The Minnesota Timberwolves are not a franchise used to taking the easy route. Rarely do things go according to plan, especially during draft time.
The most polarizing figure in the 2013 draft falling to the T-Wolves is exactly the kind of thing that would happen to this franchise. Shabazz Muhammad is an enigma that will provide boatloads of entertainment one way or another.
At quick glance, he is everything one would want in their shooting guard. Upon further review, how can you dispute the possibility that he turns into Michael Beasley 2.0?
Polarization at its finest.
Can a player that makes as much noise off the court as he does on it turn into a franchise shooting guard? Can he put all the Gucci backpacks and age conflicts in the past?
That's the million dollar question. On the court, there is no denying Shabazz's basketball prowess. He came into UCLA as the No. 2 ranked recruit on the ESPN 100 list and was expected to live up to insane expectations. He still put up an impressive 18 points per game on a stacked team in the Pac-12.
Granted, they had a disappointing season overall, but they still won 25 games and the regular season conference title. Nothing to sneeze at there.
For what it's worth, being that high of a recruit has all but assured success in recent memory. Since 2007, Samardo Samuels is the only top-two recruit in the ESPN 100 who failed to establish a fruitful NBA career.
The rest of that list includes Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Brandon Jennings, Avery Bradley, Derrick Favors, Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and this past year's top recruit, Nerlens Noel.
I'm going to tiptoe the line of objectionable journalism and just say flat out that this kid is scrutinized far too much. Countless players come into the league with red flags far more severe than his. Character issues, legal issues, work ethic and overall passive play on the court are some of the biggest flaws we hear that stick to prospects. Things like that are often impossible to overcome for many players.
This time last year, Shabazz Muhammad was so hyped up that he was overrated. Now, he has been criticized so much that he's underrated.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 27, 2013
Muhammad's biggest red flag is his overprotective father. He exhibited an insane-killer mentality late in games at UCLA, even reaching the point that he was disappointed his teammate hit a game winner because he wanted the ball in crunch time so badly. He has always stayed out of trouble and outworked everyone, yet recently got torn apart for the jersey number he selected with the T-Wolves.
In a Q&A with Timberwolves.com, former UCLA coach Ben Howland claimed that Minny was getting "a great kid - not a good kid, but a great kid."
He is excited about the situation he is in alongside Ricky Rubio. Flip Saunders will ease him into the rotation at shooting guard, making things easy on him in the early going. Providing a spark off the bench by simply hitting open shots and running out on fast breaks is all that will be asked of him early on. There is no reason why he will not be able to thrive in that role.
Of course, Muhammad will be paired up a lot early in his career with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the man Detroit snatched from Minnesota's grasp with the No. 8 draft pick. He was widely considered a perfect fit in Minneapolis due to his developed outside shot and tenacious defense, but now leaves Shabazz to fill that slot.
Now just watch Shabazz Muhammad become a better pro than KCP...— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) June 28, 2013
Saunders expressed his disappointment in the way the draft went, but he is already making good on his word and going after free agents. He is targeting Chase Budinger, J.J. Redick and O.J. Mayo in a clear attempt to bolster that shooting guard position even more.
Yes, Muhammad has areas of his game he can improve on, but what 20-year-old doesn't? For whatever reason during draft time, all we heard about were the things he can't do such as drive to his right or be a willing passer. The fact that he was the second highest scoring freshman in the country behind only Arizona State's Jahii Carson (37.2 minutes per game) didn't seem to matter much.
His skill set alone gives him a strong chance to stick as the T-Wolves future shooting guard and cornerstone in the backcourt. He has little in common with past failed shooting guard draft picks like Wes Johnson, Rashad McCants, Corey Brewer and Randy Foye. Johnson had no confidence, McCants was a headcase, Foye was undersized and Brewer flat out couldn't score.
None of these things have ever been said about Muhammad.
Great players thrive on criticism. No 20-year-old in recent memory has dealt with the amount of criticism he has encountered with such poise. Now, he gets to fly under the radar a bit and go to work alongside Love and Rubio with a huge "chip on his shoulder."
If his future success is anything like his past, I see a few more Gucci backpacks in Shabazz's future.