The Timberwolves Newest Polarizing Player: Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad, 20, is one of the newest draft day additions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. How will the one-and-done swingman from UCLA fare as a role player for the Timberwolves?

Shabazz Muhammad, 20, is one of the newest draft day additions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. How will the one-and-done swingman from UCLA fare as a role player for the Timberwolves?

Following rumors that the Timberwolves were aggressively attempting to move up in Thursday’s 2013 NBA draft in hopes of selecting one of the draft’s premier shooting guards which included Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Kansas’s Ben McLemore and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Wolves found themselves out of luck when it came time for the 9th pick as all three prized shooting guards were off the board.

C.J. McCollum, the highly-touted 6-foot-3 PG/SG of Lehigh State, was apparently not on Flip Saunders’ radar as he ultimately passed up the scoring combo guard and instead took what he saw as the best talent available in point guard Trey Burke, despite  having no intention of keeping him. Flip immediately shipped the Michigan standout to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the 14th and 21st overall picks, despite already having the 26th pick received in a trade made last season with Memphis. Larry Fitzgerald Sr. had this to say about the move:

With the 14th selection of the 2013 NBA Draft, Flip Saunders made a polarizing decision and selected UCLA SG/SF Shabazz Muhammad. The 6-foot-6 swingman was one of the most talented players in college basketball during his lone season for the Bruins, but became known nationally just as much for questions about his character as he did for his electrifying skill set.

Many people across the Twitter-sphere were outraged that the Wolves were not able to trade up to nab a shooting guard, but I think AP guy Jon Krawczynski did a good job of calming everybody down:

The top high school recruit in the nation in 2011-12, Muhammad chose to take his talents to the storied UCLA basketball program after passing up offers from the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and many others. His highly-anticipated freshman season began on a sour note, when he received a three-game suspension and was required to repay $1,600 that were found by the NCAA to be impermissible benefits stemming from travel and lodging fees during three unofficial visits to Duke and North Carolina. Muhammad’s close affiliation with his father, Ron Holmes, contributed to Shabazz’s decaying reputation in the eyes of many significant figures in the national basketball community as many disconcerting stories concerning Holmes were put in the national spotlight.

With his father behind him and pushing him nearly every step of the way during his development as a basketball player, it was ultimately revealed that Holmes had gone to extremes in order to continually put his child in the best positions to succeed. In fact,  it was even discovered that Holmes went so far as to changing Shabazz’s age by one year when he was a young child in order to give his son a competitive advantage in the AAU circuit. It was not until Muhammad enrolled at UCLA that the age discrepancy was realized when his official birth certificate revealed that he was actually 20 – not 19 – and that he was born in Long Beach, not Los Angeles as his father had originally told school officials.

Muhammad began the preseason as a favorite to vie for the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 along with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, but both ultimately fell short of initial expectations with Noel falling to the 6th pick and Shabazz tumbling all the way down to Minnesota at 14. Despite averaging 17.9 points – the second most PPG by a freshman in UCLA history – and 5.2 rebounds, he became widely criticized for his selfishness and lack of team concept, highlighted by his astoundingly low assist total of 27 in 32 games. The excitement of earning the honor of Pac-12 Freshman of the Year while guiding the Bruins to a NCAA Tournament berth were quickly overshadowed by a first-round drubbing against the Minnesota Gophers in which Muhammad shot just 6-18 from the field while recording only 1 assist.

The question with Shabazz has never been over his natural talent as a player, but about the off-the-court exploits of his father who has until this point acted more as an agent than as a father figure. However, the Timberwolves most talked about selection from Thursday’s draft claims that now he has reached his life-long dream of playing in the NBA, his father will no longer be taking charge of his son’s playing career and will instead be a dad on the sidelines from this point forward.

Shabazz on his father: “I still love the guy. I talk to him about basketball and life. But he doesn’t really come around with basketball anymore. I think that’s the appropriate thing to do. It’s really helping me out a lot.”

With his father no longer guiding him in misdirection, Shabazz will now turn his focus to how he will make an impact for Minnesota next season. With Andrei Kirilenko likely gone in free agency after he opted out of the final year of his contract, the 6’6″, 225-pounder could have an opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation as soon as training camp. The Timberwolves could really use his perimeter shooting (38% 3Pt), length (6’11″ wingspan) and athleticism (37″ max vert) on the wing or potentially to pair in the backcourt next to Ricky Rubio. Muhammad’s ball-handling skills should earn him more trust from Rick Adelman as it is essential to the corner offense to have several skilled ball-handlers, regardless of postion.

If Muhammad is to be successful playing for  Adelman, he will need to learn how to be a productive scorer when he is not the primary ball-handler, and he will need to give maximum effort on the defensive end. Although he comes with undeniable risk, he has the potential to fill multiple needs for the Timberwolves while giving the team a player with a rare ability to score and create his own shot. The ability is there, and the only thing left for him to do is to carve out a niche in the Wolves rotation as a complimentary scorer to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Will Muhammad become another wasted talent like Michael Beasley, or could he eventually make 13 other teams regret not taking him? Only the future will tell.