Any lingering effects from Tuesday night’s Shabazzketball should worn off at this point. It was fun, but let’s try and be as levelheaded as possible, given the circumstances.
Clearly, we need some hope in Wolvesdom. Shabazz gave us that last night. For those of us that have bashed the pick since before it happened (because let’s be honest, we all knew it was going to happen) and have had zero interest in him playing actual minutes, it was confusing. But truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised.
I’m willing to admit that Shabazz Muhammad does a bit more on the court than I gave him credit for. First, let’s talk about what he’s clearly good at for his size and position.
1) Rebounding, especially of the offensive variety. Muhammad was a good rebounder in college, and in limited NBA minutes and his brief D-League stint he’s been impressive in that regard.
2) Moving off the ball. The snarkiness in me saw Shabazz at the college level and just knew he was only moving well without the ball because he wanted so badly to receive a pass and jack up a shot. That isn’t entirely fair. He seems to have a generally decent basketball I.Q. when it comes to cutting. Spacing is somewhat of a different matter, and I’ll get back to that in a moment.
3) Spot-up shooting. Muhammad is actually a fairly decent spot-up shooter. He shot nearly 40% on three-pointers in his one season at UCLA, and his spot-up numbers are good. Not ideal for a shooting guard, but better than some might give him credit for.
4) Left block post-ups. This is a blessing and a curse, as everyone knows that it’s Muhammad’s only consistently successful offensive move. It was the same way at UCLA, and in his limited NBA minutes, he’s already been scouted thoroughly. There was one bright spot was late in Tuesday’s game in Phoenix when Muhammad’s right shoulder spin was guarded perfectly by the Suns, and instead of forcing a poor shot, Muhammad kicked the ball back out and got a hockey assist on a Wolves jumper.
The above skills aren’t meaningless. It means something. We’ve only seen 140 NBA minutes from Shabazz, and it’s far to early too come to any certain conclusion on his value to a professional squad.
It is, however, important to note that the left box post-up, transition, and offensive rebounding are the only ways that Muhammad scored against the Suns. In other words, he didn’t catch-and-shoot. He didn’t drive to the hoop. But he hustled.
And while that’s abundantly important, his offensive game is still much more limited than many casual fans would like to admit. Take a quick look at some of the YouTube video of Muhammad’s stint with the Iowa Energy, and you’ll see that he follows the ball, almost to a fault. His spacing is rarely good, and that leads to all kinds of issues. It can bog down the offense and jam up other action that his teammates are running, and it severely limits his spot-up opportunities on the perimeter.
But that may come. Spacing is something that NBA coaches should be in his ear about constantly. At this point, it seems likely that his future is as a fourth wing that can bring energy off the bench and play somewhere near league-average minutes. Which, of course, is absolutely valuable on the 2013-14 Timberwolves, as Kevin Martin is the only league-average wing to this point. Chase Budinger should get there, but there isn’t much else.
I’m ready for frequent Shabazz minutes. He’s earned them, even if it was only one game. He will not be a star, and he likely won’t be a starter. But league-average rotation minutes and serious energy can be very valuable. And that would be a lot more than many would have expected out of Muhammad, to be sure.