Posts Tagged ‘Shabazz Muhammad’

Humbled Muhammad Wants 2nd Chance


VIDEO: Muhammad’s sterling D-League debut

RENO, Nev. — He’s not the first lottery pick to feel the slap of being told he was getting shipped to the NBA D-League.

But after a few days of self pity, Shabazz Muhammad came to the conclusion that it might be just what he needed.

“It’s giving me a chance to maybe reset and restart where I should have been coming into the NBA,” said the Timberwolves’ rookie after he scored 24 points for the Iowa Energy at the D-League Showcase. “I don’t think I was aggressive enough when I played in summer league. I don’t think I showed enough to the coaches and to the team that I was ready.”

The MVP of the 2012 McDonald’s All-American Game and regarded by many as the top player in his college class, Muhammad was drafted by Minnesota with the 14th pick last June. Following his underwhelming performance in the summer, he was sent home from the league’s rookie orientation. Reports said he had a female guest in his room.

“It was all humbling and it’s not the way I envisioned starting out my NBA career,” Muhammad said. “I know a lot of people have been looking at me because of the high profile that I had in high school.”

He’s managed to get onto the floor in only 11 games for the Wolves, playing an average of just 3.8 minutes.

“On the one hand, you want to stay at the NBA level and hope that things can improve,” Muhammad said. “But after I got the news that they wanted me to come here to the Showcase, and spending some time with the Energy, it set in that getting a chance to run for some real minutes and play in game conditions was the best way for me to get better and to show the coaching staff that I’m committed to improving.”

Muhammad said he tries to ignore the hurtful and sometimes personal criticism that comes from social media.

“It’s easy to take shots at people and I guess it’s easier when it’s a guy like me that has a name that’s been out there for a while,” he said. “I can’t worry about that stuff or let it get to me.

“I believe I can be a productive NBA player. I know I wasn’t fully prepared and didn’t show all of the necessary things coming into this season. But that’s why I’m here now. I’m not gonna pout about being here. The goal is to prove that I can do all of the things the Wolves want and this is all part of that.”

RTP Gets Rooks Ready For Life In The League

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – There’s a lot more to being an NBA player than just playing offense and defense.

Making it to the league comes with responsibilities, and it comes with a major adjustment. You might not be old enough to drink, but you’ve suddenly got money, fame and a whole bunch of people who want to be your friend.

That can be hard to deal with. And there are plenty of stories out there of guys who couldn’t handle it and developed problems with money, alcohol, drugs or women.

So the NBA has the Rookie Transition Program, three days and three nights of talks to get new players ready for life in the league. The program, created in 1986, addresses all kinds of topics, from diet to groupies, from social media to the problems with starting your own foundation.

It may seem like a drag, because you have to turn your phone off all day and you aren’t allowed visitors. According to USA Today, Wolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad was sent home in the first 24 hours of the program because he brought a female to his hotel room.

But hey, if you didn’t have to go through these three days of classes, you aren’t in the NBA. It’s a small price to pay and it will benefit you in the long run.

“The goal is to support, educate, train the first year players as they make the successful transition into becoming a pro,” said Greg Taylor, the NBA’s senior vice president of player development. “There’s lot of challenges. They’re faced with lots of situations. They have to manage resources and the like. So the purpose of this program is to really be clear, to highlight what we think are classic pitfalls, to provide quality information, and to let them know there’s a support network for them as they make that difficult journey into being successful pros.”

The program has evolved over the years and Taylor, who joined the NBA in February, brings a new perspective from his years with the Foundation for Newark’s Future and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The players will have an iPad app, which will provide notifications and reminders after they leave the RTP. That, along with the office of Community and Player Programs and the Player’s Union, is the support network that Taylor is talking about.

On Tuesday night, the rookies (and a few young vets) got a talk from Chris Herren, the former player whose battle with and recovery from drug addiction was documented in the 30 for 30 film Unguarded. Herren’s talk hit home with Jazz point guard Trey Burke.

“That touched me in a way, because I have uncles and an aunt that had that type of problem,” Burke said. “It goes to show that whatever you face in life, whatever type of adversity you face, it can be overcome.”

Herren’s story is both an important warning and an inspirational tale, but also an extreme case. More immediately applicable is advice on how to manage your money. These guys might be making millions of dollars during their career, but the average NBA career is less than five years long, and they’ll have another 50 years beyond that to support themselves. So they shouldn’t necessarily try to support everyone they know while they’re playing.

“The first thing for me,” said Maurice Harkless, a second-year player who missed last year’s RTP because he was having surgery, “was how many family members and friends come out of nowhere that you haven’t heard from in so long. They just pop up, asking you for things. It’s tough for me to say ‘no’ to people sometimes. I have a hard time letting people down, but you have to. That’s one thing I had to do is learn how to tell people ‘no.'”

Because he’s already been in the league a year, Harkless has a different perspective than most of the other guys in the room. But it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to pay attention.

“I’ve seen a lot of this stuff happen,” he said. “Seeing guys go through a lot of this stuff, knowing it’s real, you pay attention to all the little details and you take in everything. Now, I know it’s more important than I would have thought [last year] or maybe a lot of these guys think.”

Harkless says he was lucky, though. With the Magic, he had a vet that was looking after him.

“Any time I had a question about anything,” Harkless said, “J.J. [Redick] was there to help me. He always was helping the young guys get through whatever issues they had.”

And Harkless said he was able to save “a lot” of his rookie salary, because Redick gave him the talk last fall.

“The first couple of weeks into the preseason,” Harkless said, “J.J. sat down all the rookies individually and talked to them about finances, how important it is to save, make the right decisions with your money, don’t give anyone power of attorney and stuff like that.”

That bodes well for Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock, who will have Redick as a mentor this season. Other rookies might not be so lucky, but they have these three days to find out what being an NBA player is all about.

“It’s about maximizing your potential, maximizing the opportunity you got,” Burke said. “You definitely have the opportunity to change a lot of people’s lives, with the opportunity that we have to play in the NBA.”

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 6 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – Playing to impress strangers isn’t the same thing as playing to impress one’s coaches, and it’s easy for young guys to veer recklessly toward the former.

summer-league-logoSticking to a few strengths, by contrast, and filling a niche can go a long way toward opening eyes not just on a player’s summer team but with all the scouts from rival clubs or even global leagues.

Bob Thornton, the Memphis assistant coach working the Grizzlies’ game against Washington Wednesday, was thrilled for Jack Cooley, the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame who did the things he’s good at and mostly avoided the things he’s not. In the case of a wide-body like Cooley, Thornton said, that means “rebound, set screens, play defense and hit the shot when it’s there.”

That’s what Cooley did, with an efficient 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 12 rebounds (six offensive) in just over 30 minutes in Memphis’ 90-83 victory. Left open on the elbow on a couple of times, he boldly stuck the shots. Cooley even drained a 3-pointer when it was there, while forcing nothing. Following his lead, the Grizzlies grabbed 20 offensive boards in the 40-minute game.

Afterward, Thornton said: “He’s out here creating opportunities for himself.” Through four games, Cooley is averaging 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 52 percent — earning him a spot on our Rookie Ladder.

Non-rookie of the day: Travis Leslie, Heat. In a little more than 23 minutes off Miami’s bench in its 113-66 blowout of New York, Leslie scored 23 points on just 13 shots. The 6-foot-4 guard from Georgia gets around -– he was a first-round pick of the Santa Cruz Warriors of the D-League before last season and averaged better than 15 points. He participated in the Orlando Summer League with Philadelphia.

Other notables: Jordan Hamilton, Nuggets. A 6-foot-7 guard from Texas, he scored 23 points in Denver’s 87-82 victory over New Orleans, hitting four of his seven 3-pointers. Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers. He was at it again, good for 13 points and 17 rebounds in Portland’s 70-69 victory over Atlanta one day after getting 12 points and 18 boards vs. Chicago. Josh Akognon, Mavericks. The 5-foot-11 guard from Cal State-Fullerton was a sparkplug off the Dallas bench, scoring 24 points in 24:50 in a 95-89 victory over the L.A. Clippers.

Rookie of the day (after Cooley): Dennis Schroder, Hawks. He has been valued more for his defense than anything else, but the Atlanta point guard got to the line, sank 7-for-8 and wound up with 16 points despite 4-for-11 shooting from the floor (1-for-5 from the arc). He had five assists and three steals with (oops) six turnovers.

Other notables: Shabazz Muhammad. The former UCLA forward, whose selection by Minnesota at No. 14 drew some criticism, had his best day as a pro. He scored 17 points and sank three of his four 3-pointers in the Timberwolves’ 92-54 laugher over Sacramento. Muhammad had been sputtering along at 7.3 ppg on 34.6 percent shooting. (Ben McLemore, the Kings’ touted shooting guard, was back in struggle mode, missing all eight of his field-goal attempts.) C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers. The combo guard continues to put up solid numbers for Portland, his 19 points just shy of his average (21.3 ppg) coming into the victory over Atlanta.

Coming up: The byes are over, the goodbyes start soon. In the new tournament format, the 10 top-seeded teams all were idle Wednesday but will take on the day’s winners Thursday (and in a couple cases, each other), with action starting at 1 p.m. ET with No. 7 Cleveland vs. No. 10 San Antonio. Once everyone has five games completed, the single-elimination feature kicks in. Starting Friday, losers head home and winners keep going, with the championship game set for Monday

Critics Aside, Wolves’ Muhammad Tackles Weaknesses

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LAS VEGAS – Criticized on Draft night, scrutinized at Summer League, Shabazz Muhammad seems to understand that what he’s dealing with these days isn’t the norm for NBA lottery picks. But it the sort of thing that happens in the occasional disappointed league precinct when post-Draft results seem to fall short of pre-Draft expectations.

Even though no one has played a minute that matters.

Two games in, working professionally now in the city where he grew up, Muhammad isn’t so much trying to prove anyone wrong as he is trying to justify – not all at once, but eventually – the Minnesota Timberwolves’ decision to trade for the No. 14 after some Draft night audibilizing. He is aware of and even has talked about the “negativity” surrounding his selection, but he seems to be keeping it off to the side while going about the basics like any new employee learning on the job.

“I just wanted to get comfortable and familiar,” Muhammad said Monday after another challenging early lesson. “I know it’s a tough season, the regular season, and guys will be way better than this. I’m just scouting my game, seeing the stuff I need to work on and make sure I work on it this summer.”

Muhammad, who brought a reputation from UCLA as a black-hole scorer and defensive leaker, has had 15 points in two games, shooting 6-of-16 with just one assist and a cumulative minus-12 in Minnesota’s first two losses. He also got burned at the end of Monday’s two-point loss to Phoenix when his rip-through move turned into a turnover against the Suns’ Marcus Morris with 3.3 seconds left, Muhammad sprawling in vain on the floor. Moments later, that gaffe was followed by Morris’ buzzer-beating jumper to win it.

But Muhammad’s activity level has been high, his defense earnest though spotty, and he has looked as if he’s determined to pass the ball rather than hoist it. That’s not a bad point of emphasis for him, to round out an area absent from his game, though he surely won’t earn his NBA living as a facilitator.

It’s not the best way to find an early comfort zone in this league – playing to disprove negatives – but it is part of what Flip Saunders, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, described as Muhammad’s education in “working within the offense.” Thriving in coach Rick Adelman’s offensive system demands that everyone, rookie gunners included, learns to be a conduit.

Saunders has been explaining the pick of Muhammad almost since the moment Minnesota made it in the POBO’s much-anticipated first Draft. He had a semi-apologetic news conference that night, after preferred scorers Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came off the board immediately before the Wolves’ slot at No. 9 and sent them scrambling for Nos. 14 and 21 in a trade with Utah.

Saunders reminds anyone who asks that their harvest that night was “2-for-1,” turning that ninth pick (Trey Burke) into both Muhammad and Louisville center Gorgui Dieng. Had Muhammad and Dieng been reversed in order, the heat on the UCLA kid would be dialed down, if not on Saunders and the Wolves.

But it’s important to keep that heat in perspective. Saunders, staking a return to the playoffs after nine consecutive misses as Minnesota’s primary ambition, tried to do that Monday. “We’re not counting on rookie,” he said, “so we’ll let them develop at their own pace. If they happen to improve enough to play for us, so be it. If they don’t, we’re just going to let that situation develop.”

That’s how Muhammad is approaching things, too. He’s averaging 0.5 assists per game, the stat that will continue to grab attention (he had just 27 in 32 college games, after all). But action at the Thomas & Mack Center isn’t preseason basketball in Fargo and that isn’t the big-time stuff that will rev up by November at Target Center.

The grumbles about his drafting, the questions about his late-game mistake Monday haven’t turned him defensive or pushed him toward any urgency. C’mon, it’s summer league.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Muhammad said. “It’s more like a pick-up game, the feel, the atmosphere is. But a lot of rookies are going through this and I’m obviously one of them.”

In Defense Of Shabazz Muhammad

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Time passed, team workouts progressed, the reality of the draft set in, and suddenly Shabazz Muhammad isn’t so toxic.

The new perspective heading into the last full week before the draft is that Muhammad is still a possibility for the top 10, still appreciated for his scoring potential, and maybe even appreciated more than any time during his one-and-done UCLA career. Welcome to the recovery. Or at least the stability.

This isn’t nearly the early-season conversation of Muhammad on course to be one of the first three picks in the draft and possibly even No. 1 itself, but it’s also a lot different than a month ago, when it wasn’t hard to find a front office hammering Muhammad for selfish play while predicting Muhammad would plummet entirely out of the lottery.

What changed?

The view, for one thing. There are concerns about Muhammad’s ability to fit into a team, but good luck finding a player in this draft who doesn’t have big holes. The closer the draft got, the more players went under the microscope in workouts for individual teams, the more the realization set in that he is still one of the better options in an underwhelming class. Nothing has changed on one important front: He remains one of the top scoring threats on the board and a player eight months ago considered to have tremendous upside, and those are commodities that cannot be overlooked.

The auditions, for another. Muhammad got directly in front of executives and scouts for individual team workouts.

“Say what you will about him, but his work ethic is great,” one personnel boss said. “He might have the best work ethic in the draft. Seriously. He’s one of those guys you have to drag out of the gym.”

The talk of top three is long gone, but top 10, a possible outcome, would be a nice save. There are several safety nets in place for Muhammad to avoid that other potential finish, dropping out of the lottery. One of those, in the latest NBA.com mock draft, is No. 13 to the Mavericks, a team with O.J. Mayo possibly leaving as a free agent and Vince Carter getting closer to retirement.

Other draft notes as the push to June 27 continues:

  • St. Mary’s point guard Matthew Dellavedova is making an under-the-radar move. Though hardly one of the big names, the Australian has enhanced his chances for the second round and assured at the very least that he will get a chunk of guaranteed money for summer league and training camp as an undrafted free agent if it comes to that. Point guards who can run pick-and-roll always have value to the NBA, and Dellavedova can do it with precision. Good showings at group workouts hosted by the Nets and Timberwolves boosted his stock.
  • Great, and unique, praise, for Maryland center Alex Len, at No. 4 to the Bobcats in the latest mock despite not being able to work out for teams because of injury. Said one executive: “He should touch the ball every possession. He’s very smart.” Charlotte is a tough read because it has so many possible directions to go, but there is one important factor to keep in mind. Logically, Michael Jordan & Co. can’t have two non-scoring forwards, and 2012 lottery pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the future at small forward without being able to hit a shot yet. That makes Anthony Bennett, UNLV’s talented stretch-four, an excellent fit. Some front offices have Bennett as high as No. 3 on their prospect rankings, if not their actual mock with teams needs factored in.
  • Monday is the deadline for international prospects to withdraw from the draft. Dario Saric remains the focus of the waiting game, with his agent having said the Croation small forward projecting to the middle of the first round and possibly late-lottery will wait until 2014, but some NBA clubs are not entirely convinced.

Another Hit To Muhammad Draft Stock

CHICAGO – NBA executives are raising the possibility that Shabazz Muhammad could fall out of the first top 10 picks in the NBA Draft and possibly the lottery entirely, the latest draft setback for the UCLA swingman who began the season in the conversation for the No. 1 pick.

Muhammad being on the board until the middle of the first round on June 27 was once inconceivable, and still is to some within the league, for a prospect with the potential to be a scoring star. But in noting his selfish play, poor body language and the new perspective after the discovery Muhammad had been lying about his age, some teams had turned shockingly cold as the annual pre-draft combine Thursday began the first of two days of drills and workouts.

One executive said, on the matter of Muhammad dropping in the draft, “I’m not saying it happens. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Out of the lottery?” another personnel boss said. “I guess it’s possible.”

And from another head of basketball operations, without hesitation, when asked if Muhammad could fall from the top 14: “He could.”

The climate has turned so bad that another general manager savaged the prospect even while saying there is no chance Muhammad gets out of the lottery, and maybe doesn’t even reach double digits.

“It’s his overall attitude,” that executive said. “His presentation of himself. It’s an all-about-me presentation. I think that’s his biggest knock…. His selfish tendencies on the floor show up at certain times. But that’s what scorers do.”

Indeed, there is the possibility that Muhammad is in the common role of former high school phenom struggling to transition to the college game and now the pros, all with a large spotlight as a recruit expected to help rejuvenate a prominent program. It may simply be a matter of maturing, in play and personality.

Either way, Muhammad has a bad image as the draft approaches, and not just in the moment. Scouts and executives had been increasingly hard on him during his freshman season at UCLA, noting his selfish play with various versions of “He doesn’t get others involved,” the way a star should elevate an entire team. The concern among losing franchises that might take him near the top of the draft was that Muhammad would be little more than a stat stuffer. Clubs in the lottery that already had pieces in place worried that continued work as a volume scorer would create problems on a roster.

His play is the primary concern, but that hit also comes in the wake of the strange discovery in March by the Los Angeles Times that Muhammad, while listed as a 19-year-old by the school, was actually 20. While some teams have already gotten past the concern of what other secrets could jump out down the line, the real issue of the adjusted age became his development. He had been overpowering younger players in high school and some in the one college season, an advantage he would not have among grownups in the NBA, and he suddenly had one less year to develop. Muhammad, simply, was not as advanced for his age as once thought.

“I don’t think that’ll hurt me,” Muhammad said. “To know I’m 20, I’m still pretty young, one of the youngest guys in this draft. I’m just going to see where it takes me.”

Asked what questions he anticipates from teams once he sets a schedule for individual workouts following the lottery outcome on Tuesday night, Muhammad said, “It’s up in the air. It’s going to be really interesting, so I’m looking to that and looking forward to talking to teams and telling them a little bit more about myself.”

But, there will be birth-certificate questions.

“Probably so,” he said. “But I’m going to answer the questions truthfully and tell them what’s really going on.”

Noel Injury Will Impact The Draft

The worst fears Tuesday night became reality Wednesday afternoon, when the University of Kentucky announced that freshman power forward-center Nerlens Noel tore a ligament in his left knee in the loss at Florida and is done for the season.

The NBA impact is that the contender for the No. 1 pick is also probably out of the 2013 draft. Noel could still choose to come out and would go in the lottery, maybe even the top half of the lottery given the underwhelming group of prospects, but the bad news could prompt him to stay in school, prove to executives and scouts in 2013-14 he is healthy, and turn pro in a year.

Either way, the top of the ’13 draft board just became more of a game of darts while wearing blindfolds, which is saying something considering the level of uncertainty that existed before as teams privately acknowledged this was a good year to get as far away from the top pick as possible.

Two wings, Ben McLemore of Kansas and Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, become the odds-on favorite — for the moment — for No. 1. UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett is also getting mentioned by front offices. If a team has a pressing need at point guard, Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State prominently enters the conversation.

The biggest implications of the Noel fallout? Indiana’s Cody Zeller goes from facing a lot of criticism from talent evaluators – no real improvement in his game, a safe pick for a solid career but no clear path to stardom – to arguably the best big-man prospect available. That could mean a move of several spots forward come June 27, even with the concerns and questions whether he is able to play center in the pros or will be a power forward.

Noel hurt the knee when he landed awkwardly going for a block in the second half of the game at Florida. He was on the ground in obvious pain for several minutes before being carried to the locker room and going to a Gainsville, Fla., for X-rays that showed no bone damage. He returned to Kentucky with the rest of the team and underwent a different procedure Wednesday that detected the torn anterior cruciate ligament.

He will undergo surgery in two to three weeks, the school said. Recovery time is estimated at six to eight months.