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As Bennett’s NBA Draft stock soars, Muhammad’s plunges

Stock market fluctuations on Wall Street can be more volatile, but the rise and fall of prospects in the months preceding the NBA Draft sometimes are just as pronounced.

Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad, top prospects with Las Vegas connections, have seen their stock shoot in opposite directions.

As early as his sophomore year at Bishop Gorman High School, Muhammad was projected as a potential No. 1 pick. Those days, however, are a distant memory after his turbulent freshman season at UCLA.

Muhammad is in jeopardy of falling out of the top 10 in this summer’s draft, but Bennett’s value took a dramatic rise during his freshman year at UNLV.

A sling strapped around his left shoulder, which required rotator cuff surgery May 9, Bennett attended the draft lottery Tuesday in New York City to catch a glimpse of what his future might hold.

“To me, he’s a top-five pick and very well could be the best player in this draft,” said Chad Ford, NBA Draft analyst for ESPN.com. “I don’t think the surgery is going to affect anything. That means that there would probably be zero hit to his draft stock at all.”

Bennett is a good bet to be called early in the June 27 draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Cleveland, Orlando, Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix own the first five picks, as a result of the lottery, and Bennett’s name probably will be linked to the Suns as draft speculation heats up.

The top two picks are expected to be Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-10-inch freshman from Kentucky, and Ben McLemore, a freshman guard from Kansas.

A year ago, Muhammad was considered the favorite to go first. But the 6-6 guard slipped, on and off the floor, and failed to live up to the hype.

“Being the No. 1 guy, everybody wants you to fall. That’s why I’m going to work as hard as I can to prove those guys wrong,” Muhammad told The Washington Post at last week’s draft combine in Chicago. “I’m a guy that believes he’s the best player in the draft. I’m going to tell you the truth.”

The truth is NBA scouts no longer consider Muhammad the best in the class. He led the Bruins in scoring at 17.9 points per game, and shot 37.7 percent from 3-point range, but developed a selfish reputation. He was a high-volume shooter who totaled 456 field-goal attempts and only 27 assists in 32 games.

And he ran into controversy off the court. Muhammad missed UCLA’s first three games after an NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits during his recruitment. In March, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Muhammad and his father, Ron Holmes, misrepresented his age and that he is 20, not 19.

“Some guys have me in the range of top 10, top five,” Muhammad said. “I don’t know where I’m going to go. Fifteen?”

Muhammad repeatedly pledged he was “more mature” during interviews at the draft combine. He will work out for several teams in the next month and work on polishing his image.

Bennett is unable to schedule workouts because of shoulder surgery, but he will visit with at least five teams and plans to begin rehabilitation soon.

“Teams want to meet with him and get to know him as a person,” said Mike George, Bennett’s agent for Excel Sports Management. “I would say by September he’ll be good.”

Bennett, who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds while starting 32 of 35 games for the Rebels, developed shoulder soreness in late February. The injury was misdiagnosed at the time, George said, and getting surgery immediately was the best option.

“It was one of those things where do you miss all of the draft workouts and summer league or do you want to worry about his future? His future is more important,” George said.

Ford, who recently has projected Bennett to be drafted from third to seventh, said: “I thought it was a smart move by his agent to go ahead and just do it now. So when the NBA doctors do look at him, they’re already looking at the process of if, the surgery’s done, and how is he healing.”

At 6-7 to 6-8, Bennett is viewed as a power forward who also can play small forward. If he were taller, he likely would be the first player drafted.

As it stands now, Bennett, a Findlay Prep product who grew up in Canada, is set to become the first UNLV player drafted since 2003.

“Some people say, ‘A couple of inches more and he could be the No. 1 pick.’ I don’t think it matters,” George said. “When you see him physically and what he can do, I think Anthony’s the most versatile player in the draft. He can score inside and out. His defense can be better, but you can teach that.

“It’s one of those crazy drafts. It’s totally unpredictable. At the beginning of the year, Shabazz was a top-three pick, and now you don’t know.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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