Q&A With Energy Coach Nate Bjorkgren
Q&A With Energy Coach Nate Bjorkgren
Editor's Note: Shabazz Muhammad spent four games in the D-League with the Iowa Energy last week. He averaged 24.5 points on 57.1% shooting and 9.8 rebounds per game while helping the Energy to a 3-1 record. Timberwolves.com's Mark Remme caught up with Energy coach Nate Bjorkgren to talk about Muhammad's stint with the Energy, the team's affiliation with the Wolves and more.
What did you know about Shabazz before he came to Iowa?
Nate Bjorkgren: I was familiar with him in college, watching him play some. I was even more familiar with him playing at the NBA Summer league. I was out there the whole time in Vegas, so I watched him play there. And with having the Timberwolves as one of our affiliates I try to keep up with the young guys that could possibly spend time with us in Iowa. So I was prepared and knew his game and talked with T-wolves personnel before he got here.
How do you handle infusing players into your system when they arrive and might head back to the D-League momentarily?
NB: First of all, it happens a lot. The biggest challenge is coaching in the D-League is the continuous change in the roster. You have to keep things simple. You have to really communicate with the current D-League players you have and the guys who are on assignment like Shabazz. I told Shabazz when he got here—and he was well-coached before he got here from the management telling him to come down, play hard, play to your strengths and be a good teammate—and that’s the same conversation I had with Shabazz. I’ve coached in the D-League for seven years, and I’ve had a number of assigned players. I always tell them you come down here and play to your strengths. Play defense and play to your strengths, we’ll continue to work on your weaknesses in practice. But when you come down here, play to your strengths.
What do you think he made of his opportunity in Iowa?
NB: I was preparing for him before he got here, so I was reading some of the; things in the media that he was saying, that he was going to come to Iowa and be a good teammate and fit in, and he did exactly that. I had him a couple days in practice, and he looked me in the eye and he accepted coaching and he worked hard and tried to be a good teammate. And he had a nice stay. And a lot of times an assignment player comes down and he has a really good first game, and then that second game he plays there is a dip or not a good game, but in Shabazz’s case he came down and was steady and constant, and that was a good sign.
How has his game changed at all since seeing some of his games with UCLA?
NB: He continues to grow on the defensive side of the ball. I spent a lot of time with him showing him film, and I know he learned a lot being with the Timberwolves, and offensively I knew he was going to attack that rim and use his athleticism, but he rebounded the ball well for us. He really was s force on the offensive glass. Defensively he was getting boards and pushing it down the floor. I thought he had a really good balance to his game when he was here. He hit a couple 3s and got to the free-throw line, too.
He’s really crashed the boards, especially on the offensive glass, since Training Camp. Were you surprised by that?
NB: The reason that I liked him is he really competed. He did, he was crashing the glass and he wanted to when he got the rebound he looked to push it down the floor. When he didn’t get the board, he did a good job of running the floor and our guys did a good job of finding him and getting it to him on the fast break. He played aggressively, which was big.
Do you see him as a player who can make an impact at the NBA level in the near future?
NB: Absolutely. I think he’s a great pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He showed a lot of promise in the D-League. Absolutely he’s going to make an impact in the NBA.
What does he need to work on most?
NB: Just continuing to get experience at the pro level. His time at the D-League here, you know, he’s getting that experience in practice and preseason games in Minnesota, but when he was in the D-League he was able to play under the lights with the officials and the scoreboard. The rules are almost identically from the D-League the NBA, so it was a good chance to get out and play. And that’s the main thing for him to get to compete at the pro level and get more and more opportunities. I just saw the growth with him when he was with me, I saw his eyes light up, and he was having a good time. And I think he just needs some experience.
Do you get feedback from Flip or other front offices you’re affiliated with about how the players gain confidence from their D-League assignments?
NB: Coach Saunders came to our game on Sunday, so it was great having him here not only having him from Shabazz but for the rest of our players to see him there. It’s motivation for our guys because they’re all trying to get to the NBA. And to answer the first part of your question, when we were out at the [D-League] Showcase [in Reno, Nev., last week], he played great in all kinds of NBA personnel came up to me and asked how was Shabazz, he looked good. He definitely did himself a lot of favors, not only playing well for the Timberwolves but the rest of the NBA liking his game.
How is Othyus Jeffers doing for you this season?
NB: He is tough as nails. He is great, I mean, top five in scoring, top five in rebounding. Leads the league in steals. He gets us big buckets, he gets us big steals. He’s an animal out there. He’s the next NBA player. Whenever the next team comes calling, and it will happen soon.
Does having a guy like O on the roster help younger guys grow as players? Did it help Shabazz given he had a familiar face from Summer League and Training Camp?
NB: Absolutely. O is our leader, and you watch our games he’s a leader in the locker room, he’s a leader on the court. When thing aren’t going well he’ll talk, he’s very vocal. He’s got tons of experience playing on three teams and being in and out of the D-League over the last three years. And he helps Shabazz, he can give them a lot of advice on what to expect in these D-League games.
From a coach’s perspective do you hope to have others from the Wolves or your other NBA affiliates assigned to increase the partnership and get to help develop other younger NBA players’ games?
NB: Aboslutey, and that’s exactly what we’re here for. We’re an affiliate of the Timberwolves, and we enjoy the communication we have with them. Anyone they have to send, we’ll welcome them and they’ll have a good time here. I always tell them that when they come to Iowa, we’ll take good care of them.
What’s been the Energy’s biggest strength this year? Obviously off to a nice start with a 14-6 record.
NB: Our guys, we’ve got a good group, they’re really sharing the basketball. They’re playing well together, and sometimes in the D-League it’s tough to do. It’s a league that guys are trying to get their numbers, trying to get the call up, trying to get a call overseas. But the biggest stat is playing together, and I think that takes care of everything else. Our guys are doing a really nice job of buying into the team part of it, team basketball.
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