After a successful four-game stretch with the Iowa Energy of the D-League, Shabazz Muhammad has been recalled by the Minnesota Timberwolves to rejoin the team this week. Muhammad showed off that ability to score which made him such a top prospect coming out of high school and did a great job of hitting the rebounds in his four games. He tallied 98 points and 39 rebounds in his four games, shot nearly eight free throws per game, and had seven assists (!!) and just five turnovers.
Here’s the release from the Wolves about the recall and my thoughts on the experience below:
The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced the club has recalled rookie guard/forward Shabazz Muhammad from the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League.
Muhammad appeared in four games for the Energy, leading Iowa to a 3-1 record while averaging 24.5 points, on 57.1% shooting, and 9.8 rebounds per game. He recorded two double-doubles during the stint, including scoring 26 points and hauling in a game-high 12 rebounds vs. Fort Wayne on Jan. 11.
Muhammad was named to the 2014 NBADLeague.com All-Showcase Team after averaging 23.0 points, on 62.5% shooting, and 9.0 rebounds in two games during the D-League Showcase. He made his D-League debut on Jan. 7, tallying 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds.
There are several teams that are very good at using the D-League. The Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and a few others are all teams that excel at developing talent by utilizing the D-League to its fullest. This will be new ground for Wolves fans because we’ve never seen a front office in this organization that seemed to care about using the D-League as an organizational tool. Other than sending Jonny Flynn to the D-League to rehab a bit with his hip injury, this team has seemingly largely ignored its existence. Whether that’s a fair assessment or not, that’s certainly how it comes off.
Most teams that use the D-League effectively will send their young players back and forth from their NBA roster to their D-League affiliate. Granted, these teams own their own D-League franchise or have a hybrid affiliation with one. That means they have their own coaches, own system, and own ideals in place to properly develop the young players while they’re down there. The Wolves clearly don’t have that but will hopefully rectify that this offseason and not end up as one of the complete stragglers with this concept.
Shabazz Muhammad getting called back to the team probably doesn’t mean he’s back for good. If the Wolves use the D-League properly with developing Muhammad (even though they’re sharing a team with four other NBA franchises), he’ll be back down with the Energy following this week. The Wolves have two days off (today and tomorrow) until their next game on Wednesday. Then another day off until they head to Toronto for the front end of a back-to-back with the Raptors and Jazz (at home). This gives Muhammad the opportunity to get some practice time with the NBA roster and coaches before possibly being sent back down to the Energy during next week’s four-game road trip.
There should be a regular shuttle back and forth between Minnesota and Iowa with a seat reserved for Muhammad. It’s not a demotion; it’s a development opportunity. Muhammad getting recalled doesn’t necessarily means he’s coming back to the team and joining the rotation. Perhaps the front office and coaching staff have pulled enough information from his four D-League games to prove to them he should be getting time with the Wolves. There’s no way to know whether or not the Wolves are sold on him contributing now after four games with Iowa. More than likely, he won’t get much playing time considering the team is working Chase Budinger back into the lineup.
The next question would be with Ronny Turiaf’s return and his impact on the second unit, should Gorgui Dieng be joining Muhammad or is his development much more tied to being around Turiaf and learning how to do what he does? There are plenty of arguments for putting Dieng with Muhammad in these D-League stints that I agree with and there are plenty of arguments for keeping him with the Wolves all season to soak in the knowledge of Turiaf, who is essentially a smaller version of what Dieng should become. I’m not sure how I ultimately would rule on the situation.
For now, I want Muhammad to have a regular spot with the Energy for a few games at a time and then come back to recharge his learning curve with the Wolves, even if he’s not getting game action right now. When he was selected with the 14th pick, I liked the pick because I like his potential in Adelman’s system. However, my expectations were that he’d contribute toward the end of his second season and definitely in his third season, so I don’t mind the lack of rookie minutes for him.
More importantly in this experiment, we get to see first hand how the Wolves handle player development under Flip Saunders and Milt Newton.