It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes Shabazz to Cry


My typical order of operations for running this blog is to write first, read later. During the season that means I watch the game, think about a post theme on my fifteen-minute walk home, and then immediately start banging on the keys. I do this for two main reasons that are equally important to me: First, I don’t have a lot of time during the work week to spend on the blog, so I need to be as efficient as possible. Writing while thoughts are fresh and I’ve yet to unwind from the game is the least wasteful of time. Second, it’s the best way for this blog to provide a unique perspective. If I’ve already read other takes, I’ll be more accurate but less original. So with those considerations in mind, I bang out a post as best I can, press “publish” and then read the other fine Timberwolves websites and blogs, usually discovering mistakes I made but also setting my previous thoughts in a fuller context.

I didn’t do that with last night’s draft. That’s partly because, after the Muhammad and Dieng picks, I strolled down the street to my favorite bar for a some post-draft decompression. By the time I got home it was too late to start writing. But I also wanted to read other takes first because, well… THE WOLVES DRAFTED SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD!!! Unbelievable. Pat and I have written a few different ‘Bazz-related posts, and I kind of sort of thought they were at least a little bit in jest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a Shabazz Hater; just didn’t seem possible that this team, coached by this coach, at this juncture, would opt for such a polarizing prospect.

Man, Canis Hoopus HAAAAAAAAATES Shabazz. The numerical projection models question whether the recent McDonald’s All-American and first-team All Pac-12 performer should’ve been drafted at all. When you consider that well-respected scout Jonathan Givony persisted to the end with ‘Bazz as a Top-11 talent, the divide was too interesting. I had to read the reactions first, and post second.

Nobody disappointed.

At Canis, Eric in Madison didn’t pull any punches. I had to start there not for analytics schadenfreude (we’re all on the same side, after all) but because I knew the criticism would be scathing and, frankly, I was just intrigued by what was going to surface in the morning.

EiM didn’t disappoint:

Not only is McCollum clearly a better player by any measure, but there were any number of more appealing choices. Muhammad is like a lottery ticket. The chance of a payoff is incredibly slim; you are essentially relying on high school hype from when he was a year older then everyone thought, Never mind the age thing, the bad body language, or anything else; he was not a good player at UCLA…

Despite our misgivings about Flip, and especially the way he was hired, we can be forgiven for engaging in some modicum of hope after the reign of Kahn. That hope, for me at least, was dashed last night in a draft where it looked like they could not mess it up, but still found a way.

Yikes! Tell us how you really feel, Eric.

Highlighting the extreme potential for Shabazz Disagreement is Zach Harper’s upbeat look at the newest T-Wolf, which includes a detailed look at the ways ‘Bazz scores, and why he might just fit in with Ricky Rubio and company:

There is so much of Shabazz Muhammad that fits into what the Wolves want to do in Rick Adelman’s system. Spot-up shooting. Moving without the ball. Running it down the opponents’ throats. And he hits the glass as well as any small forward in his draft class. He also seems to have an attitude, which can be both good and bad. But I love the way he approaches end of games. It can be selfish, but it’s assassinous.

Benjamin Polk followed up Harper with a shorter piece that nicely puts all of this uncertainty in proper perspective.

Last but definitely not least, Britt Robson gave a measured reaction with a perceptive nugget about what Drafting Shabazz might mean in the bigger Timberwolves picture:

In the grand scheme of things, what should most concern Wolves fans about the drafting of Muhammad on Thursday is that he seems the antithesis of a Rick Adelman player: He hasn’t demonstrated an ability to handle the ball, survey the court for open teammates, get himself open by moving without the ball, and committing to both individual and team defense.

Back in March when Saunders was first rumored to be in the running to replace Kahn, I wrote a column against the idea, on the grounds that as a successful former coach, Saunders would have forceful and possibly competent ideas about how to improve the team that nevertheless would disrupt the near-autonomy Adelman enjoyed over personnel decisions. Losing Adelman would be a much bigger blow to this franchise than screwing up the ninth, or 14th, overall pick in the draft. And doing both would get the nascent tenure of Flip Saunders as Wolves POBO off to a truly dreadful start.

I’ll be honest: When Stern announced Shabazz at 14, I laughed out loud. I LOL’d, as Flip Saunders might say, or at least tweet. I laughed almost uncontrollably because I knew we were setting foot on a years-long adventure of following such a famously unpopular draft prospect; one with a history of national accolades; one with a history of embarrassing scandals; one whose father is likely wearing an ankle bracelet not unlike the one prescribed for Jake Shuttlesworth’s “arthritic condition”; one that scores; one that doesn’t pass; one named SHABAZZ.

Trying to be objective, I think I would’ve preferred to see them sit tight at 9 and draft C.J. McCollum. Basically, the stats scare me enough to wonder if ‘Bazz will have a Derrick Williams-like Wolves tenure as a scorer that can’t really score. That will not be cool.

But at the same time, it’s close between those two (C.J. & Bazz) in terms of which would be the best backcourt player between Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. With what we know about both McCollum and Muhammad, it’s not crazy to think ‘Bazz is the better fit. The Wolves have had such a frustrating offensive cycle of pass, head-fake, dribble-dribble, pass, repeat. The perfect remedy would be a pure shotmaker; preferably a player with cutting AND shooting ability. That might be Chase Budinger, but: a) Chase is an unrestricted free agent; and b) It can’t just be one guy. So no, it’s not crazy to think that, on an objective basis, the Wolves picked the better of two options.

It’s the subjective though where this pick wins out. NBA seasons are long. The Wolves play the same teams over and over again, and — in recent years, anyway — without any hope of a title shot. Sometimes it’s the subplots, personalities, and eccentricities that make each step enjoyable. We now have a UCLA Bruin named Shabazz Muhammad that was the national high school player of the year while hiding his real, older age. He once blogged for SLAM magazine as a prep star. No matter if Shabazz becomes James Harden, Austin Rivers, or something well in between, I promise that he won’t bore us.

So with that in mind, after Stern announced Shabazz-to-Sota, I had to laugh. Next year, if he’s jacking up bad shots and relegated to the end of the bench, maybe I’ll cry. I’m already excited to find out.



Filed under Timberwolves

7 responses to “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes Shabazz to Cry

  1. Eric in Madison

    Thanks for the shout out Andy.

    I said this on the site today, but you know, I wrote that piece angry and tired, and when I woke up this morning, I was afraid of how it would read in the light of day.

    But you know what? I was right. My main point was about process, and how could you get from a point of holding the 9th pick in the draft to taking someone at 14 that nobody really wanted? Robson talks about it in his piece, and Zgoda, APJon, and Doogie all alluded to it in tweets:

    Even after the trade, Muhammad was not who they wanted at 14.

    So how do you get there? They botched it because they weren’t properly prepared and didn’t have a good decision making process in place.

    In truth, it isn’t so much about Muhammad to me, though I think it’s very unlikely he succeeds.

    • I enjoyed your piece a lot. I don’t share the pessimistic view on Shabazz (don’t know if he’ll be average or better, but feel pretty sure he’ll have a long career unlike, say, Jonny Flynn) but you explain that position well.

      It really was awkward listening to Flip describe the pick. He isn’t crazy about Shabazz and he can’t really hide it. (To build on Britt’s theory, I wonder if part of it is Flip liking Shabazz but knowing that Rick doesn’t? That’s speculation, but possible.)

      If the trade-ups weren’t possible (read: would’ve cost Love) then it was McCollum or something else. That’s how this one will be judged, don’t you think? I really don’t care about Trey Burke. He might be very good, but even more than Curry he’s DEFINITELY a point guard.

      • Eric in Madison

        No doubt how McCollum goes will have a big impact on this one is perceived.

        But Flip’s tepid attitude about Shabazz is so, so telling.

  2. nickh

    Since I spend a lot of time lingering at the great CH, I was pretty bummed last night. I definitely don’t feel as bad today due to what I’ve read here and at AWAW. So thanks for that. Now to my question: do you have a sense for how well ‘Bazzy moves without the ball? Since Zach and Britt contradict each other on that point, I guess I’m asking you to break the tie.

  3. Richard Bentley

    This is the last time I yip about Shabazz, because the barn door can’t be locked and the horse has already been stolen.

    Some people say Shabazz is a great fit for Adelman’s system. This kid can’t shoot off the dribble (~27%), doesn’t pass (0.8 assists per game), doesn’t rebound defensively, doesn’t steal, doesn’t block. He had a total of 3 percent COMBINED per game for all of these qualities. He doesn’t make his own shot. He keeps his man in front of him defensively, he can cut to the basket, he can crash the offensive boards. He catches and shoots well. That’s about it. He doesn’t use moves to get to the net; he uses his physicality, which won’t work at the NBA level. Plus there are serious questions about his attitude. This is NOT a player that fits Adelman’s system, nor one that he wants to coach. I’m convinced that Adelman will look at this draft and say forget about coming back.

    They could have gotten a good two from Utah; Utah was desperate for a point guard. They might have been able to get Burks or Foye, both good three-point shooters. Instead Saunders showed what an airhead he is and got this kid and a backup center.

    Words speak less loudly than actions. But I am convinced that the Timberwolves had reached a fork in the road where they either get one good player who will make them competitive, or make a brainless decision like they did. This may sound overdramatic, but I am convinced that Saunders has single-handedly set this franchise back to square one. This is the end of the Wolves moving forward for the time being. From now on they will be just competitive enough to stay out of lottery range which will prevent them drafting a quality kid. And their players, one by one, will leave. And no free agents will show up on their door. The Wolves will sink into obscurity once again.

  4. Richard Bentley

    Sorry, the word “percent” slipped in and should be ignored. Didn’t pick it up on the edit.

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