Pistons 116, Wolves 108: Let’s Talk About Shabazz Muhammad

(source: Getty Images)

The Wolves fell to the Detroit Pistons Friday night by the score of 116-108. Detroit’s Marcus Morris, Jon Leuer, and Andre Drummond were the major forces that simply overpowered the Wolves. Morris and Leuer combined for an audacious 60 points on a miraculous nine of 16 from three (both players entered the night shooting 32.4% from 3) and Drummond Hulk-smashed the Wolves on the glass to the tune of 18 rebounds, six of which were of the offensive variety.

The Wolves started the game off cold, shooting a rather frigid 29.2% from the field in the first quarter. They were outscored by six during the opening frame and with the team ultimately losing by eight, it’s pretty safe to assume that their lackluster start may have cost them the game. Although it was a game that should have been winnable, the Wolves ultimately fell short.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something a little more fun and interesting. I want to talk about Shabazz Muhammad and his remarkable hot streak.

To say Shabazz Muhammad has been on fire lately, especially from beyond the arc, would be an understatement. In the 30 games prior to January 1st, Muhammad was hitting a somewhat respectable, though ultimately below league average, 33.3% (14/24) of his three-point attempts. He was converting at a clip that made teams stay honest on defense, especially when he was in the corners, but not enough to make them afraid.

However, in the 15 games since the turn of the new year, Muhammad is connecting on a blistering 57.1% (24/42) of his three-point attempts, which, as our very own Tim Faklis pointed out, leads the league over that time span.

On the season, he is shooting a career high in overall three-point field goal percentage (3FG%) (45.8%), 3FG% from both corners (48.0% from the left, 53.3% from the right), and 3FG% from above the break (41.9%). He has been an integral part of the Wolves resurgence over the last 20-plus games, providing not so much a spark, but more of an explosion off the bench, averaging 12.2 points in 23.0 minutes of action on 57.3% shooting from 3 (2.6 attempts per game).

Although he is still a black hole on offense and to say he is a sieve on defense would be putting it lightly (though he has been better lately), his improvement over the course of the season has been staggering (however, it should be noted that Muhammad’s career, up to this point, has resembled a Six Flags rollercoaster, so his impending regression to the mean is not a matter of if, but when and to what extent). Because the Wolves did not resign him prior to the early November deadline, Muhammad will be a restricted free agent this upcoming summer and it will be interesting to monitor how the Wolves handle that situation going forward.

It has been reported by multiple outlets (most notably KSTP and 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson and, more recently, here) that the Wolves have made Muhammad available in trades, but the recent play of Muhammad begs the question of whether the Wolves would be better off resigning him to a multi-year contract. He provides great and much needed energy off then bench and, when he is on, he is an explosive scorer. He’ll never be starting caliber due to his defensive and focus-related liabilities, but his ability to play both the three and the four provides versatility and an inside-out game that is valuable in today’s NBA.

However, consistency has always been an issue with Muhammad; for every one of his highs, there is an equally low low. When he is on, he is a great bench piece, when is off, he’s nigh unplayable. When you consider that his value may be at an all-time high at the moment and that there is a decent chance that another team will offer him more money this summer than the Wolves will be willing to (or, really, able to when you consider the incoming deals for Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine), trading Shabazz Muhammad before the February 23rd deadline begins to make a lot of sense. Muhammad could possibly fetch a nice veteran bench player who better attenuates the Wolves bench deficiencies, namely defense and consistency.

But, for now, all we can do is enjoy the experience that is Shabazz Muhammad’s latest tear and wait to see if it continues off into the sunset or crashes into it.

Notes

  • Zach LaVine, who posted a line of 20/4/4 in 32 minutes, left the game in the second half after colliding with a Piston’s player in the air. LaVine initially stayed in the game, but later left and never returned. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune provided an update after the game:

  • Kris Dunn did not appear in the game Friday night, sitting out due to a sore wrist. Tyus Jones played 15 minutes in his stead and posted a rather unremarkable two points, three assists, and one steal. He did some things well; he did some things not so well.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns tallied 24 points and 11 rebounds for his 39th double-double of the year
  • Andrew Wiggins did not have his best game. Although he scored 21 points, he did it on 8/20 shooting and defended Morris for most of the night. As a result, he was a team low -13. Chalk it up to being an off night for Wiggins and an extremely hot night for Morris.
  • In keeping with one of head coach Tom Thibodeau’s main defensive strategies (that being coercing opponents into shooting long twos), the Wolves allowed the Pistons to shoot approximately 19 shots from 16-19 feet. Typically, those are the shots you want opposing teams to shoot due to their low efficiency. However, entering the night the Pistons were fourth in the league at converting those shots, hitting on 43.8% of their attempts. Against the Wolves, they shot 63.1% (12/19). (image via the Wolves’ iPhone app)

  • The Wolves turnaround and play the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night in the second game of a road/home back-to-back. Tip is set for 8 p.m.
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3 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    The Wolves didn’t just allow long twos as some sort of brilliant Thibs strategy, they consistently left 3 point shooters open after over-collapsing and not closing out fast enough. The three Pistons who took the most threes all shot over 50% on them (the rest of the team shot Oh-fer bringing their team percent down to 42. We shot 29%!). Watching Morris sink 5 threes, I thought to myself, ‘Why do [often random] guys get so hot against us?’ I get it–we are awful at D, but still.Really, the two are related intimately. We don’t play good 3 point defense most nights and that allows guys the opportunity to get hot and then sink shots they have no business making. We help guys get hot and we need to stop it. This isn’t just a three point thing (although the 3 point disparity was pretty much the game here). We let guys get hot at a variety of things they like to do, we play good D for a while, but always crater and create an opening for players to get comfortable and get rolling at what they do. Then they make shots whether open or not.

    A lot of guys were just off tonight. Rubio sure was. He had 6 turnovers–very rare for him. But he stood out in that he didn’t accept that we were going to loose or that he was just going to have an off game all night. He got better and started hitting shots late, trying single handedly to stop the slide into a dull loss. He failed, but it was nice to see someone fighting. Along these lines it was a classic Wiggins ‘sleep through’ game. He got 21 pts on 42% shooting but didn’t get timely buckets much and didn’t get a lot of ‘do sh*t’ stats. Perhaps worst of all, he just is not playing up to his ability level most games. He’s not focused, giving his all, searching for advantages to open up. He just kind of shows up and coasts on his talent. He’s nothing like Kobe, or KG or even LeBron insofar as competitive personality goes. Now these are some all time talents, yes. But they are in part not just great, but Hall of Fame players because of their drive. That Wiggins will never likely develop even a good percent of this type of drive is frustrating and a waste. But on some level it is what it is and needs to honestly factored into his value/future/expectations.

    OK, I know I’m biased, but I thought the bench looked better under Tyus. Like most Wolves this night, Tyus was not at his best. But he didn’t fart around and do a bunch of stupid plays (maybe one or two). We just look a little slicker and snappier when he’s playing in Rubio place than what we see from Dunn. Now imagine a little more time for Tyus to get comfortable and maybe a night when everyone isn’t sleepwalking. I see potential there.

    I think we are seeing some fallout from ‘too many minutes Thibs’. It wouldn’t be hard to cut back the large minutes just a bit and lessen the risk. Also, I feel like we should be a bit more willing to rest guys who are beat up or have non-serious injuries that keep nagging.

    Of course, moot point. We’re coached by Captain Stubborn. Tyus doesn’t play unless it’s the final minute of a blowout or someone shorter than 6’5″ is hurt. Rush doesn’t even play garb minutes and only plays if someone taller than 6’4″ and shorter than 6’10” is injured and out at opening tip. I mean, in this game LaVine had to leave and the guy who started for him when he was out (Rush) didn’t even take his warm-ups off.

    On the Shabazz issue—I just like the guy. And when he’s clicking he’s fun and unique to watch. So my heart doesn’t want to move him. My head says maybe. He’s playing great now, but how long will it last? He was so awful early. Just terrible. You can’t build with guys, even on the bench, that bring nothing but wild inconsistency. Will he lead the league in three point shooting percent or be almost unplayable? You need something in between you can count on and Shabazz has not established that. If I were in charge, I would likely sit on the guy and try to draw up a doable contract. I mean, the potential if he figures it out and you can count on him seems higher than the likely return. But you have to judge that on a case to case basis.

    Really a poor way to respond to the Cleveland beat down. Mature players dust themselves off, and at least bring obvious effort and urgency to their next game to get them back on track. They don’t show up looking a bit lazy and bored and let guys like Morris (career high 36!) and Leuer beat them. We’ve got a long ways to go.

  2. Tom says:

    This team has a major flaw and it starts with their front court. Any team with bigger bigs will not only beat us up down low, they also get better three point opportunities than they should. KAT and G seem to play smaller, quicker Bigs away from the basket better than slow bigs like Lueur, Frank the Tank and Robin Lopez. Why they can’t stay up on a slow, big man and either force them to pass or block a shot this far into the season means they don’t have the want to, not the can’t do. KAT especially is slow on the pick and pop getting to far away from his man on the flash.

    After getting beat soundly by a great team like the Cavs, you’d think a team that wants a taste of playoffs would be ready to come out of the gates like caged animals and play an average team like the Pistons with fire in their bellies. Our starters weren’t ready at the start, letting a team that isn’t great offensively get a lead and feel good about their shots.

    It seems like our team is suffering from the Wizard of Oz syndrome. No brains, no heart and no courage. Can you guess how they will respond today with the Griz in town? There is no place like home, but don’t bet on it.

  3. Nice article. I think Wolves would be dumb not to trade Bazz before the deadline. Also Wiggins didn’t defend Morris well because he can’t guard physical players yet

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