Timberwolves 106, Grizzlies 101: Shabazz Palaces

“Everything it is, everything it takes

We got in trumps, baby, you know how we bump

No if, ands, maybes or sparkles from the jump

Up and down, in or out, round and round we crazy just blast it”

Shabazz Palaces, ‘Blastit’

Have you ever found a musical artist to be quirky and odd, but you love them anyway? Not only that, but you love them in part because of how off-the-wall they are? That’s how Seattle-based hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces is for me. Recommended to me a few months ago by our own Steve McPherson (believe it or not, the four of us writers talk about something other than the Wolves from time to time), I immediately dug their fuzzy, experimental beats, catchy hooks, short but loaded albums, and lyrics that range from the deliberate (Hollywood is on their mind/all chasing it blind/ Make sure that your shine is the result of your grind) to the absurd (like this track or this track). And suddenly I’m telling other hip hop fans about it, and here I am, leading off a game recap with one of their tracks.

Those of us who follow the Wolves have our own quirky Shabazz to appreciate, and not just because he’s been very good for a few stretches during his three-plus seasons in Minnesota. It’s also because he doesn’t fit the mold. Wings aren’t supposed to rebound like he does, especially on the offensive glass. They aren’t supposed to relish punishing people by posting up on the block. And nobody can play this damn hard every night, and sprint to and from the bench when he’s taken out of the game or inserted into it, and successfully launch himself into larger bodies tussling under the hoop, right? And who the hell runs the floor this hard, with singular purpose, eyes on the rim, hellbent on destruction? But Shabazz can. If his game were a mixtape, I’d be burning copies for all of my friends and insisting, wide-eyed and forceful, “No, you NEED to give this a listen. It’s quirky and intense, but it’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”

Since New Year’s Eve, Bazzy is averaging 15 points per game on 48% shooting in just over 27 minutes per night. More importantly, even though the Wolves have struggled over that stretch, Muhammad is fourth on the team in Net Rating, behind only KG, Nemanja Bjelica (!!!) and Ricky Rubio. His defense still isn’t great, and maybe it never will be, but this team badly needs offense, and holy shit can Bazzy fill it up. Not only is his scoring up, his decision-making has improved as well. Shabazz has just one assist over his past 155 minutes of floor time, so I’ll understand if you’re a bit skeptical, but I really believe I’m seeing progress in his floor vision and passing, even if it’s not reflected in assist totals.

Last night he scored 25 points on 15 shots, got to the line 8 times (and sank all 8), and was a plus-13 in his 32 minutes of action. Muhammad entered the game with 4:39 to go in the first quarter and immediately made an impact:

Shabazz didn’t come off the floor for the rest of the first half, and was a major part of Minnesota’s 37-22 advantage in the second quarter, keyed by a very fun stretch of Rubio-Bazz-Wiggins-Garnett-Towns. Rubio was particularly awesome, dropping 11 of his 15 in the second, dishing out 4 assists, and providing a pair of steals as well. When he checked in with 5:27 to go in the first half, the Wolves trailed 38-33. From that moment until the halftime buzzer, the Wolves outscored the Grizzlies 24-to-8.

Karl-Anthony Towns had the signature highlight of that run…

Of course, the Wolves’ lead, which ballooned to as much as 16 points in the final minute of the first half, didn’t really mean much to those of us who follow the team closely. The Wolves have squandered five such leads this season, and for awhile, it looked like Saturday night would be the sixth. When Shabazz Muhammad re-entered the game with 3:53 left in the third period, and the lead down to nine points. Memphis immediately cut the lead to seven, but Shabazz hit an 8-footer to push it back to nine; Matt Barnes nailed a three to cut it to six, and Shabazz responded with a three of his own.

This tug-of-war continued into the fourth quarter, with Memphis eventually clawing their way back into it. The lead dwindled to 7, then 5, then 3, and another Matt Barnes three with 2:01 to go made it a tie game, 99 apiece.

Giving up yet another double-digit lead was less than ideal, but the good news? Muhammad stayed on the floor for the entire fourth quarter. Nemanja Bjelica was out there for almost all of it (11:25), ditto for Andrew Wiggins (8:05). Ricky re-entered with 6:45 to go and stabilized things. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 6 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and handed out an assist during crunch time. While the guys got bailed out, sometimes by the referees (immediately after Ricky hit just 1-of-2 free throws to give the Wolves a one point lead, there was a so-so 5-second call made against the Grizzlies on an inbound, and Mike Conley got slapped with a few whistles that were iffy at best), it was encouraging to see the future of the team on the court when it mattered most.

For fans of Shabazz, it was encouraging to see him included in the group that finished the game, something that has become a trend. Prior to New Year’s Eve, Shabazz averaged 17.2 minutes per game, and just 5.5 minutes per 4th quarter stint. Since New Year’s Eve, Muhammad is averaging 27.6 minutes per game, and his fourth quarter minutes have ballooned to more than 10 per game, tops on the team.

It looks as if the record label is buying into the unorthodox Shabazz. Before too long, those of us who liked him from the start will be Bazzy hipsters, bragging about how we liked him before it was cool, before it was mainstream, when it was just a hard-working dude with the lefty hook and boundless enthusiasm bouncing to his own beat.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. We moved the ball really well yesterday. It was nice to see.
    Ricky had a great game, remind me of Chris Paul.
    Bazz is a keeper, but his lack of awareness on D makes it impossible to start him.

  2. JerryWest#44 says:

    Oh I disagree. He needs to start instead of Prince and here’s why: With Rubio, Prince and Garnett in our starting 5 we have just 2 legit scorers (Wiggens and Towns). That’s not enough fire power to start a game. I let Shabazz play with Towns, Wiggens, Garnett and Rubio. That’s 4 above average defenders, and the way Shabazz hits the boards is a big help. That leaves the offensively challanged Prince sharing minutes with Levine, Martin, Dieng, B-Jelly…in other words PLENTY of guys that can score, but Prince can also be that “D” guy on the 2nd unit to hold things together. When Levine runs the show, things can tend to break down on the offensive end. But the 2nd unit also lacks a guy that can make a good 2nd unit scorer really work to get his points. With Prince on the 2nd unit, that group would play better defense if their offense stagnated. Shabazz has earned his chance with the 1st unit. And I like how the Wolves can use him and Wiggens interchangeably between SG and SF.

  3. Tom says:

    You noticed who was sitting for most of the Grizzly comeback, while his replacement quickly ended the ball movement and team play. It was Ricky Rubio. Zack LaVine could have easily cost us another game. Luckily, the Griz are not great clutch time shooters or all of Bazz and Wiggins and KAT and Rubio’s work would have been flushed down. I wish that Zack was getting better, but it looks like he is regressing. Luckily, Bazz is looking more and more like a player that could be a very good complement to Wiggins and KAT. I hope he keeps it up, because his energy is so contagious and he helps Ricky push tempo.

  4. Marshall Andersen DVM says:

    I know the fanbase is enamored with ricky, but not being able to shoot really hinders this team. Ricky is a fantastic distributer and has a really high BBIQ, but those recent collapses in the 4th where ricky had some awful turnovers and missed shots were so indicative of his limits as a player. I think rubio would do so well in leading our second unit in the future, we’ll eventually need a first string PG if we want to be true contenders.

  5. pyrrol says:

    I kept swearing we’d find a way to lose this game. It was good that they guys held on and saw they can do it, although the shakiness with which they did it didn’t inspire much confidence in their near future.

    Rubio played well, and he usually does. He’s up and down like any player, but his down isn’t the basement it is for most of our guys–even when he struggles he helps us win. The exception is his shooting, which appears to be wildly inconsistent and not very good. But he needs to keep at it. Until the last 2 games, he’s been shooting well from 3 and god knows we need guys who take and make threes to balance this offense. Ricky needs to get better so he can find a way to make a bucket or two in close end of game stints. And he needs to keep crawling toward better shooting and more drives to the basket. I think he’s still a unique talent that we are lucky to have. Outside of Sam’s offense and coaching, Ricky would look substantially better. As of now he’s still arguably our best and most consistent player.

    Shabazz starting is a catch 22. We need defense and wile to stabilize the starting lineup. At the same time, the lack of scorers is a problem. Exchanging defense for offense in the starting lineup would be an easy option if we weren’t having so many defensive problems. Jim Pete reiterated a point I made recently in saying need vets who aren’t so old to fill out and stabilize the roster. Given all this, I think Shabazz has earned a chance to start and why not try it? Sam has tried more ‘out there’ rotation solutions (arguably dumber) such as having an unready Tyus play back up PG. Shabazz needs to improve his D in many ways, but he can, I believe and starting might help him do it. The second unit needs to hold down the fort, and Prince’s D will help them do that. Right now, the second unit doesn’t run smoothly and allows too many points. They have scoring ability, but aren’t consistent.

    I do not understand the appeal of Hip Hop, even quirky Hip Hop.

  6. sportsbygreg says:

    I definitely would like to see Bazz in the starting lineup, would add more punch and firepower. We seem like were playing 3 on 5 with our starting unit. And as far as defense, Prince is better, but not necessarily the one on one defender he used to be. I’d take Bazz’s rebounding, scoring and energy any day of the week. I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing Tyus getting some back up minutes at PG. At least he can knock down open jumpers. I really don’t think he was given an ample opportunity. LaVine is very shaky at PG. He just always seems like he’s about to get stripped or turn the ball over some kind of way. He’s thinking way too much and should be reacting. Sam has to get him going more at the SG, I think that’s more of a natural position for him.

    I hope the Wolves remember how the Cavs were laughing and making a mockery of them in the last game. They literally took the Wolves as a joke, and I’m sure they think they are going to blow the Wolves out tonight and get Lue his first win. I hope the Wolves compete at a very high level for 48 minutes and don’t concede victory before the game starts. The Wolves can play with anybody when they have the right mindset and focus for an entire game. Wiggins may have to take 15 to 20 shots this game. He really needs to stay aggressive the entire game, maybe even be a bit more selfish than last game. Although, Bazz had it going and the Wolves did get a victory.

  7. Brian says:

    Something at least has to be done about WHEN Shabazz is getting his minutes. Currently he is entering with 4-5 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and not leaving the game. I thought especially against Dallas (2nd night of back-to-back) that was a huge part of what contributed to his struggles at the end of the game. He ended up playing the final 22 minutes of that game which is a ridiculous amount of time to be on the court without a break.

    If Mitchell is not going to start him but he is going to continue to close games at the 3, he should be entering the at the 7-8 minute mark in the 3rd, leaving around the end of the quarter, and coming back at the 7-8 minute mark of the 4th. That will give him the 16 second half minutes he has been getting recently but should have the added benefit of being a little fresher at the end of the game.

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