Checklist for No. 14 Pick Shabazz Muhammad to Thrive With Minnesota Timberwolves
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Arizona State associate head coach Eric Musselman, who had to game-plan against Muhammad when he was at UCLA, is quoted in the June 24 issue of Sports Illustrated saying that Bazz could step into an NBA team’s rotation immediately upon being drafted.
“If there were an NBA game tomorrow, you could put him in your rotation,” Musselman told SI’s Chris Mannix (subscription required). “There are probably less than 10 guys in the draft you can say that about.”
Few people question Muhammad’s play on the court, but his off-court issues have made him a liability. Fans are concerned about the Los Angeles Times report that Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, who has recently been indicted on bank fraud charges, was dishonest about his son’s age and that Muhammad is actually 20, not 19.
In a separate Los Angeles Times article, Muhammad’s father reportedly gave him a name he felt was marketable, mapped out a career path for his son and was interested in acting as his publicist.
Since being drafted, Muhammad has told his father to back off, according to an Associated Press report.
“I talk to him now as my dad,” Muhammad told the AP. “He’s not really in my basketball (life) anymore.”
It was a good first step, but Muhammad also has some self-inflicted baggage.
The most glaring example is when he was seen sulking after UCLA teammate Larry Drew hit a buzzer-beater when Muhammad was open. The rest of his teammates dog-piled on Drew while Muhammad walked past without ever engaging in the joy.
He’s also had some weird moments like when he chose uniform No. 0 (Mikael Gelabale already had No. 15) and told reporters that he chose the number because “Nobody wears zero in the league.”
Well, nobody except All-Star guard Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, reigning rookie of the year Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, 2011 NBA champion Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks, and 11 other players.
And then there’s that Twitter handle, @phenom15balla, which just rubs people the wrong way.
Muhammad may not have made the best first impression on Wolves fans, but if he can round out his game and become a productive scorer in Minneapolis, people will warm up to him.
First, let’s focus on what he does well on the court, then address his weaknesses and then wrap up with what he needs to do if he is going to have a successful rookie year.
What He Does Well
Muhammad is a proven scorer, at least at the college level. He averaged 17.9 points per game at UCLA while playing 30.8 minutes per night. He shot well from the field (44.3 percent) and from three (37.7 percent).
He is described as a strong, physical player that is an excellent slasher and can finish at the rim. He also shoots well when his feet are set, as they should be when receiving passes from point guard Ricky Rubio or kick-outs from Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic down low.
“Fierce competitor with a scorers mentality,” writes Michael Visenberg on NBADraft.net. “Displays a killer instinct missing from many other prospect's games ... Uses screens to create catch-and-shoot opportunities well.”
Muhammad can be used at both the 2 or 3. At 6’5”, he may be a bit short for a small forward, but his massive wingspan (6’11”) should make up for that.
He is also a solid rebounder, and his length and size (220 pounds) give him the ability to be a defensive stopper with the right mentality.
“But at UCLA, his focus on that end of the floor was inconsistent,” reads his scouting profile on Grantland.com, “and he put far more effort into crashing the offensive glass than he did tracking down opponents' misses.”
At his best, Muhammad will become a dynamic scorer that is an asset near his own basket as well…
What He Needs to Improve Upon
…in that same breath, if Muhammad refuses to play defense, slacks as a defensive rebounder and cannot handle going from being a star college basketball to playing against guys with comparable talent in the NBA, he could become a huge bust.
A lot of this has to do with his mentality. A good teammate plays on both sides of the court, passes the ball when he is guarded and congratulates other players. Some experts, most prominently Doug Gottleib, think that’s just not going to happen with Muhammad.
“Muhammad…stinks as a teammate,” he wrote on CBSSports.com.
“We all saw the pouting on the floor after his teammate Larry Drew hit the game-winner versus Washington last season, when Shabazz was shouting for the ball. I have been told by multiple sources that such behavior was the norm.”
Gottleib also questioned if he will be a productive player at the next level.
“I would not take Muhammad in the first round at all, and reason No. 1 is his skill level,” he wrote. “He's a 6-foot-5 small forward who is a very average athlete with some ‘old man body’ to him. Muhammad is too small to play as he always has if he wants to play the position in the NBA.”
This could be just one man who has a beef with Bazz. but other experts share a similar opinion on Muhammad.
“His lack of statistical defensive production made some question his focus and energy on that end of the court,” writes Visenberg on NBADraft.net.
“Body language was a concern at certain points and made him appear at odds with teammates, even if that was not the case ... Sometimes gets tunnel vision, when guarded by multiple defenders will still look to shoot as opposed for looking to pass to an open teammate.”
Muhammad also is very dependent on his dominant left hand and occasionally relies on his strength, rather than his jump shot, to score.
Fortunately, many of the technical aspects of his game can be addressed immediately.
The other stuff is going to be more complicated. Visenberg says that Muhammad suffers from Tourrete’s Syndrome, something he has dealt well with, and also may have a little bit of a Todd Marinovich complex due to his relationship with his father.
How He Can Be Successful This Year
Muhammad is being put into a position to succeed.
The Wolves have reached a deal with former Oklahoma City shooting guard Kevin Martin, re-signed Chase Budinger and have Derrick Williams under contract, so there is no need for Bazz to start right away. He can sit and learn from head coach Rick Adelman and veterans like Martin and Budinger.
If he gets a chance to start, it will likely be at the 2. Assuming Williams continues to progress, Minnesota could have one of the most athletic and versatile starting five in the league.
Love can shoot the three, score inside and dominate the boards on both ends of the court. Williams and Muhammad can slash and score. Nikola Pekovic pretty much just sets up shop near the basket, but is also a rim-stopper.
Rubio isn’t too dynamic on offense, but you need a pass-first point guard for this to work and he has a lot to offer on the defensive end of the court.
Worst-case scenario, Muhammad comes off the bench and eases into a starting role. As long as he does not put up a fuss, he should get quality minutes on a long learning curve.
In truth, as long as he is a good teammate, avoids being a distraction off the court and rounds out his game as a defender, this will be a successful year for him.
He’s not a franchise-changer, or even a poster child (Love and Rubio have that down), he’s just simply another scoring threat that opponents will have to guard against next season.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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