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Shabazz Muhammad: A Study in Extremes

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This was the bench wing’s fourth season as a pro, and things remain pretty much the same. What’s next?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first in our player season reviews. Look for them over the next couple of weeks.

Shabazz Muhammad

Contract Status: Restricted free agent, with a $7.6 million cap hold.

Shabazz Muhammad is a player of extremes. He’s an outlier. He tops lists. He puts together numbers that nobody else in the league does. This is largely a function of the underlying extremity inherent in his play: Muhammad never passes the ball.

Thus: Muhammad once again led the league in points per touch, a statistic designed for him. They should just call this The Bazz. Nobody was within half a point per touch of him.

Thus: Muhammad was the only player in the NBA this season to play 1200+ minutes with a usage over 20 percent, an assist percentage under five, and a turnover percentage under ten.

Like I said: Extreme.

It isn’t necessarily a negative to be at the extreme—for example, Klay Thompson was second in points per touch (and Andrew Wiggins was third. The Wolves’ small forwards are not passers.)

But in Muhammad’s case, it did not result in excellence.

Season in Review

Muhammad struggled for playing time early in the season, averaging only 15 minutes a game in October and November, and struggling to make shots. His minutes increased along with his shooting percentage, and he peaked both in terms of minutes and scoring in January, during which he made 19-35 three pointers and posted a true shooting percentage of .639 in 22.5 minutes per game. After that, despite the season ending injury to Zach LaVine, his minutes decreased somewhat over the last ten weeks of the season as he cooled off significantly.

Like most bench players, his performances swung wildly from game to game. There were nights when he entered the game and gave the team a jolt of positive energy and scoring, and other nights when he couldn’t buy a basket. Tom Thibodeau was also pretty inconsistent in his minutes for Bazz, and perhaps correctly showing little patience on nights he failed to make an early positive impact.

Overall, he had a season very much in line with what he has done throughout his career. On the good side, he posted career highs in advanced shooting percentages, though they were not extreme improvements. He shot 33.6 percent on threes, which was better than 2015-16, though still not great. On the other hand, his rebounding percentages continued to drift downward, his reasonable three-point shooting was counter-balanced by his terrible shooting from 16’ to the arc, and his assist percentage reached an absurd 3.7 percent.

The area about which there might be some argument is defense. There was talk through the year that Muhammad’s defense had improved significantly, and even that he was something of an asset on that end.

The evidence for this is decidedly...mixed to be kind. His advanced composite defensive numbers were once again catastrophic, as they have been throughout his career. He posted one of the handful of lowest dRPM’s in the league, and his DBPM was a career worst -4.3. He didn’t get any steals, and his defensive rebounding percentage was the lowest of his career.

On the other hand, the team had a better defensive rating with him on the court (110.3) than off the court (113.1.) My theory here is that the players he was most usually subbing in for—Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine—were equally problematic defensively. Still, we should acknowledge that Muhammad’s presence did not cause the defense to fall of a cliff.

Overall, the team was .9 points worse per 100 possessions with him on the court than off, with the defensive improvement more than offset by weaker offense. In truth, as many weaknesses as Muhammad has, there are times I wonder whether the team would be in any worse a place if he had been force-fed the minutes and shots and development that went to Wiggins and/or LaVine instead. Maybe it would be, but one imagines this has occurred to Muhammad as well, with Wiggins about to receive a max extension.

Where Are We Now?

Shabazz Muhammad has now played four NBA seasons and this year was his age 24 year. His game really has not changed or expanded much in that time.

On offense, he did what he always does: score in the low block fairly well while imitating a black hole. He runs the floor, hoists, and doesn’t make enough jump shots to be a top-class wing scorer. There was brief hope that his shooting would improve enough to make him a real asset even if he never passed the ball, but the totality of the season suggests not.

He’s more or less been in the same role for the last two seasons: 20 minute a game scoring spark off the bench. The problem for Bazz is that given the lack of other things he brings to the table, he needs to be very good at scoring to make him worth investing in, and he just isn’t really good enough.

It’s hard to imagine an expanded role if he remains with the Wolves, since they are clearly committed to Wiggins and LaVine, and will likely look to add wing players to the roster this summer, and he really lacks the variety of skills the Wolves need given the Wolves starters.

What’s Next?

According to reports, Thibs and Scott Layden told Muhammad they wanted him back during exit interviews, but how seriously they mean it remains to be seen. Muhammad is a restricted free agent this summer with a $7.6M cap hold after not agreeing to an extension last summer. It’s unclear to me what kind of market there will be for him; certainly there have been RFAs who have signed lucrative deals when other teams have pursued them—Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe from last summer jump to mind. On the other hand, some RFAs are pretty much ignored by the market.

It also depends on what other moves they make or want to make. Renouncing his cap hold could get them in the range of $30M+ in cap space, which they may or may not need.

My inclination is that I would not make much of an effort to re-sign Muhammad. He really has not progressed much over the course of his career, and lacks the diversity of skills the Wolves really need.

We’ll see what the Wolves think as we head into free agency.

What are your thoughts on Shabazz Muhammad?