For Shabazz Muhammad, things haven’t quite gone as expected. The top-5 recruit out of the class of 2012 was one-and-done after his lone campaign at UCLA, but that is where the adversity just began. Reports surfaced that he was a year older than listed in high school, his father was sent to prison, and his playing time fluctuated on the court. Now, as the nation saw last week, Muhammad is ready to show the world his game—that game he always knew he had.
“In college with everything that went on, it really affected my NBA Draft stock. Now you’re starting to see my talents,” ‘Bazz explained after a March game in Minnesota. “I think I’m really talented, and that’s something that I’m really starting to show, so now people are starting to change their minds and believe that I can really play in this League.”
While those within the Minnesota organization have seen that for a while now and basketball fans throughout the globe saw it during his 35-point outing in an overtime win at Golden State, it took the 23-year-old a while to amass the sum of his many talents. Different roles throughout his three years in the League and inconsistent playing time plagued him. Now, notably in this second half of the season during which he has been one of the League’s better sixth men, Muhammad has become an essential piece in one of the NBA’s rising franchises.
“It’s great. I’m definitely starting to get the minutes I want,” Muhammad admitted. “I’m playing pretty well on both ends. That’s something [defense] that I’ve really been working on, and it’s starting to pay off for me.”
Against Golden State, T-Wolves boss Sam Mitchell used the 6-6 forward in a variety of ways. When he was guarded by a smaller wing, Muhammad was sent to the post to exploit match-ups with his strength and quick moves on the block. When Steve Kerr went to his patented small ball, Muhammad slid to the four and despite being locked up by Draymond Green, used his quickness to easily get to the rack.
Coming into the League at 230 pounds after not reaching the near impossible expectations many had for him with the Bruins, there were questions about Shabazz’s commitment to the game. He had been an extremely highly touted prospect since before he played a high school game. In college, many NBA scouts openly questioned his willingness to defend and whether he could defend at this level. A slimmer ‘Bazz has certainly put those doubters to rest.
“My body,” he immediately responded about his biggest improvement since entering the League in ’13.” I’m really serious about my body now, and my vertical has really improved because of that.”
“Physically, I’m getting a lot stronger and am starting to notice that I’m a lot stronger than guys at my position,” he added. “That’s something that is really helping me. I can post up smaller guys, but then take guys outside off the drive with my quickness.”
Much of the natural explosion that Shabazz is regaining came due to the rigorous work that he and his father, Ron Holmes, put in when he was a youngster. The father/son duo put in countless hours in the gym, and SLAM was invited to check out one of these sessions prior to his arrival in Westwood. Holmes, in the midst of a 37 sentence that will see him a free man in 2017, still manages to give his son advice on the regular.
“He just tells me to go out there and play hard. He knows what he did throughout the years and that is something that we have to deal with,” Muhammad admitted after a deep gulp. “It’s an adversity that I have to overcome, but I’m happy where I’m at and I think I’m in a good position right now.”
Shabazz later said, “He watches as many of the games that he can. He tries to ask me how my shot’s looking and stuff like that. I just need to stay positive and keep doing what I’m doing.”
On the biggest stage possible for a non-playoff squad and knowing that Pops was watching, Shabazz did exactly that in what will certainly serve as a building block for one of the League’s most promising youthful franchises.
“It’s sweet for us. We’re a young team, and that’s something that we really need,” explained Muhammad with a clear sense of confidence in his voice after dropping a new career-high against the best team in the NBA. “It’s a good win for our resume this year. And next year, the sky is the limit for us.”