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Second draft candidate: Shabazz Muhammad

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Minnesota Timberwolves Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Peachtree Hoops welcomes Colin Connors, a freelance contributor, to break down the concept of “second draft” and a potential target in the form of Shabazz Muhammad.

Note: This piece was submitted prior to Wednesday’s fireworks with Vince Carter and Daniel Hamilton and should be viewed through that prism.

In recent years, due to the suddenly-more-mainstream nature of tanking, a new phenomenon has swept across the leagues less fortunate teams: the second draft. Not nearly as exciting as the first, the second draft consists entirely of former highly regarded lottery picks who’ve worn out their welcome in the city that drafted them to the point that said team lets them walk for essentially nothing. These distressed assets are then picked up on team-friendly deals by organizations with no immediate plans of winning who think they have the system in place that can salvage at least some of the player’s once boundless potential.

While the recent track record is poor (Emmanuel Mudiay, D’Angelo Russell, Ben McLemore, etc), the idea is sound. I mean, in lost seasons where the focus is on development, why not use a meaningless roster spot on a forgotten semi-young prospect once drowning-in-upside and hope his shortcomings are endemic to his prior team? If the prospect pops, management is lauded as savvy and forward thinking for finding another young asset. If he doesn’t, you lose even more games that you wanted to lose anyway. In the thankless job of tanking it’s as close to a win-win as you can get.

This offseason, after watching the Knicks lead the charge by acquiring Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh, the Hawks decided to get their feet wet by signing former top-five pick, Alex Len. However, considering Hawks Universities’ new headmaster Lloyd Pierce’s storied history in player development and the low-win trajectory of this season, why not dive in and try your hand at another?

Although most of the interesting names are off the board up at this point, one remains in former 2013 lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad.

In his first few seasons in Minnesota, Muhammad showed plenty of flashes attacking the basket, but his inability to shoot the long ball efficiently, paired with defense lazy enough to rank him as one of the worst defenders in the league by any advanced metric (DRPM, synergy tracking data-- all of it), ultimately left him intriguing but not enough so to covet a long-term deal. As is the trend these days, Muhammad decided to “bet on himself” with a one year deal, however, much like Nerlens Noel and a handful of others this offseason, it didn’t go as planned for Muhammad. The acquisition of Jimmy Butler drastically changed his role and started a downward spiral out of the rotation that ended with Muhammad requesting a buyout in March in an attempt to recoup any of the value he once had.

While it wasn’t a storybook showcase in Milwaukee, Muhammad certainly made it clear that his out-of-nowhere decline was more indicative of his fit in Minnesota than himself as he was surprisingly effective in limited spurts, posting career-high per 36 numbers, Box Plus/Minus, and VORP with the Bucks (although, admittedly a small sample size).

The prevailing sentiment from those who watched Muhammad in both uniforms this year, outside of freeing himself from a clearly tense relationship with chief Timberwolves decision maker Tom Thibodeau, was that Muhammad appeared far more accepting of his role more in Milwaukee. Fighting for his NBA life appeared to remedy at least some of the maturity issues that plagued him early in his career.

While Muhammad is far from a modern player, he remains intriguing considering his relative youth at 25, freakish athleticism, and career per 36 averages of 18.9 points and 5.8 rebounds. Additionally, despite what his benching in Minnesota would suggest, Muhammad actually had the best defensive year of his career as he finished in the 63rd and 99th percentiles in individual defensive efficiency this year with the ‘Wolves and Bucks, respectively, after routinely finishing in the single digits or teens in years prior (per Synergy Sports). Considering his issues on that end of the floor were generally effort/maturity based, this could be the start of something new for Bazz on that end, as a fresh perspective mixed with his absurd physical tools, theoretically, should make him an average defender-- at the very least.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Muhammad’s possible redemption-arc is the recent HoopsHype report that a new diet and offseason training program has cut his body fat from 15 percent to down below 6-- with no intention of stopping there. If we’ve learned anything from the Miami Heat, it’s that a body transformation of that magnitude can revolutionize a career (see Johnson, James).

Furthermore, considering Muhammad’s career 32% from 3, the inclusion in said report that his current training program consists of over 400 threes per day is almost as crucial. If he can finally become even a league average shooter from distance, it may unlock a new level to his game as presently defenders can close out well-short, mitigating any athletic advantage he has.

The potential for Muhammad to become a consistent scoring punch off the bench is most certainly still there, and considering the best stretches of his career have come playing in fast-paced-shooters-spaced lineups, then this young Hawks’ team with Trae Young at the helm has as good a chance as any of maximizing whatever growth Muhammad has left.

Roll the dice on Muhammad with a cost controlled “2-minus-1” (two-year deal with a 2nd-year team option) and best case scenario you get a relatively young contributor on a bargain deal that you can either keep or package in a deal for other assets. Worst case scenario, he struggles and you lose a few more games—which is what you wanted anyways. Such is the beauty of the second draft.