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Thoughts on the Return of Shabazz Muhammad

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Some thoughts on the return of Bazz.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning. Neil will have your happy Lynx recap a little later—we’ll have to forgive him as he flew back into the country yesterday just in time to get to Williams Arena for the game.

It occurs to me that I haven’t weighed in on the return of Shabazz Muhammad. Frankly I was ready to move on, but for a minimum salary, Muhammad brings some skills. There are nights when he gets the offense unstuck with a flurry of hoops, and he always brings a hunger and energy to score. That has some value.

Most of his negatives can be summed up this way: He plays basketball like it’s an individual sport. He lacks awareness of the other players on the court at both ends of the floor. As we know, on offense, he never passes the ball. It’s selfish yes, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to describe him. He just rarely sees what’s happening around him quickly enough to do anything about it. He has tunnel vision for the rim. Defensively, he tries (with limited success) to defend his guy, but has little to no idea what’s happening elsewhere.

I admit I’m surprised to see him back with the Wolves, as much from his side as theirs. His minutes were a bit spotty last season, and I thought if he was going to take a minimum deal, it would be elsewhere, where he could get a fresh start, and optics of a pay cut wouldn’t be as poor. I’ve always wondered if he had some resentment about his limited opportunities with the Wolves. Not that he necessarily deserved more, but given how much was given to Zach LaVine and especially Andrew Wiggins, it has occurred to me to winder if Bazz looked at those guys and thought “why not me?”

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how much he plays—last season he was the primary (and many nights only) wing off the bench. With the signing of Jamal Crawford, that no longer looks like it will be the case. Given Thibs’ tendency to play Wiggins and Jimmy Butler big minutes, there is no guarantee a fourth wing will play with any regularity. I don’t think this is wise, but it’s certainly what we saw last season, when Brandon Rush spent the first half of the year piling up DNP-CDs.

Will that be Muhammad this year, at least until someone gets hurt? I hope not, though it’s difficult to see where he fits in traditional lineups given the Wolves personnel. Most of their perimeter and wing players are score first offensive guys—not a lot of Bazz spoon-feeding to be had among the group. Does a bench trio of Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, and Bazz seem workable, especially at the defensive end? Even offensively can you take advantage of both Crawford and Muhammad? Though very different in style, they are both theoretically microwave bench scorers who need their touches.

Bazz seems more useful, in theory at least, in small-ball lineups where there are three wings on the floor. He can more easily be the post-up power forward he was destined to be but for his lack of size. The problem is, I don’t expect we’ll see much of those lineups. Thibs mentioned it at the Butler intro press conference, but realistically, he doesn’t play that way. In a league where three wings on the floor at once is now standard, we saw it hardly at all with the Wolves last season. Perhaps with more confidence that Butler can guard a bigger player, we’ll see it more, but I’m not holding my breath.

Which leaves Bazz in a precarious situation. He was unable to attract a better offer this summer, and needs to play in order to earn one going forward. In truth he might actually be a better option than Crawford at this point, but the Wolves made an investment in Crawford to be their main wing guy off the bench, and something will have to happen to change that pecking order.

Of course, neither of them is ideal, and the wing depth remains a question due to the earlier mis-allocation of resources. It would have been a better decision to spend money on better, more versatile wings instead of what they did spend on (Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson) but there is no point in re-litigating those choices. Bazz is back. I don’t expect his game to change at this point, but perhaps he can find some consistency in a couple of areas (Three-point shooting!) and help a more talented Wolves team.