One common refrain about Shabazz Muhammad, from pre-draft through his rookie season, was that he wasn’t athletic enough. Projecting as a high-volume scorer as a high school project, Muhammad could no longer overwhelm his way towards buckets against similarly athletic (and, uh, aged) opponents.
The switch from college to NBA speed only accentuated the issue. Though Muhammad managed a respectable 46% from the field in his rookie season, that figure separated into an abysmal 47.5% at the rim. Muhammad didn’t really take enough shots (124 total attempts) his rookie year to draw anything conclusive regarding his ability to hit them, but his rookie output did not match the high scoring profile, nor did his at times slow and heavy appearance.
The first Timberwoles game of Summer League provided an example as to how Muhammad can and should overcome these struggles. Rather than rely on an athletic advantage that he no longer has, Muhammad swung to the other side of the physical pendulum and utilized his strength. The barrel chest that can often make him appear slow was turned into a weapon as Muhammad continuously backed down Dallas’ opposing wings in the post or overran them for rebounds.
The results were more impressive on the boards (11, 7 of them offensive) than on the scoreboard (27 points on 10 of 24 shooting), but this is how Shabazz can find his NBA footing. He can still have physical advantages on the competition, but they’ll be different ones than he used to have in school. There, a 6’6″ wing can dominate the competition because he has NBA talent. In the NBA, you need something else.
Shabazz has that in his power game. In that sense, he could use a Carmelo-esque approach to tweenerdom. Much like how Carmelo uses his speed to blow by power forwards and strength to bully wings, Shabazz could do the same. He’ll need to downsize a position for it – the difference between 6’9″ and 6’6″ should be enough to rule out small ball 4 – and he obviously won’t nearly have the same offensive arsenal to utilize, but that should be the end game.
Summer League caveats apply to Muhammad’s performance Saturday, but it’s good to see him flexing those power game muscles. It’s likely the best path he has towards a long, productive NBA career, and every rep helps.