This is the fourth in a 14-part series evaluating each Timberwolves player’s performance during the 2013-14 season.
The first season of Shabazz in Minnesota contained about as many twists and turns as the former No. 1 high school recruit’s entire previous basketball career.
The embattled rookie forward who came in with a reputation for selfishness and a knack for scoring didn’t receive many opportunities in his first year in the NBA. But when Muhammad did, he showed some flashes of offensive and aggressive brilliance that look like harbingers of future success.
Provided he can continue to leave the off-court issues attached to his name behind and become a more well-rounded player.
Save for being kicked out of the league’s rookie program last summer, Muhammad kept his nose out of trouble this year. The same can’t be said for his father, Ron Holmes, who was sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to pay almost $1.7 million restitution after pleading guilty in a Las Vegas mortgage fraud case.
It was also discovered that Holmes took out a loan based on his son’s future potential NBA earnings while Muhammad was still at UCLA, a violation of NCAA rules. The two already had been tied to controversy when Muhammad’s age was falsified and he was suspended for the start of his one collegiate season for receiving impermissible benefits as a recruit.
But things were less bleak for Muhammad on the floor this season, although that aspect of the 2013 draft’s No. 14 overall pick life came with its share of struggles, too.
It’s difficult to evaluate Muhammad’s offensive contributions in a statistical vacuum; his isolated, attacking style of play didn’t mesh with coach Rick Adelman’s team offense schemes, and as a result, Muhammad wasn’t the beneficiary of extended playing time — he averaged 7.8 minutes per game. But during the 12 contests in which he played more than 10 minutes, he posted a respectable 7.6 points per game. For the season, he made 46 percent of his field goals. Muhammad’s best game came Feb. 25 against Phoenix, when he went 8-for-13 and scored 20 points. During a four-game NBA D-League stint with the Iowa Energy, he averaged 24.5 points on 57.1 percent shooting.
Less than two rebounds per game may seem measly, but when examined more esoterically, it’s clear Muhammad brings something when it comes to clearing the boards. Since training camp, his rebounding aggression was noted, and it showed up in games when he averaged 8.8 rebounds per 48 minutes. Nearly half of his boards came on the offensive end, as he used his sturdy, 6-foot-6, 222-pound frame to muscle his way in for putbacks and second chances. He was even more impressive in this category during his short D-League time, averaging 9.8 rebounds per game.
Strong, stocky and tenacious when he wants to be, Muhammad has the tools necessary to be a serviceable NBA defender. But he’s nowhere near that echelon yet; in 290 minutes spread across 37 games, he tallied eight steals and blocked one shot. While he didn’t have many opportunities, failing to make a mark defensively is no way for a fringe rookie to earn more playing time. Muhammad wasn’t known for his defense in college, either, and must bring the same enthusiasm he exhibits for scoring at the floor’s other end in order to become the kind of two-way player the Timberwolves need on the wing.
There is reason to believe Muhammad may become a viable NBA threat and live up to his draft stock. But if he continues to remain as one-dimensional as he looked at times during his rookie year, there’s just as good a chance he’ll rank among the first-round gaffes that have plagued Minnesota throughout the franchise’s 25-year history. In addition to improving as a defender, Muhammad must learn how to operate within an offense and delegate to better, more proven players; his one assist per 48 minutes ranked last on the Timberwolves roster (excluding traded Derrick Williams and late-season signee Othyus Jeffers, who appeared in a combined 11 games). Minnesota also has to hope Muhammad can recover quickly from a sprained right MCL that cost him the season’s final seven contests.