The Minnesota Timberwolves selected UCLA product Shabazz Muhammad with the No. 14 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, bringing a merciful end to the swingman’s slide down the board.
Although the Utah Jazz made the pick, he will be heading to the Twin Cities as part of the deal the two organizations reportedly struck earlier in the draft, according to ESPN's Chad Ford.
Muhammad failed to live up to high expectations during his rocky one-and-done season with the Bruins, but Minnesota represents a chance for the 20-year-old forward to start fresh.
The star small forward’s stock took a significant dip in March, when an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found Muhammad’s true age was one year older than previously thought.
Will that shocking revelation negatively impact his ability to adapt to the higher level of the competition in the NBA, or will Muhammad find a way to succeed despite the belief that his ceiling has been lowered?
How Muhammad Fits with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Going into the draft, the T-Wolves needed a wing that could make buckets, and that’s exactly what this young man brings to the table.
The left-handed swingman can score from all over the court and should immediately assume starting duties at the 3.
At 6’6” and 222 pounds, Muhammad is physically capable of making an instant impact in the league. His body can clearly withstand the rigors of an 82-game season, which is great considering it will see heavy minutes during his rookie year.
Due to the dearth of talent on the perimeter in Minnesota, the summer leagues and training camp won't be make-or-break affairs for Muhammad. However, a great showing prior to the 2013-14 tip will go a long way with coach Rick Adelman and should erase any reservations about Muhammad’s ability to contribute at a high level.
With Muhammad joining forces with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and a plethora of young talents and assets in Minnesota, don't be surprised if he helps this young team make a serious playoff push in 2014.
On offense is where Muhammad is going to truly shine. He can simply get buckets.
During his time in high school at Bishop Gorman and college at UCLA, Muhammad proved time and time again that he can put the ball through the hoop in a variety of ways.
Whether he’s leaking out on the break and finishing in transition, making crisp cuts to free himself for open looks in the half-court set or outworking his man for putbacks and offensive boards, Muhammad is always a threat to score.
It should be common in Minneapolis to see him receive a pass from Rubio and rise up for a jumper in a catch-and-shoot situation. He honed that aspect of his game—and his spot-up shooting in general—into a real weapon.
If Muhammad doesn’t launch a shot quickly or get a decent look at the basket on the break, bad things tend to happen. He is a poor passer that seems to struggle to see the court. He doesn't really look to get teammates involved.
Basically, he looks to shoot first. When that isn’t open, he doesn’t have a Plan B.
Another factor that could hold Muhammad back is his reliance on the left hand, as it is currently the only effective way for him to drive and finish at the rim.
Muhammad will get his chance to shine as a starter and—down the line—should easily become a 20-plus point-per-game scorer at his peak. Whether or not that comes at the expense of his teammates and Minnesota's success in general remains to be seen.
Peak Averages: 22.1 PPG, 45.6 FG%, 35.4 3PT%, 75 FT%, 5.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Depending on how hard he works, Muhammad is going to wind up somewhere between average and respectable as a defender.
He tended to neglect giving strong effort in that area during his freshman season, which comes as no surprise given the fact that he was often sprinting downcourt looking for an outlet or trying to grab an offensive rebound.
However, if he is willing to adjust and proves to be coachable—and there is no indication otherwise—there should be a marked improvement in this department.
Muhammad may not be the most athletic prospect, but he will be able to use his insane 6’11” wingspan to make up for his lack of quickness, agility and subpar height at the small forward position.
While some of the fastest wings in the game may be tough for this kid to guard, Shabazz has the physical abilities to stay in front of the stronger swingmen and not allow them to outmuscle him in the post.
The Timberwolves should not rely on Muhammad to completely shut down the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but he could develop into a respectable defender capable of keeping those All-Stars in check.
Player Comparison: James Harden
These two left-handed swingmen are similar in size and could have comparable games in a few years.
While it took Harden a few years to put it all together on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench, he finally made the leap to bona fide superstar when he was traded to the Houston Rockets prior to the 2012-13 campaign.
The Arizona State product may be a better penetrator and facilitator, but Muhammad has the tools to become a superior pure scorer.