Howland Confident That Shabazz Muhammad Is Ready For NBA

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Howland Confident That Shabazz Muhammad Is Ready For NBA

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

Email / Twitter

Ben Howland didn’t hold back conviction when he spoke about Wolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad. His words were full of it. For about 15 minutes on the day the UCLA guard/forward was introduced in Minnesota, his college coach spoke at length about what Muhammad can bring to an NBA franchise.

And by his account, Howland is awfully confident in Muhammad’s ability at the next level.

Howland, the former UCLA coach who led the Bruins to three straight Final Fours and helped usher a parade of collegiate players into the NBA—including Muhammad and his new Wolves teammate, Kevin Love—spent the past season teaching Muhammad the game at the NCAA level. It was a brief, albeit necessary, stepping stone for an athlete who was considered one of the top basketball recruits in the country coming out of high school.

[CLICK HERE to read the full Ben Howland Q&A]

During his lone season in L.A., Muhammad raised eyebrows both on and off the court. With the Bruins, he averaged 17.9 points per game and demonstrated incredible talent on the floor. His scoring ability, his dedication in the gym and desire to get to the line all made him a must-watch type player for the Bruins. Away from the court, conflicting reports about his age surfaced while questions arose about his dedication to the team.

Howland quickly debunked those concerns on Friday.

“I assured them that this kid is a great kid—not a good kid, but a great kid,” Howland said. “There won’t be issues off the floor. He’s driven. He wants to be great. He’s a player like Kevin [Love] and Jrue Holiday that was a No. 1 kid coming out of high school. I think that benefits them moving forward. They want to compete. They want to be the best.”

The common theme surrounding Muhammad’s work ethic over the past five days has been his “gym rat” demeanor—a term Muhammad embraces as an endearing indication of his commitment to the game. Howland only ratified that concept, saying Muhammad is driven to be great. He possesses big hands, a 6-foot-6 frame and a strong lower body that provides the physical tools needed to continue improving.

He’s been tested continuously off the court through media questioning. During his time at UCLA in the second largest media market in the country all the way through the Draft season, Muhammad answered the same questions and tried to show that what matters most is what he can do on the court.

“He knows how he is—he has to go out and prove himself,” Howland said. “He’s starting all over. He has a chip on his shoulder, he can’t wait to get out there. When the lights go on, he gets better.”

Howland said he expects Muhammad to thrive with coach Rick Adelman, a player’s coach who has two decades and 1,000 wins that attest to his ability to nurture young talent. Muhammad can fill that swingman scoring role the Wolves desperately need. Defensively, Howland said he thinks Muhammad can guard the 2 and the 3 at the next level, although Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said he envisions Muhammad being more of a 3 defensively when he came through for his June 16 Draft workout. Howland said his defense improved as the season progressed.

During his season at UCLA, Howland said Muhammad improved learning to use screens, red the defense off the screens and adding a presence on the boards. With his size and 225-pound frame, Muhammad makes it difficult for smaller defenders to handle him if he gets post-up position.

As a result, Muhammad became the focal point of a UCLA team that won 25 games but bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first round—ultimately costing Howland his job.

Through it all, Howland said Muhammad has handled all the publicity admirably.

“He’s handled the limelight and the media attention and all the scrutiny very, very well,” Howland said. “It’s going to serve him well in the NBA, because he’s had the experiences in this program in the second largest media market in the country.”

Now, he’s making the jump to Minnesota and into a league where the lights are bigger and brighter. Howland said Muhammad is prepared, and he’s joining an organization that might have the right mix of familiarity, creativity and wisdom. Muhammad knows Kevin Love through their UCLA connection, will have the benefit of playing with a pass-first wizard in Ricky Rubio and will learn the NBA game from one of the most celebrated coaches of the past two decades.

“I think he understands he’s starting over,” Howland said. “This is a kid who is just out of college, two years out of high school and in the NBA. He’s fortunate to have a coach who is so experienced with so many great players. I think Adelman’s system is a really good situation for him.”

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