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It all started when it was announced that the Detroit Pistons were going to select Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the guard the Timberwolves had so coveted, with the eighth pick. Not even Ben McLemore’s selection at seven sent fans’ blood pressure soaring since we never believed he would be there anyway and that it was nothing more than a fun thought to entertain. No, as soon as KCP came off the board the question became, “Now what?” Do they take C.J. McCollum, the combo guard, as a consolation prize? Or would they be better served trading out of their position altogether?
Well, they opted for the latter, selecting Michigan point guard Trey Burke for the Utah Jazz in exchange for the 14th and 21st picks.
The game began again with what to do with the 14th pick. Some of the options remaining included Sergey Kerasev, Mason Plumlee, and UCLA’s highly scrutinized Shabazz Muhammed. As we know the Timberwolves would select Muhammed, igniting a portion of the team’s fans.
“They’re gonna regret passing on McCollum!”
“Why didn’t they just keep Burke?!”
“Muhammed is Michael Beasley 2.0!”
If you’ve been following the hype leading up to the draft you are well aware that Muhammed was going to be coming with some questions, so this reaction shouldn’t surprise you. To many it sounds like there is almost no point in Shabazz even trying and whatever team gives him a uniform is destined to an eternity of futility. It’s easy to speak definitively when we get emotional about a subject we’re passionate about that we forget to take a step back and re-examine the situation at-hand.
Yes, he only had 27 assists over the course of 32 games last season, but that was at UCLA. Here, he won’t be the team’s go-to player and neither will he be the team’s primary ballhandler. In fact, if he becomes a ball-stopper by refusing to pass, he won’t play. We’ve seen it with Derrick Williams where he gives him these in-game teaching moments by benching Williams if he’s trying to do too much on his own and is hurting the team. In reality, Adelman may be the strong coach Muhammed needs to succeed at the next level. Systematically, Shabazz can fill the role of the catch-and-shoot player off of Ricky Rubio passes while helping to open up driving lanes for Derrick Williams and others to cut to the basket. No, he wasn’t elite in college (37 percent), but that figure is still good and he’s certainly young enough to continue to improve further.
While Muhammed isn’t a spectacular athlete, he’s a good athlete and his 6’11 wingspan will help him compensate for that defensively. Using Williams as the example once again, we’ve seen Adelman make serviceable defenders out of players with inferior physical attributes, so there is reason to believe that Muhammed could grow into a capable defender along the way. You can certainly change a 20 year old kid’s mindset from scorer to more complete player as long as they have the proper coach to instill that in them. Again, if he wants to get minutes he’ll earn them by doing things like playing defense.
You can point to his past issues with his birth certificate or his perceived attitude problems as reason for concern, but part of the reason Muhammed wooed the Timberwolves was the fact that he did own up to his prior issues. He’s young, naive, and made some mistakes because of that, but taking responsibility for them is a sign of maturity. The Timberwolves were also enticed by the fact that he’s a gym rat and willing to put in the work to get better. Plus, it will only be an added bonus if Muhammed comes in with a chip on his shoulder having fallen from top pick consideration once upon a time to a fringe lottery pick.
Perhaps I’m being positive here, but it’s a choice I’d rather make than damning Muhammed to failure from the get-go. Like any other pick, there’s a chance that it works out and a chance that it blows up in your face; that’s the draft for you. It’s not as if they gave up a ton to get him, and arguably received more in return considering the alleged depth of this draft and the fact that they were swapping the ninth for fourteenth. Being able to use both picks to fill separate needs isn’t too shabby, either. So, there are many reasons this could be a disaster but there are also several reasons why this could be a bit of a steal.