Work in Progress: Molding Muhammad
Spend just about any amount of time examining Shabazz Muhammad’s offensive game and you will conclude it’s weird. Listed at 6-6 and 222 lbs (although if his offseason regimen is working — and it looks like it is — that should be a bit lower this year), is undersized for a small forward, yet 22% of his offense last season came out of post-ups, according to MySynergySports. 34 total possessions is hardly a representative sample size, but at 0.94 points per possession on those plays, Muhammad ranked 39th in the NBA on post-ups.
As you can see from Austin Clemens’ excellent shot chart for Muhammad at Nylon Calculus, 73% of his shot come from the left block (he’s a lefty, remember) or right around the basket, and he makes around (adds numbers, divides) 55.5% of those shots.
Here’s a smattering of those shots from the left block and these weren’t cherry picked. This is just reverse chronological order of his post-ups on Synergy and they’re all that little lefty hook.
So here’s what should strike you watching that clip: whatever success Muhammad has on the block comes from two things — surprise at a 6-6 guy posting up and the weirdness of his shot going up from his left hand. This is exactly the kind of thing that can make a rookie pitcher look amazing out of the gate and then humdrum the next year — like the Spanish Inquisition, a young player’s chief weapon is surprise (although not ruthless efficiency, generally). It is to Muhammad’s credit that he’s not all over the place, trying to prove he can do anything and everything with the ball on the offensive end of the floor, but eventually that reliance on one move with a bit of oddness to it is going to wear thin.
That’s where Thaddeus Young comes in.
Most of the talk about Young’s qualities as a mentor have focused on Anthony Bennett and that makes sense. Like Young, Bennett is a 6-8 power forward with strength but also some shooting ability. But what might be most important about what Young can impart to the younger Wolves players is not positionally specific, but rather about how to be positionally unspecific.
Muhammad is not going to be able to rely on that lefty hook forever. A more consistent jumpshot can help, but so could an understanding of the cat and mouse game in the paint that Young has developed over the last several years. Young has a terrific sense of when to leverage his strength against smaller players and his explosiveness against larger ones. He also boasts an array of moves that he mixes up for a variety of dunks, layups, fadeaways and hooks to keep defenders guessing.
He’s comfortable working on either block (Young is also left-handed, by the way) and where Muhammad’s post work looks kind of like a canned animation — a set sequence of moves that come out the same way every time — Young uses patience and strength to work his way deeper into the post or — not shown in the video above — wait for help to arrive and then move the ball.
Diversity, patience, adaptability: these are the keys to Young’s success as a smallball power forward and they can be the keys to Muhammad’s success as a barrel-chested wing who likes to work in the paint. His game is weird, but for Muhammad to maximize his potential he needs to embrace that weirdness, that in-betweenness, and make it his own.