When Given Opportunity, Shabazz Seized It

Kevin Love marveled at Shabazz Muhammad’s play after Tuesday night’s 110-101 win over the Phoenix Suns. Not only did the rookie step up when called upon, scoring 20 points and adding six timely rebounds, but he did it on the road against what is currently a playoff team when the Wolves needed it most.

But while Love was complimentary, he was not surprised. Muhammad’s performance was not something that came out of the blue.

“We see it all the time from him,” Love said. “But he took advantage of an opportunity tonight, and he’s a rookie so he’s still learning the game. He’s going to get better. He’s a strong kid, and he hit some big shots for us tonight and brought us back into it.”

Muhammad is being slowly brought along this season and hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes during his first four months in the league. That’s not atypical under coach Rick Adelman, who has generally been a coach who eases rookies into the league.

Muhammad has been patient in this process, which seemingly could be difficult for a player who has been the focal point of his teams since grade school. He was a one-and-done lottery pick out of UCLA, and before that he was one of the highest rated high school prospects.

This season, he’s spent most of his time down the Wolves’ depth chart. Even with playing a combined 46 minutes over the last two games, he’s averaging 6.7 minutes per night and scoring 3.2 points per game during his rookie season.

But he can score, and he can crash the boards. And when he got the opportunity on Tuesday night, he showcased that at the expense of the Suns.

He just naturally stepped in and produced.

“I was so in the game,” Muhammad said. “When I’m in the game, I’m in the zone and I wanted us to win the game so bad. The Suns are a really good team, and like I said I thought everybody played well. We played well as a unit. That’s what we need every game for us to be really good.”

He scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and throughout the game he was tireless getting to the rim and attacking the basket. With that came trips to the line—he was 4-of-6 from the stripe to go along with his 8-of-13 shooting from the field.

But his biggest impact was his hustle plays. He grabbed three offensive rebounds, the biggest of which coming with 1:43 left in the game. With the Wolves up 100-97, Love missed a 3-pointer and there was a loose ball rebound in the paint. Muhammad wrestled it away from Suns defenders, then naturally kicked it over to a cutting Corey Brewer. Brewer quickly scored a layup, and all of a sudden the Wolves were up five with 1:38 to go. It was the biggest play of the night.

We’ve heard Adelman and Muhammad’s teammates talk about his offensive rebounding since Training Camp. On Tuesday, he got the chance to do it in game.

That’s something Wolves fans might not have expected out of Muhammad when the Wolves made the deal on draft night to acquire him from Utah. At UCLA, Muhammad was known almost exclusively as a scorer. But it’s on the glass where Muhammad, a 6-foot-6, 222-pound swingman, can really make his mark at his position. And he sees it as a part of the game he can really impact at the NBA level.

“That’s one thing that’s really important, because it really tires out the defender,” Muhammad said. “They’re always like man, this guy always keeps going to the boards. That’s something I like to do, and I thought I did a good job of that, getting some second chance opportunities.”

Adelman praised Muhammad for his efforts. He’s told Muhammad all year that an opportunity would come, and he needed to be ready when it did.

“He was terrific,” Adelman said. “You have to give him all the credit in the world…He kept working and working and working. Every practice, he kept working. He got an opportunity, and now what I liked about him is he stayed within his strengths. He can rebound the ball, he posted up. Big rebounds in the fourth quarter he got. And that’s what he can do.

“Sometimes young people don’t take that to heart when they’re not playing. We told him all along that it’s a long season here, and he had an opportunity with all the injuries and he really produced.”

Muhammad said his coaches had a lot to do with keeping him focused and ready. He’s always one of the last players out of the gym after practice, and he goes early to the arena before games to work out with assistant coach David Adelman.

They helped him prepare for moments like Tuesday night. Muhammad didn’t disappoint.

“The coaching staff, they’re always supporting and like I said just trying to come in early, leave late, just trying to work my butt off,” Muhammad said. “Adelman is always like, you’re going to get your chance, your opportunity. It came, and I thought I responded pretty well.”

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