Oct 23, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) is defended by Philadelphia 76ers guard Evan Turner (12) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Shabazz Muhammad: In the rotation or on the shelf?

I swear this is a Minnesota Timberwolves post about Shabazz Muhammad. Hang in there, though, because there’s a little backstory to this brainchild of mine.

Remember when you were a little kid and you still played with toys? Did you have a go-to plastic hero that you could always count on to save the day? I  know I did.

I have fond memories of times when I would take all my action figures out of the toy box. From there, I’d essentially pick teams: one guy on the “good” side and one guy on the “evil” side. It would go back and forth until all GI’s and all the Teenage Turtles were equally divvied up. From there it was on like Donkey Kong. Ding, ding, the bell would ring: just another day and another toy box apocalypse.

Like Andy, the kid from Toy Story, I valued all my toys because each played a special role in the mayhem, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have my favorites.

I had this Terminator/Arnold figurine that was pretty much the LeBron James of my battle draft. He went first every time, and he was always the main good guy. Arnold was a cool customer. He would wait for the King Cobra-led bad guys to annihilate the majority of the good guy squad before entering the ring, but when he did it was like Bill Paxton in Aliens: Game over man! Game over!

I could be exaggerating (I do that), but it seems to me that I spent an entire summer as a five-year old playing by these rules. Each and every time I dumped out the toys, Cobra would take the lead only to be squashed in the final moments by this guy:

Yeah, my Terminator action figure was the undisputed boss man. What he said was final, and nobody–I mean nobody messed with this T-800.

Until I got a Batman, that is…

Batman changed everything. His inherent greatness was undeniable, and while he and Arnold initially tried to get along, there just wasn’t enough room atop Mt. Play Land for both of these cats. As the saying goes, there can be only one Highlander. Batman with his utility belt was my version of Buzz Lightyear, and Arnold was Woody; just not enough gadgets to compete.

So the pecking order had to change. Humiliated by Batman’s authority, Arnold turned to the dark side where he quickly took the bad guy throne from the “milk is for baaabies” King Cobra, who was thereby demoted to the position of right-hand crony. It was the dawn of a new era in the Play Land Kingdom, and Batman was now running the show.

Now, at this point in my long-winded story, you’re probably thinking one of these three things:

  • Cool story, bro…
  • My eyes are literally bleeding. Look what you did you little jerk.
  • What does any of this have to do with the Minnesota Timberwolves or Shabazz Muhammad, for that matter?

To those of you who are still with me, I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you.

Now, Let’s talk basketball…

Shabazz Muhammad. It’s a good name. It’s an important-sounding name, and in the professional basketball landscape it’s a name with the potential to hang with the greats: Kareem, Kobe, LeBron, and of course, Shabazz (somewhere a guitar string just snapped).

Say What?

Sounds funny, right? It’s really not. Shabazz Muhammad was groomed to be a player who mattered, but after a scandal-driven season at UCLA and a disappointing rookie campaign  in Minnesota, people generally have forgotten that Shabazz  was once the top high school prospect in his class and a possible number-one overall pick.

Just as Andrew Wiggins was the top high school prospect  in 2013, Shabazz Muhammad was number one in 2012.  It’s true, and if you look at their lone college seasons by the basic numbers alone they’re actually pretty comparable:

Shabazz in 2012-2013: 17.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, .8 apg, .7 spg, 44% fg 37% 3p 21.9 PER

Wiggins in 2013-2014: 17.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 44% fg, 34% 3p 21.4 PER

Pretty close, right? So why did Wiggins manage to hold on to the top spot this year while Muhammad plummeted down to the 14th overall in 2013?

Well, there are a bunch of reasons. Some of it has to do with Andrew’s insane potential. Wiggins possesses a god-like basketball body with super human athletic talent–a Batman if you will. Muhammad on the other hand was exposed at UCLA for having average NBA athleticism and a body with the propensity to gain unwanted weight. Going into his freshman season, fans and critics alike were expecting a freak athlete and dominate scorer, but instead they got this:

In case you skipped the video, it shows Muhammad calling for the ball, and then bailing on his teammates celebration after Larry Drew hit the game-winning shot. This was the critical moment where Shabazz was officially branded as a bad teammate, and just one of many red flags surrounding Shabazz  and his game.

Before the 2013 Draft, Doug Gottlieb uncovered the remaining warts with a honest yet harshly written article that stated that he wouldn’t draft Shabazz if given the chance. In addition to pointing out Muhammad’s average athleticism and his poor attitude, he also referenced his weak defense and his unwillingness to pass the basketball.

The controversies followed Shabazz off the court as well. Over the course of the past few years, Muhammad’s true age, his family, and his decision-making have all been under heavy scrutiny. His most recent blunder occurred last summer when he was sent home from the NBA’s Rookie Symposium for violating policy by bringing a female into his hotel room.

Nice.

From a PR standpoint, Andrew Wiggins has been a choir boy compared to Muhammad.

Okay, great. I still don’t get what this has to do with your toys…

Right, the toys.

Think of it this way: Andrew Wiggins and the new arrivals from the Kevin Love trade are like the Batman figure from my childhood. They’re the shiny new toys that make you forget about what you got last Christmas. These Buzz Lightyear’s are the so-called ‘New Wolves Order’ sent to us from Star Command to usher in the new era of Minnesota hoops glory.

And Shabazz is the unimpressive/damaged goods left over toy from last year…

Think  of Shabazz as the Arnold action figure. That’s Shabazz in this scenario–except it isn’t. Arnold/Terminator at least had his day in the sun, he had his time to rule the roost. Shabazz hasn’t had his moment yet. He’s still waiting in the wings to make his impression and to change his public perception.

Shabazz  is really just another shiny new toy that’s hasn’t had a chance to get down off the shelf. He’s barely out of the package, and yet when he’s had his number called, he’s met the challenge. After getting passed up by Rick Adelman time and again, Muhammad was sent down to the D-League last winter. Instead of sulking, he dominated the four-game stint, averaging 24.5 points and 9.8 boards.  Later in a rare opportunity to play extended NBA minutes, ‘Bazz scored 20 points against the Phoenix Suns and was the key to their victory on that cold February night.

Shabazz can play, and he knows it. But he also has to know that if he wants to get in to the rotation next season, he’ll have to outshine the luster of the Andrew Wiggins Batmobile while at the same time outsmarting the likes of Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, and Robbie Hummel. I’m only guessing here, but he seems  to know what he’s up against.

Since Summer League ended he’s apparently taken his dedication to the next level…

Chameleon training? Yeah, apparently it’s more intense than boot camp.

How’s it going, you ask? Shabazz dropped this photo on Instagram Friday. I’ll let you be the judge.  As of today we don’t know whether Shabazz will turn out more like Batman or more like Robin.

Who knows, maybe he’s a Terminator or a Ninja Turtle? What we do know from the photo below, however,  is that he’s working his ass off to get off the shelf and into the action.

That’s gotta count for something, even if the photo is a little cheesy.

shabazz chameleon training

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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves Shabazz Muhammad

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