Assessing Shabazz Muhammad’s Summer League Performance

Shabazz Muhammad's Vegas Summer League results were mixed

Shabazz Muhammad’s Vegas Summer League results were mixed

From ESPN TrueHoop’s assessment of the Las Vegas Summer League’s top rookies, here’s Justin Verrier’s take on Shabazz Muhammad:

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
8.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 41 FG%, 38 3P%



The good: The fit is there. Muhammad has the build of your everyday athletic, break-you-off-dribble wing scorer, but he thrived at UCLA mostly in situations where he didn’t have to dribble — off the catch, running the break, posting up. And on a team like the Timberwolves, with a scorer/rebounder and ball handler as its two cornerstones, it’s those “other” areas where Muhammad will need to do his work.

Despite the lure always present at summer league to isolate everything, Muhammad primarily stuck to that script, floating around the arc and running off screens, and looked right doing so. His rebound numbers in Vegas were ho-hum, but he can be a great wing rebounder with his size, if he puts in the effort. He also shot 41.1 percent from 3, better than his college average (38 percent).

The bad: The production was not there. The 20-year-old (we hope) Muhammad averaged just 8.5 points on 41 percent shooting. Which isn’t awful. But when a player who lives off offense can’t produce, particularly against inferior competition, the deficiencies in the rest of his game become more noticeable. And in Muhammad’s case that’s his ambivalence toward passing (five total assists) and mediocre defense despite the tools to be pretty good.

Bottom line: Muhammad has a lot to work with, and you’re inclined to dismiss some of the disappointment to playing a defined and limited role, but it’s hard to write all that off after a drama-filled freshman season. That age stuff doesn’t matter anymore, but can he be happy with an even smaller role in snowy Minnesota than the one he griped about in Los Angeles?

— Justin Verrier


It’s hard to argue with Verrier’s take. We know the following:

  1. Shabazz has the necessary NBA body to play SF.
  2. It has been made clear, as Flip Saunders’ interview during last night’s game illustrated, that Shabazz knows his role. It isn’t to take 25 shots per game. It’s to blend in.
  3. Blending into Adelman’s system, with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Pekovic, et al, will be different from blending in with Demetrius McCamey, Brandon Paul, and the like. (And I like those guys–it’s just that, well, McCamey is good but he isn’t Rubio-good.)
  4. Shabazz doesn’t have a knack for rebounding. Except maybe his own misses around the hoop. We’ll see. The case on this is latter part is not yet closed but will be important for his chances to be a *productive* contributor offensively, as generating free throws for HIS SELF–and making them–is something the Wolves will need from a guy who won’t often create his own points (and shouldn’t).
  5. He’s willing to pass. Yada, yada, yada. This has been tweeted about ad nauseum. Rather than break down Shabazz’s assists in summer league, it’s more meaningful to state that it appears that he’s smart enough to know that he’s a role player coming into Minnesota, and is skilled enough to try to play that role. (I.e, he’ll have to move the ball within Adelman’s sets if he wants to be on the floor.)
  6. He can make shots. Granted, his percentages weren’t sterling, but they were right there–or better–than other heralded rookies who participated, like CJ McCollum and Ben McLemore. Each of these guys–Shabazz as the third–struggled in their own way in Vegas. It’s hard to read too much into any of their Vegas Summer League performances for this reason.

Here are some Shabazz highlights from Vegas. They aren’t representative. But still.

We’ll see where this goes. Shabazz is what he is–a 14th overall pick. He’ll have his ups and downs this season, when and if he gets to play. So will Dieng, who looked less NBA-ready than scouting reports had suggested. So we’ll have to see.

My takeaway, for what it’s worth, is that McCollum looked head and shoulders better than the rest. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll contribute to Portland this season. McCollum isn’t without flaws, but McLemore’s and Shabazz’s run deeper. Even though on draft night I would’ve taken McCollum at nine, it’s hard to  say unequivocally that the Wolves got it wrong–especially given that they presumably didn’t have complete information about AK47 or Corey Brewer and the small forward position writ large.

Here’s my big takeaway given all the turnover that’s happened this summer:

  • Kevin Martin will have a renaissance or sorts at shooting guard playing with Rubio in Adelman’s system.
  • Brewer will help make up for Martin’s defensive deficiencies on the wing (as will Rubio). That will be valuable and necessary.
  • Shabazz will learn bit-by-bit as he goes. He won’t have the opportunity to look great, but he’ll show flashes some nights, and look bad on others. That’s the reality as a limited usage bench player on a team as deep as ours.

On that note, the Wolves will have a much improved, playoff-caliber team next season. That’s cause for celebration in and of itself in Wolvesland.


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