So I just clicked on the Timberwolves team stats page and was shocked by something I saw:
Shabazz Muhammad is shooting 46.3 percent from the field, this year.
That statistic is not shocking because it is great or unusual in any way. It is shocking because, for such a long stretch of this season, Shabazz had pitiful efficiency numbers. For the season’s first three months, he shot just 26.1 percent from the field. That’s obviously terrible. I tend to be an apologist for Timberwolves rookies, and have often advanced the notion that he would shoot a higher percentage from the field if he were given more consistent minutes.
But I am very unfamiliar with my Timberwolves Rookie Apologist takes being proven correct. In the case of Muhammad (and to some extent, Gorgui Dieng) it seems there may be an exception. He saw his first doses of real playing time in February. In that month, he shot 45.7 percent from the field, while producing 20.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. In March, in even more time, those numbers changed to 53.1 percent, 18.2 points, and 5.2 rebounds. His assist numbers remain extremely low and true to the projections built off of his collegiate stats.
Shabazz’s PER is up to 13.4 and almost at the league average of 15.0.
Three more things about Shabazz:
1. His shot chart:
Just about everything is happening on the left block or right at the rim. He’s in the green (above league averages) on the left block, constantly going to his lefty hook shot. It is clear when watching his games that his success rate depends largely on whether his defender has scouted this move. When defenders overplay the baseline, he struggles. When they don’t, he scores. He has excellent footwork and timing when setting up the requisite separation for that push shot, and a fine touch in finishing it.
2. Off-court Distractions
Last week, Shabazz’s father Ron Holmes was sentenced to over three years of prison for various federal fraud charges. Obviously, the process leading to the judge’s sentencing spans a long period of time and has been taking place all season. This would inevitably be a distraction for his son; a young man living in a new city, taking on a new, challenging career. Maybe this is more apologizing, but I don’t think so. It is impressive that Shabazz has been able to — by all accounts — keep a very professional attitude throughout what must have been a difficult year in his life.
3. His Body
The way I see it, the positive outcomes for Shabazz’s career could look one of two ways: Either as a starting small forward who scores in a variety of ways, or as a bench-scoring sparkplug, who is much more matchup-specific and specialized. The former seems ideal, but less realistic. For Shabazz to become an all-around wing — particularly one who can defend opposing wings — I think he needs to go the route of his fellow Timberwolf and UCLA Bruin alum Kevin Love, and shed some weight. He’s too big in the upper body to be closing out to 24 feet. Without some weight loss, I think Shabazz’s future will look more like his present; spending most of his time with the second unit, on the left block, against lesser defensive opposition.
With just 8 games remaining and no shot at the playoffs, I think we all hope to see more Shabazz minutes. Next up is Miami on Friday night. Maybe he’ll get his first crack at LeBron.