Tag Archives: shabazz muhammad

INBOX: Why is Shabazz Muhammad Struggling So Far?

CREDIT: Todd Bigelow (Photo by Todd Bigelow /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

CREDIT: Todd Bigelow (Photo by Todd Bigelow /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Andy G: Any theories on why Shabazz Muhammad is struggling so far? After his 2014-15 breakout season was interrupted by injury, Shabazz came to training camp in the best shape of his life. Big(-ish) things were expected. Certainly bigger than what he has shown in the Wolves’ first seven games.

Patrick J: I have several theories, some of which are better than others. In no particular order:

(1) His playing time fluctuates and he doesn’t know his role.

(2) He isn’t playing to his strengths like he used to because he “expanded his game” over the summer and is still trying to figure out when/where to use his new skillz within the framework of his role.

(3) He isn’t used to playing with ball movers like Rubio and Towns. Those guys are obviously a net + for the offense, but Bazz came up playing without any good passers, so he focused all of his attention on being a junkyard dog who made his own offense from offensive rebounding and general relentlessness rather than exploiting good spacing and passing from talented teammates.

(4) Some combination of 1, 2, and 3.

(5) He’s afraid that if he makes a mistake, Smitch will pull him. (Bazz needs to play off of instinct. If he thinks too much, he’s a step behind everyone else and consequently struggles.)

(6) Personal issues we’re unaware of.

What say you?

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INBOX Game Wrap: Wolves Lose Big to Bucks, Shabazz a Bright Spot

Andy G: The Wolves just played the Bucks in their penultimate preseason game of the 2015-16 season. The good news is that Nemanja Bjelica stuck a three-pointer with just seven seconds left in the game. The bad news is that his shot cut the Bucks lead down from 21 to 18.

The Wolves got smoked again. The Bucks won 106-88. The Wolves shot just 33 percent from the field, compared to Milwaukee’s 51. They were outrebounded, they missed shots, turned the ball over and — in the second half — played poor defense.

They are now 1-5 in the preseason, with 4 of the 5 losses being pretty lopsided games.

The bad stuff is pretty easily observed: tactically, their offense is outdated and their spacing is not where it needs to be. As a group of players, they are obviously very young and inexperienced, not to mention physically weak compared to the grown men that cause NBA teams to win consistently. They don’t have enough playmaking on offense, or enough general know-how on D.

Any bright spots out there in this game? I don’t mean to pile on, but that was another rough one.

Patrick J: There weren’t a lot of bright spots. But Shabazz Muhammad was by far the brightest. Bazz did not play a perfect game, but he was by far the most active and aggressive Wolves player. His stats are fairly representative of his game tonight: in 25 minutes, he scored 18 points on only seven field goal attempts. Far from the “Derricking” free-throw tendencies he’s known for, tonight Bazz shot a perfect for 11-11 and looked composed for a change while doing it. Muhammad “did stuff” in the other categories as well, pulling in five boards, dishing out four assists, and thieving one steal. Yet even though Shabazz was the bright spot, he didn’t look that great, either. He was out of sync with his teammates on both offense and defense. The difference between Shabazz and most of his teammates is that he can thrive in these kinds of scrums. That has its value, but you don’t want to have to rely on it all the time, as it’s a sign that you’re getting worked over by the opposing team.

I guess the question is, does this game even tell us anything about Shabazz and his value to the team?

Andy G: I wish they’d start Shabazz. I thought he made a lot of plays tonight — like you said, he was the bright spot — and he deserves a bigger role than it seems like he’ll begin the season with. Shabazz was arguably the best player on the Wolves team last year. He was certainly their best scorer. So far, in this preseason sample size, I think his on-ball defense looks improved. (He’s at least closing all the way out to his man, and seems to be a little bit more effective at cutting off dribble penetration.) Continue reading

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INBOX: Timberwolves Season in Review Part II: The Forwards

Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins

Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins

Andy G and Patrick J: As the NBA Playoffs begin, we’re going to continue recapping the season that was for the Timberwolves. We’re breaking this down into general positions, with a focus on who is still on the roster — as opposed to the slew of players who were traded mid-season, like Corey Brewer and Thaddeus Young. In case you missed Part I on the guards, be sure to check that out.

Today, we’re talking forwards. Basically, there’s a lot of hope at the three and a lot of uncertainty at the four. Read on below the fold for our takes.

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Punch-Drunk Podcast: Wiggins, LaVine, and the Season

In which we discuss Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, and Sean (Mc)Sweeney.

Check out the podcast below the fold and subscribe on iTunes!

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How Will the Wolves’ Improved Health Affect Shabazz Muhammad’s Role?

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Kevin Martin Returns from Injury

Kevin Martin came back to the lineup last night in the Wolves’ victory over the Boston Celtics at Target Center. Martin had 21 points in the win and felt like a spark plug for the team, even though his +/- rating was -3 for the night. (Eds. Note: A fairly meaningless statistic in a single game, especially when close to zero.) I dislike Martin’s style and defense, and his fugly-j, nerdy, weak, aesthetic. But Martin did what he does–score–and the Wolves won. That’s what matters.

Martin was excellent off the bench. A sixth man role might be the one he’s best suited for in the future–if he’s ever going to play an key role on a high-end contender, that is.

Pekovic Also Returns, Thaddeus Young Moves to Small Forward

The recent lineup changes are not limited to Martin’s return. Nikola Pekovic, another of the team’s season-opener starters, is back. This is more unexpected and, frankly, better news.

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Punch-Drunk Podcast, Episode 10: Wiggins and the Rest (Plus GERALD GREEN!, Injuries and Tanking, and the NBA Draft)

Gerald Green put on a brief but amazing show on Wednesday against the Wolves.

Gerald Green put on a brief but amazing show on Wednesday against the Wolves.

In which we discuss Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, Mo Williams, Zach LaVine, Gerald Green’s performance, injuries and tanking, and some NBA Draft prospects who intrigue us.

Check out the podcast below the fold.

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Flipped Off: 2014 in Review, and What’s to Come

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Andy G: First off, happy new year to all Punch-Drunk readers. 2014 was an eventful one for Wolves fans. Last January, we were watching the team hover disappointingly around .500 — clearly not good enough for Western Conference Playoffs eligibility — and bracing for what might be next to come; specifically, Rick Adelman’s retirement from coaching, Flip Saunders’ return to coaching, and Kevin Love being traded.

All of those things happened.

Thankfully, the return on the Love trade was surprisingly huge, given the circumstances. The Wolves had very little leverage, with Love making his plans known and having only one year left on his contract. Yet the the Cavs unexpectedly winning the lottery (for the second time in a row and third time in four years) followed by LeBron’s surprising Return — presumably coupled with a wink-wink agreement to trade for Love, was a rare stroke of luck for this franchise. Instead of the usual nickels or dimes on the dollar that a team could expect in this situation, the Wolves landed a player in Andrew Wiggins who some might prefer to Love; at least down the road a few seasons.

But all was not so swell this year.

Far from it.

For one thing, Flip Saunders’ coaching “search” was clumsy at best and disingenuous at worst. The Wolves ostensibly sought out candidates for the job, conducting interviews like a normal basketball operations staff would do with a vacancy to fill. Only, all along we assumed Flip would hire himself, which is of course what happened. Flip is no dummy, and he’s not a bad coach. But his bread-and-butter philosophies seem outdated. At this point, we’re hoping that his expertise and dedication will be mostly geared toward the individual development of young players — especially Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Over time, he’ll either hire a credible, progressive assistant coach whose input is welcomed to help with strategy (read: develop schemes to create open three-point shots and dunks, instead of spending real energy to free up 17-foot jumpers) or just retire from that job and hire a new coach from his GM perch.

But that’s far from a given and gives reason for concern.

Also, the basketball has been atrocious.

Currently the Wolves are 5-26, on pace to win just 13 games. They have lost 10 straight.

Ricky Rubio got hurt in just the season’s fifth game and the team is left with zero capable point guards. Nikola Pekovic got hurt too, leaving the team with zero capable centers. (Gorgui Dieng is good at some things and might have a bright future, but has been physically overwhelmed in the starting center role.) Oh, Kevin Martin got hurt too. And Thad Young, acquired at the expense of a first-round pick in the Love deal, has been a disappointment.

Believe it or not, it turns out that playing without a viable point guard, without a viable center, and without any wing players who can create offense for others off the dribble, is a very difficult thing to do. It’d be like an NFL team playing with a 200-pound wide receiver subbed in a left tackle to protect its quarterback’s blindside. Things that used to be available (pick-and-rolls for the Wolves, passes longer than 5 yards for the hypothetical football team) are removed from the playbook altogether. Winning is nearly impossible.

It’s also difficult to watch. The Wolves offense has relegated to multi-step plays just to feed the post for a difficult isolation play. Again, the hope is that the players posting up (Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad) are improving with these game reps. There is some evidence of that, which is good to see.

But anyway, that’s some of the year’s big events in a nutshell, as I see them.

What did I leave out?

Patrick J: The biggest event to date is the emergence of Shabazz Muhammad. The reason Shabazz is the biggest story is because (1) hardly anyone one saw it coming, and (2) Shabazz has been by far the Wolves’ best player this season. It’s only Bazz’s second season in the League. Youth is still on his side. This makes his emergence even better–the Wolves are building around youth. Flip Saunders acquired a bunch of young assets in Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett, and Gorgui Dieng [Eds. Note: Sort of–Gorgui is 25.]

Trading the #9 draft pick for the right to pick Muhammad at #13 plus the pick that turned in Gorgui was almost universally reviled by Wolves fans–especially analytics-informed ones. Shabazz was supposed to have no NBA talent based on his performance at UCLA. To make matters worse, he was supposed to arrive with hefty amounts of baggage and a poor attitude.

What we’ve seen is the exact opposite of these pessimistic predictions. Last season, Rick Adelman did not give Shabazz much playing time. But in the minutes he played, we got a small taste of what he could do. (Eds. Note: It included playing with more energy than his opponents and a knack for scoring.)

Nonetheless, there were lingering concerns that Shabazz was a tweener and didn’t have the athleticism and explosiveness to hold his own at an NBA position.

So, over the summer, Bazz worked out with private trainer Frank Matrisciano, whose difficult workouts have been used in the training of America’s most elite Special Operations Forces, the Navy SEALs. Shabazz emerged leaner, stronger, and even better at playing with energy and scoring than before.

This season, Shabazz leads the NBA in points-per-touch, has a PER of over 20, and appears able to competently play the underappreciated role of go-to scorer. He’s the only Timberwolf who, on any given possession, I’m confident can create or execute an offensive move or play that will result in a basket. That’s a nice skill to have, in addition to his intangible hustle and eagerness to expand his game and learn new techniques to improve his weaknesses.

Shabazz wants to be a star AND a complete player. Before this season, most doubted he could be either. Now, most are at least willing to entertain the notion that he could be both.

That’s the Timberwolves story of the year for Patrick J. (And it isn’t even close.)

Andy G: Let’s talk about fresh issues. Ricky Rubio is (finally) going to return soon; hopefully within two weeks. His ankle sprain has left him out of the lineup for a pretty ridiculous length of time (It’ll end up being a 2 months-plus recovery) and the team has obviously not fared well without him. Continue reading

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Developing Chemistry within the Shabazz-Wiggins-Gorgui Trio

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Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad share the distinction of being the only Timberwolves who have played in all 25 games of the 2014-15 season. They also constitute the closest thing this Wolves team has to a young core to build around; at least if you also include Ricky Rubio, who has been out this year with an ankle injury.

Wiggins is the number one pick with the physical tools, the tantalizing athleticism. For now and the foreseeable future, he’s unequivocally considered the franchise cornerstone. Wiggins is a 19-year old rookie. If he develops like the team hopes, he will almost certainly be a Timberwolf for 7 or 8 more seasons after this one.

Gorgui is the interior defender, the rim protector. He’s an efficient scorer who fills out the stat sheet with points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Gorgui works hard and does the dirty work. While his lack of “true center” size is a real issue, Flip Saunders believes that Gorgui is an NBA starter. Turning 25 next month, Dieng is significantly older than Wiggins and Muhammad. However, he is only in his second year of a bargain-level contract. (He earns about $1.4 Million this year, while out-producing some veterans around the league who earn 5 or 10 times more.) Provided his individual defense improves, there’s every reason to believe he will play the prime half-dozen seasons of his career in Minneapolis.

Shabazz has been a revelation. He’s quickly becoming a consistent, dominant scorer, as well as a tenacious rebounder from the wing position. On Friday against the Celtics, Shabazz posted his best all-around stat line, with 26 points (11-15 shooting), 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Barely 22 years old, Shabazz is improving at  shocking rate, and is becoming one of the best young offensive wing players in the league. Shabazz recently turned 22, and is also in his second year of a cheap deal. If the hot start proves to be sustainable, the Wolves will extend him for 4 more seasons beginning with 2017-18. In other words, he’ll be here for a long, long time.

Considering that the Wolves are in clear-cut rebuilding mode, one would assume that this young trio would be logging tons of minutes together, gaining experience and developing chemistry. But, so far anyway, that has not been the case.

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Shabazz: Always interesting, but now his team’s best player.

'Bazz plays tonight against 'Bron and Beas.

Since he was drafted in June 2013, Shabazz Muhammad has been the most interesting player on the Timberwolves. This is true for many reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • Shabazz was the number one rated high school prospect in his class, according to rivals.com. By other respected sources he was number two.
  • In those prep years, Shabazz was playing under the wrong age; he was actually one year older than he was listing. Over an extended period of time, under national spotlight, this was obviously not an accident.

  • Shabazz has Tourette syndrome.

  • In his lone season at UCLA, Shabazz’s performance gave rise to polarized reactions; the math projection models hated him, the eye test kinda liked him.

  • Shabazz has had a complicated relationship with his father, Ron Holmes, who was heavily involved in his basketball upbringing. This includes the decision to lie about his age. In 2013, Shabazz told interviewers that his dad was no longer a big part of his basketball life. He had to set “gound rules, in that respect.” Holmes was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud in 2014. These legal issues have undoubtedly been a distraction and source of stress for Shabazz during the beginning of his basketball career.

Since being drafted by the Timberwolves, Shabazz’s mystique has only grown. He sat on the bench for most of his rookie season; one in which his team was gunning for a playoff spot that was not to be. Once it became clear that the Wolves were not playoff-bound, the retiring Rick Adelman began to play his rookies a little bit. While Gorgui Dieng was the late-season revelation — posting a 20/20 game, and general productivity across the board — Shabazz also impressed fans in flashes.

In a late-February game at Phoenix — one the Suns badly needed for their own playoff hopes — Shabazz was the game’s MVP. In 24 minutes of the most energized bench play we’d ever seen around these parts, Muhammad scored 20 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and collected 2 steals, leading his team to unexpected victory. Despite that great performance, his playing time did not stick, though he did have more moments and flashes in the final weeks of his rookie campaign.

Then came the off-season, which seems to have been a pivotal one for Shabazz. He came into the NBA a little bit like his fellow Bruin/Timberwolf, Kevin Love, in that he was carrying a bit more weight around than would be recommended for a basketball player. He didn’t have a “gut,” in the white-collar, nine-to-fiver sense, but he also wasn’t ripped like most NBA wings are.

That’s changed.

Shabazz spent the summer in California working out with Frank Matrisciano, a Navy SEALS trainer with unconventional methods but proven results. The workouts, which are called “chameleon training,” obviously proved beneficial for Shabazz. He looked so much leaner at Media Day — even in his face — that I barely recognized him as the same person from a few months back.

And that brings us to the present, and the most interesting fact of all about Shabazz Muhammad:

Right now, he is the best player on the Timberwolves.

You can bold, underline, or italicize the “right now,” because it’s an important qualifier. When Ricky Rubio is healthy, he’s a better all-around player than Muhammad. Ricky doesn’t score as many points, but his impact on team success is more substantial and proven over a multiple-seasons track record. The same is probably true about Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. Thaddeus Young has played below his career averages this year, dealing with a new environment and a personal tragedy, or maybe he’d be above ‘Bazz, too.

But right now, it’s pretty much a fact that Shabazz is playing better than all of his teammates.

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Punch-Drunk Podcast, Episode 9: Ricky and the Rest

Ricky Rubio's ankle injury may end up as the season's defining event.

Ricky Rubio’s ankle injury may end up as the season’s defining event.

In which we discuss what the team is (or, rather, isn’t) without Ricky Rubio, our impressions of the Wolves youngsters so far, and whether Flip Saunders looks like a good coaching fit in Minnesota.

(And, yes, a little Zach Lavine).

Enjoy.

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Thinning the Herd (The Field of Dreams Edition)

A lot has changed in Timberwolves Land since mid-May. It was then that the organization was informed that Kevin Love planned to opt out and leave the franchise — per his contractual rights — in the summer of 2015. From that point through August 23, Flip Saunders was scrambling. Not only did he have multiple picks in the June draft, but he was also charged with the task of trading a superstar player.

Rather than re-hash the process and results for the umpteenth time, it’s sufficient to say that Flip got ‘er done. For Love, he got back Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. If either Wiggins or Bennett reaches his potential (or, gasp, if both do) it could go down as the greatest ever return in this “departing/disgruntled star wants out” trade scenario. Plus, Thad Young is already a good player who might fit nicely in a front court that already includes Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic at the center position.

But there is one little problem with this Timberwolves roster, as currently constructed:

There are too many guys. (Eds. Note: For more on this, see, inter alia, excellent posts here and here.)

More specifically, there are too many guys that will expect — and *should* expect — some playing time. And that brings us to positional battles, and the possibility that some Timberwolves players will need to spend time in the D-League — playing for the Iowa Energy (technically this is the Memphis Grizzlies affiliate, but that’s where they sent Shabazz last year because the Wolves don’t have their own team). Saunders has extensive experience in minor league basketball, coaching in the old CBA, and is a firm believer in it as a developing environment for certain players. It seems inevitable that, at some point this season, a Wolf or two will be sent down for some game reps.

For a young basketball player, the NBA — even on the Minnesota Timberwolves — must feel a bit like heaven on Earth. There are the big crowds, the SportsCenter highlights, the glitz and glamor, and the competition against players that were considered celebrity heroes just a short time ago. The whole thing must be a real trip for a new player entering the league.

The D-League… well, the D-League probably feels a bit more like Iowa.

So we thought it worthwhile to run through the candidates for D-League Duty, and predict which guys might end up playing some minor league ball in 2014-15.

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Three Bees

'Bazz plays tonight against 'Bron and Beas.

‘Bazz plays tonight against ‘Bron and Beas.

The Timberwolves play tonight (6:30 CDT tip, views on FSN, sounds on WCCO 830).

So, the Wolves aren’t in playoff contention. The Twins season is underway. The weather is nice should be getting better soon. Only the diehard are following the team as closely as they were a few months ago.

However, there’s a special interest in tonight’s game. Scratch that – three special interests: ‘Bazz, Beas, and, of course, ‘Bron. Three Bees, three angles.

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No Playoffs? What’s Next?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

With a playoff run out of the picture, will Nikola Pekovic play out the rest of the season?

The Timberwolves aren’t making the playoffs. Let’s put that idea behind us.

The Wolves underachieved this year.

It doesn’t matter how many more games they win or lose. Making the playoffs this season was a benchmark – the benchmark – for that nebulous but real concept known as “success.” And this season, the Wolves were unsuccessful.

I’m not going to get into why the Wolves failed. We’ve talked all about the draft picks, free agent signings, the failings of the second unit, Adelman’s rotations, Barea over Rubio, close losses, and everything else, ad nauseum. 

What’s Next?

Lots of Wolves fans will check out. It’s no secret that interest in the team waxes and wanes with the team’s highs and lows. When the team is winning, fans take interest. When it isn’t, they don’t. This isn’t an indictment of fair-weather fandom. It’s just human.

The real question is whether the Wolves will also check out as a team.

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Wheelman Presents: Punch-Drunk Podcast, Vol. 4

In which we discuss Shabazz Muhammad, Royce White, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Billl Simmons and the future of (sports) journalism.

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Instant Reactions (BLAZERS 108, Wolves 97)

The Wolves lost tonight. The end result isn’t as upsetting to fans as the manner in which it came to be. Since it’s late and tomorrow is Monday morning, I’m doing this rapid-fire style with a few key bullet points:

* The obvious storyline is that Ricky Rubio sat out the entire fourth quarter, despite three major factors suggesting this was a bad idea:

1) He was playing pretty well. He had 11 assists in just 23 minutes of action;

2) A growing body of stats shows that the Wolves play much worse with Barea than with Ricky during fourth quarters; and

3) J.J. Barea, his replacement, lost his cool in a chippy matchup with Blazers reserve guard, Mo Williams. Barea actually won that matchup in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first two periods. But Williams eventually got him fired up (in a bad way — REALLY bad way) and this led to offensive fouls and dumb shots. Long story short: Rick Adelman has fans and analysts perplexed as to why he prefers Barea over Rubio down the stretch of close games. Wolves brilliant color commentator Jim Petersen openly discussed this confusion after the game, and it’s a story that is not going away.

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Rockets at Timberwolves (The Fearing the Beard Edition)

The NBA should allow James Harden to play with that pick in his beard during All-Star Weekend.

The NBA should allow James Harden to play with that pick in his beard during All-Star Weekend.

The Houston Rockets (34-17) are in town to play the staggering (Punch-Drunk?) Wolves (24-27) tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. Central. Views via FSN and NBATV. Sounds via WCCO 830. James Harden’s beard is traveling with the team and will be in the Rockets’ starting lineup.

We discussed some of the issues heading into this game during our first Punch-Drunk Podcast. (Eds. Note: We’re planning on adding podcasts to our repertoire on a semi-regular basis. More details on that to come.)

A few notes on tonight’s game below the fold.

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Shabazz Muhammad Likes It On The Block

Because we’re not making the playoffs, and we haven’t gotten to see this all season.

Yes, this is Shabazz having his best offensive game of the season, outside of his brief D-League stint.

Methinks Shabazz is a load on the block.

More to come by way of analysis of the game itself.

Until then.

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Kings vs. Wolves (The Run DMC Edition)

pekovic-cousins1

I’m traveling on business, and have to make this short.

The Timberwolves (18-19) host the Sacramento Kings (13-23) tonight at 7:00 pm CT. You can see and hear the game at the usual places, FSN and WCCO 830-AM, respectively.

A few notes of interest:

  • Pekovic-Cousins Grudge Match: Two of the best (and biggest) centers in the NBA go head-to-head tonight in what looks to be the game’s marquee matchup. Cousins is having a monster year, ranking among the NBA’s top 10 in both points (23.5) and rebounds (11.6) per game, which puts him in a strong position to make this season’s All-Star game. Pek has arguably been the Wolves’ best player in recent games, beasting his way to 23 and 10 on 55% shooting and over 5 offensive rebounds over his last dozen games.  All I can say about their head-to-head matchup is by way of a public service announcement: Any time Nikola Pekovic and DeMarcus Cousins are set to go to war, hide your women and children.

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Shabazz Muhammad in the D-League: A Preliminary Scouting Report

Shabazz Muhammad made his NBA D-League debut this week for the Iowa Energy

Shabazz Muhammad made his NBA D-League debut this week for the Iowa Energy

Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad has now played his first three D-League games. Assigned to the Iowa Energy, Muhammad participated in the D-League Showcase this week, helping the Energy to two wins (box scores here and here). Muhammad and the Energy played again on Saturday night, losing 124-121 to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (box score here).

The excellent D-League blog Ridiculous Upside provided some timely analysis of Shabazz’s performance in the Showcase:

Muhammad only played a total of 48 minutes in his two D-League games this week, but he scored 46 points on 62.5 percent shooting and pulled down 18 rebounds. He’s done a fantastic job on the glass and has been too much to handle for opposing teams around the basket and on the fast-break, scoring 13 of his 23 points per game on second-chance opportunities or in the open-court. He’s also played with tons of energy, which has been a great fit in the Energy’s high octane offense. Obviously there were a few little issues here and there, but he’s had a great stint with Iowa and has clearly been a man on a mission.

The piece is worth reading in full.

Scouting Report

I watched most of Muhammad’s two games in the Showcase. I wasn’t able to watch last night’s game, but it appears that he continued what he started in the Showcase, scoring 26 points and collecting 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end. Here are my quick reactions based on what I’ve seen, in bullet-point format, because they’re just that–quick reactions that aren’t fully developed yet. Besides, the sample size isn’t large enough to draw firm conclusions from, so this is intended to read more like a scouting report than an analytic product.

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A Big Easy Win (WOLVES 124, Pelicans 112)

That second half was boring, but for a good reason. The Timberwolves lead grew to 30 when Kevin Love buried a trey for an 87-57 advantage with 4:51 to play in the third quarter. After that, the game was equal parts sloppy and chippy. At one point Anthony Davis barked at Dante Cunningham and got himself T’d up. At another, Corey Brewer was whistled for a tech while he sat on the bench. The Wolves allowed many quick — immediate, even — Pelicans baskets after their own scores in the fourth quarter.

But the work was done in the middle quarters of the game, which Minnesota won by a combined 19 points. Alexey Shved checked in late in the first quarter and played some of his best ball of the year (not a high hurdle to clear, I realize). Shved was active on defense, deflecting passes and even blocking a shot. On offense, he made the clever passes we grew accustomed to last year, and also made a pair of corner treys. (See his 2012-13 shot chart for convincing evidence that Alexey should ONLY shoot threes from the corners.) Shved’s final plus-minus of (-8) looks bad because he was on the floor during the aforementioned garbage-time slop. His first stint of the game was key, when the Wolves late-first-quarter deficit of 1 was erased and turned into a 5-point lead by the time Shved checked out.

But it wasn’t like Shved was THE reason the Wolves won. No, I just had to lead with him because of subjective/bias reasons and also because he played the most above his average level. But no, Shved was not the player of the game or anything. Ricky Rubio found open driving lines and converted layups. He also made a three. He also nearly got his self a triple double. (14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals). Kevin Love had a measly-by-his standards 21 and 6, but played a nice floor game against a terrifying defender in Anthony Davis. Nikola Pekovic had 22 and 7. Kevin Martin scored 20 points. J.J. Barea scored 17. A lot of guys played well and — for much of the game — just about everything was working. Love completed outlet bombs for assists. Brewer’s gambles usually paid off.

From a team stats perspective, the Wolves shot 35 free throws and made 28 of them. Drawing fouls against the physical Pelicans backcourt was an early key to the game. Jrue Holiday played less than 23 minutes due to foul trouble. The Pelicans are really bad when he sits out. Later, during second-unit stretches, drawing fouls against former Wolf and hack-happy center, Greg Stiemsma, also helped generate free throw opportunities. But it wasn’t just free throws this time. The Wolves also shot 55.7 percent from the field, which is WAY above their season average of 43.3. Part of that was getting out in transition, but it was also due to the improved shooting from Barea and Shved. The Pelicans were careless with the basketball and committed offensive fouls.

It just wasn’t a close game. The Wolves played well against a good team that played poorly. They’re back to .500 with a 16-16 record. Next up is the division-leading, but Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder. That game is at Target Center on Saturday night. A win over Kevin Durant that also serves to push the team back over .500 would be a nice little Saturday, indeed.

I’ll close with a few quick hitters:

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