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Much has been made about Shabazz Muhammad’s huge night against Phoenix on Tuesday already, and much more will be made over the next few days.
Correctly so, I might add: ‘Bazz scored 20 points and pulled down six rebounds in his best game of the season so far (by far), and for the first time, Wolves fans got a real look at what a productive Shabazz Muhammad might bring to the team. Here’s what we saw: Good rebounding instincts, a big, strong body (so big and strong he might be better suited as a stretch-4, as PD Wolves wrote earlier today), soft touch around the rim, the ability to absorb contact, the athleticism and strength to create it, and the hustle of a rookie trying to regularly crack a rotation for the first time.
There is plenty of temperance necessary: Muhammad hasn’t been playing for a reason. He doesn’t have a good jumpshot, for starters, and his position is complicated. But if (and it’s starting to look a lot more like “when”) the Wolves don’t make the playoffs, Shabazz’s development can go a long way toward determining whether this season feels lost or not.
There were plenty of other things to be excited about as well, of course. The fact that the Wolves came from behind, took the lead and — instead of letting it slip away — extended it by scoring 35 points in the fourth quarter, for example. Also, the fact that Ricky Rubio dished out 11 assists and, more importantly, was left out on the floor during crunch time and wasn’t a detriment to the team (in fact, his ball-handling and passing were significant upgrades over the possessions JJ Barea often spends dribbling dents into the hardwood behind the 3-point line).
And, of course, there’s the omnipresent Love, who scored 33 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and dished nine assists, once again coming close to a triple double. Please note: Love nearly recorded a 33-point triple double, and we are talking about a 20-point game from a rookie. Love has had an incredible season. It’s not that we should be noting Love’s performance more — he has been generally lauded all year. It’s that these crazy games are becoming so commonplace, we barely notice anymore. It simply IS more noteworthy when Shabazz Muhammad puts up 20 points than it was when Love tallies 33/13. That’s what happens when you are a top-10 player in the NBA.
Minnesota is 5.5 games out of the playoffs, and considering how well Memphis, Phoenix and Dallas have been playing lately, there isn’t a lot of hope at this point. But if there is hope to be taken from last night, it’s this: Shabazz looked great, the Wolves held on late against a very good team. Progress is progress, even if it comes a little late.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.