty decent defensive rebounder when crashing the boards, with a near 14% defensive rebounding rate.
Another guard with an exceedingly simple game, Snaer definitely has a place in the NBA as a role-playing "three and D" shooting guard. He reminds me a lot of Wesley Matthews. Both got minutes immediately as freshman, and played strong supporting roles on good teams. Matthews was a bit more efficient due to his ability to get to the free throw line and because he had actual teammates who could take pressure off of him, but overall their stats and play look remarkably similar. It would not be out of the question at all for Snaer to carve out an immediate role in the way Matthews has with both the Jazz and Blazers. Right now, Snaer is expected to be a second round pick in the draft. I expect him to get drafted in that area, although it might be more beneficial for Snaer to go undrafted just as Matthews did so he would get to pick his situation and land in the right spot. Either way, I would be surprised if Snaer doesn't end up as a solid NBA player.
At the end of each post, I'll try to rank each of the prospects that I've looked at so far. This will obviously begin to fill in more as the season progresses (therefore meaning more), but now isn't a bad time to start. This isn't meant to be a Cavaliers' draft board (yet), but simply just a ranking of players in a vacuum based on their current tools, potential, and how close they are to making an impact.
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
2. Otto Porter, Georgetown
3. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
4. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
5. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
6. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
7. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
8. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
9. Michael Snaer, Florida State
10. Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
11. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
12. Tony Mitchell, North Texas
13. Zeke Marshall, Akron
14. Khalif Wyatt, Temple
-Honestly, you could put Snaer, Bullock, and Leslie in any order and I wouldn't blame you.
-I still have Austin ahead of that group because of potential. Those three have a better chance to be in the NBA next year, but I simply think Austin has the most potential.
-There is a pretty clear cut-off in my mind after Oladipo. I think he's clearly better than Bennett. With their age difference only being about ten months, I don't think that Bennett's potential comes close to making up the difference.
-Bennett and Muhammad are pretty close. Both are pretty much all offense, no defense, older freshmen who dominated on that end this season. I give Bennett the nod because he's a bit more versatile, plus he's at least shown another NBA skill in that he will rebound well at the next level.