Former Minnesota Timberwolves guard Shabazz Muhammad thinks incoming University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroon Francis "LeBron" Lopez has the potential to make it to the NBA if he continues working on himself and his game.
"I definitely think his potential is there," Muhammad said. "He should just stay in the gym, work on his skill set. He is still very young, he has a really good bounce ...I hope he gets it together and gets to the NBA."
Given his tremendous upside and at just 19 years of age, Lopez is seen by many as one of the few homegrown Filipino players who has a decent shot at making the NBA, should he chase such a path.
Muhammad had the opportunity to play alongside Lopez when both were included in the Strong Group Realty lineup which made it to the quarterfinals of the 2023 Dubai International Basketball Championship.
Spending a month training with Lopez, the 14th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft took note of how fundamentally sound Lopez is, which is far more important than his impressive athleticism.
"His fundamentals are really good. His IQ, you can see that from him playing," Muhammad said.
Although he had already seen action in the Philippines through the PBA where he was formerly a San Miguel Beermen reinforcement, Muhammad also admitted that his Strong Group teammates -- mostly collegiate players -- surprised him as they were all competitive in both games and practices.
"I was surprised, those guys were really good. They are college guys, and they really know how to play. That’s one thing I really noticed," he shared. "They went all out, and they really have a lot of skill."
For his part, the 6-foot-6 Lopez had been vocal about playing overseas and perhaps making it a jump-off point to the NBA.
Back in 2021, the Gilas Pilipinas winger signed a contract with Overtime Elite (OTE), a United States-based professional league that aimed to give an alternative pathway for young players aspiring to make the NBA. However, the stint did not materialize, which led to Lopez settling for the UAAP for now.
Some might see the development as detrimental to Lopez's career advancement, but Muhammad himself thinks staying in the Philippines instead of being in North America will not affect his trajectory because of the Filipinos' hard work inside the court.
"The competition out here is great. They play hard here. One thing I noticed from the United States and here, the guys play harder here (in the Philippines)," Muhammad emphasized.
"The guys (in the US) don’t play as hard. The talent level is probably a little bit better (in the US) but the guys play hard out here. If he adapts to that, he’ll be fine."
Muhammad, 30, played six years in the NBA, including five for the Timberwolves before spending time in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Although the second chapter of his Philippine career came in an overseas setting, the former UCLA Bruin said he likewise enjoyed representing a hoops-loving country.
"It's an honor. When my agent told me I had the opportunity to do this, (I took it). When I came here and played for San Miguel, I really loved the city and I love all the fans here and how they treat the imports," he said.
"I love it here, people are nice, the food is great. It’s a comfortable city and they welcome the imports, and that’s something I really like."