In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
This edition evaluates highly touted European forward Dzanan Musa.
Bosnian forward Dzanan Musa may have only just turned 19 years old on May 8 but he started making noise on the European scene long before then.
Musa made his professional debut with Cedevita Zagreb — the only professional club of his career so far — at the tender age of 16 years (in 2015-16), became the youngest player to start a EuroLeague game at the same age in the same season, and became a member of the Bosnian national senior team a year later.
His rise to prominence has only continued since then and now he’s ready for the NBA Draft, declaring himself ready in early April.
“I decided to declare for the NBA draft because I think it’s a great opportunity to make my dreams come true, and I think I’m ready for it,” said Musa via ESPN. “It was not a difficult decision, because I have my goal and the goal is to play in the NBA.”
Musa has had an action packed 2017-18 season, playing 69 games for Cedevita this season (split between the Croatian League, the Adriatic League and the EuroCup), and it’s one that hasn’t even reached its conclusion yet — Musa is still playing in the Croatian League playoffs.
Many players making the jump from the NCAA — or otherwise — to the NBA struggle during their rookie season, partly because of the sheer step-up in the amount of games played but with Musa...he’s played multiple 60 game seasons and he just turned 19.
Having watched extensive tape of Musa, his game left a number of impressions on me but one of the more lasting impressions when it comes to Musa was his body.
He’s a 6’9 forward who moves considerably well for his size. From what I’ve seen, he played a lot of power forward, and one of the reasons that I think makes Musa so intriguing for teams (and part of why he’s projected to be a first round pick) is that Musa, because of his mobility, will be able to play multiple positions in the NBA on the offensive end — possibly 2 through... maybe even 5, depending on the roster make-up.
In terms of actually being able to guard those positions (depending on matchup), we shall see in due course.
He’s not explosively athletic in terms of bounce but he certainly makes do:
The other attractive part with Musa as a prospect is, obviously, his age/upside but also his experience — he just turned 19 years old, has been on the scene since he was 16 and has already played in EuroLeague and EuroCup (against elite competition).
But, of course, you aren’t projected to be drafted in the first round if you don’t have game, and Musa definitely has a solid foundation to build upon in addition his solid physical foundations and upside.
For the season — across all competitions — Musa is averaging 12 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field, 31 percent from three, 80 percent from the line, three rebounds, just under two assists and a steal in an average of 23 minutes per game, mostly coming off of the bench (just 13 starts from those 68 games).
Let’s go through his game...
(Just worth noted that, as for all of these, I watch multiple full length games of said prospect — in the case of Musa, it was four. You learn a lot about a player in four full games but obviously not everything, so...just be aware of that. Musa also wears the number 13)
From what I saw of Musa, I wouldn’t call him a master of anything — similar to Rodions Kurucs — but Musa can do a couple of different thing well.
He seems to like to drive the ball a lot, with mixed results at times.
Here, Musa is able to burst by his defender, gets inside the paint and sticks home the one-handed floater off of glass:
On this possession, from the catch near the wing, Musa drives inside and draws the foul and free throws:
On the move this time, Musa makes a little run off-ball (something he likes to do at times, which we’ll also touch on) but the ball doesn’t find its way to him. Musa tracks baseline instead, receives the ball, tracks to the three-point line, turns and makes a quick change of direction with the cross to shed the oncoming to defender and draws the foul on the drive:
(Quite enjoyed that play, I have to say...nice change of direction from Musa)
In transition (where he can do a bit of damage with his speed in tandem with his size), Musa shows a good turn of speed as he gets to the paint, gets very lucky with the bounce and scores the layup (just to showcase his speed if nothing else):
He doesn’t always look to stride to the rim (doesn’t seem to use his size and stride like, say, Isaac Bonga), tippy-toeing his way to the rim on that particular play...
Musa is also capable of scoring in pick-and-roll situations.
On this possession, Musa does a good job splitting the pick-and-roll and skips to the rim for layup:
As you can probably tell by now, Musa has a decent first step about him...
From the pick-and-roll, Musa drives in strongly on his weaker left-side, switches hands mid-air and draws the foul and free throws in what was a very impressive play:
Musa did get into some jumpshots off of the pick-and-roll but these weren’t overly common (and ones Musa actually connected on less so) from what I watched of him.
After a miss, Musa comes up the floor, comes off of a screen and steps into the long two (with his foot on the line):
Musa likes to go to his floater on some of his drives, and these have varying degrees of success.
We’ll look at a few more of these later but, for now and from the baseline, Musa rattles home this floater after some nice ball movement from Cedevita:
Musa can be quite active off of the ball too, which we briefly looked at earlier...
Here, Musa can’t working anything with the ball in his hands, gives it up, makes a nice cut, receives the ball and makes the layup plus the foul:
Musa will move off of the ball, he’s not one to stand still an awful lot.
So, you can see that Musa — while not exceedingly above average at any particular thing offensively — has a solid offensive base on which to build on.
But let’s move on to some of the shortcomings of Musa’s offensive game...
Musa was up and down on his drives and his floaters — lacking the soft touch at times that is required to finish once he gets in a decent position.
Coming off of a screen, Musa tries to get the defender on his hip, backing into him, but can’t connect on the floater, instantly knowing it was off:
It just didn’t look right leaving his hand.
From the corner, Musa sizes up the defender, drives but misses the shot at the rim:
Musa sometimes gets himself into areas that he can’t get himself out of.
Again, Musa displays a nice first step but on this occasion he ends up driving into traffic, tries to pass out of a sticky situation and ends up committing the turnover:
Here, Musa drives inside, leaps, is faced by the defense and Musa just doesn’t know what to do when the challenge comes and loses the ball (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and won’t say it was an ambitious 360 attempt...):
Musa, again on the drive, gets stuck in no mans land, realises it, tries to turn around and pass but commits the turnover:
Finishing over length also appears to be a bit of a concern for Musa at this stage of his career, partly due to a lack of length from Musa himself.
From the corner, Musa drives inside, gets by the defender and puts up a floater that is blocked:
You can partly see Musa’s seemingly lack of elite length at play here. Though there doesn’t seem to be an official measurement for his wingspan recently (DraftExpress reported that Musa was measured to have a 6’8.5 wingspan at EuroCamp 2015), I have to say he didn’t look super long given the fact he’s 6’9 in shoes — certainly, he wasn’t able to finish over the length of the defender on this occasion.
Coming off of a pick-and-roll, Musa gets inside but his layup was a little too hard and well contested (again, the length bothering him):
Let’s talk about his jump shot/shooting in general...
Musa is shooting 31 percent from three on the season on an average of four and a half attempts per game. In the four games I watched him play preparing for this, he took 12 threes and didn’t hit a single one. The numbers obviously suggest he’s better than that but they still suggest that Musa isn’t the greatest three-point shooter out there.
Whether it’s coming off of a screen/pull-up:
It just doesn’t seem right — the overall mechanics of his jump shot will have to be worked on at the next level.
But, by far, the most frustrating thing when it comes to Musa’s offense is shot selection and his tendency to stall the offense at times — the ball is in his hands quite a bit and I wouldn’t exactly call him an unselfish player. He definitely fits in the ‘score first’ mould — he is not shy.
Here, Musa dribbles the ball and, without passing to a teammate, settles for a deep and contested three-pointer with 14 seconds on the shot clock which misses badly:
Granted this next shot was taken while Musa’s team was being blown out but there’s still a right way to play and the right shots to take and this was not it:
There’s not a lot more to show here because it would just be me uploading more shots... The fact of the matter is that Musa will — if given the opportunity — get shots on the board and the ball is going to be in his hands a lot if he is given the free reign as he was at Cedevita... This won’t happen in the NBA, so this probably won’t be a major concern at the next level when he doesn’t have to try shoulder a scoring load...
Right. So, from what I watched of Musa, he didn’t seem like he was the most unselfish passer/player in the world. In saying that, Musa showed some decent touch and playmaking instincts.
We know that Musa likes to drive and he’s able to score by doing so. He’s also able to create for others in these situations.
From the wing, Musa drives, draws the defense, finds a teammate for a shot attempt which is missed but followed home by another teammate:
Musa is capable of doing the same off of pick-and-rolls as well as off of the dribble.
Here, Musa comes off of a screen, drives, draws the defense away from the corner kicks to the corner to a teammate, who takes a step to get by the scrambling defender before sinking the jump shot:
Again in the pick-and-roll, Musa advances slightly before kicking the ball to the weak-side corner this time for an assist on a three:
Musa’s passing, in general, in pick-and-roll is solid enough when he wants to make the play.
Here, Musa lifts a nice pass over the top of the defense to the roller, who makes the extra pass and free throws are drawn:
Nearer the wing this time, Musa and his teammate link up in the pick-and-roll and Musa finds him with a nice overhead pass but the shot is missed in the end:
Again, Musa lifts the ball over the defense with his lovely left-handed pass for the assist:
Lifting the ball over the defense is something Musa is capable of doing, both in pick-and-roll or otherwise:
This was also an opportunity in transition and that’s also an area Musa can have an impact given his pace but here, Musa simply makes the right play in transition as he gets his head up and finds the shooter:
Again in a transitional situation — but not with Musa breaking away this time — Musa finds his streaking teammate with a nice outlet pass, the end result being free throws drawn on the foul:
The thing with Musa is he doesn’t try and make reckless passes or try to do to much when trying to create for a teammate — when he does create, it’s usually pretty smooth. You can clearly see he has some playmaking skills and can get his teammates going — he just doesn’t do it all that often throughout the course of a game.
I do think that’s, again, a team related thing where Musa has to try shoulder a bit more of a scoring load at Cedevita so perhaps you shouldn’t be too concerned about his playmaking instincts at the next level when he doesn’t have to lead a team in scoring and can perhaps play a bit more freely without that burden and make a few more plays for his teammates.
Coming into this I didn’t expect to find much from Musa from a defensive point of view, and matters were compounded by the first two defensive possessions I saw from Musa included this effort/resistance on a drive:
Followed by this foul on a three-point shooter shortly afterwards:
But the more I watched Musa defensively, the more intriguing he became to me.
One of the things I enjoyed about watching Musa defensively was how he fought to get over screens:
This next clip isn’t much, but I really liked how Musa stepped-up, avoiding the screen:
I liked Musa’s on-ball defensive activity at times — you got a hint of it already in some previous clips. And it starts with his ability to move well at 6 foot 9 inches — he has really solid feet for his size and can move well with his man.
Musa moves well on his feet defensively, leaving the defense with no option but to pass it off:
He is a little hunched at times, as you saw in that last clip but that’ll be something you’ll see ironed out in time with coaching/development.
But again, Musa moves well, shepherds the offensive player, doesn’t allow him to get by and the pass has to be made (unfortunately ending up in a corner three):
Another glimpse of Musa getting through screens there...
On this possession, Musa moves his feet well and, again, the offensive player can’t gain significant ground on Musa:
Musa’s decent foot-speed allows him to cover some decent ground in a hurry, should he need to, as he had to do here in transition, recovering to the man off of the ball:
Musa averages a steal a game and these don’t really come in gamble situations — Musa is there to pounce when the opportunity presents itself, shows solid instincts.
Here, Musa is in position to step in and grab the steal off of the pass, only to give it away himself a moment later:
On this possession, Musa sneaks in from behind to surprise defender and though it wasn’t a steal in the end, it should have been if Musa had made contact with the ball — still came from behind and made the defender uncomfortable:
As the help defender, Musa creates a turnover on the reach on the drive, knocking the ball off of the offensive player and out of bounds:
Musa just finds a way to get a steal or two a game — his instincts are solid.
But it’s not all roses for Musa defensively...
He does make some mistakes every now and then, caught ball-watching on this particular possession as his man makes a cut across the lane for the easy layup:
Here, the ball denial on the ball-handler opens up a driving lane for the opponent to drive into the space — with Musa being on the wrong side of the defender — but fortunately for Musa the shot is missed:
On this possession, Musa allows the offensive players to establish optimal position — Musa on his left while the offensive player has space rim-side — leading to a score:
One of the concerns with Musa defensively is his seemingly lack of elite length.
Here, Musa shows decent speed to keep up with his man but on the pull-up, Musa attempts to contest and just finds his length lacking on the contest:
I didn’t see Musa have to defend in the post but if he’s going to be playing power forward (which is possible in the NBA) he’s going to possibly struggle if the opposing power forward has the muscle — Musa is still a bit lean and has to fill out a bit more.
But generally speaking for Musa defensively there’s some good blocks to build upon and for any area he does lack in defensively...he certainly does try.
So let’s try bring this home...
Dzanan Musa is a very interesting NBA prospect indeed.
He has a really solid foundation with which to work on: he can score in a few different ways, he’s efficient inside the arc, he’s got good size about him in today’s NBA (which will allow him to play multiple positions in the NBA), he moves well, has some passing touch when he goes to it and he has some good defensive upside. Musa could become a jack of all trades — even if there’s not one thing he’ll ever be elite at in the NBA — that’s OK.
Added to all that is that Musa has great experience already at age 19 and is very young, having just turned 19 years old. There’s some real potential here.
While Musa could come in and add something to a team in a limited role, I believe he leans a bit more toward being a project than being able to come in and contribute from day one — perhaps more so in a season or two.
I think it’s important for Musa’s career that he’s drafted by a club who can develop him — an organization that has a strong player development programme — because I really think with some work and good coaching, Musa could be a really solid player in the NBA that can do multiple things and be a potential plus on both ends should it all come together.
Things that Musa needs to work on include his body (needs to get stronger), his outside shot (needs more consistency/work on the form), the frequency of passes he makes (he holds the ball too much and has a solid base in terms of facilitation) and parts of his defensive game (fix the hunch and other little errors). His seemingly lack of length is somewhat of a problem but Musa is looking forward to showing the team that drafts him what he’s got.
“I can show my humility, work ethic and personality, because I haven’t been allowed to have close contact with them,” Musa said via ESPN. “I’m looking to take everything that’s in front of me in this process. I want to show the team who picks me who I really am and that I will do whatever it takes for the team.”
The Hawks have the No. 19 overall pick and it’s very, very possible that they could select Musa with that selection (also one spot ahead of where ESPN have Musa rated in their top 100 prospects: 20) and, honestly, I think it would be a great pick for the Hawks.
Would Dzanan Musa fit what the Hawks are looking to do with Lloyd Pierce? Does he fit Travis Schlenk’s philosophy in terms of drafting?
Only time will tell.