Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, July 14, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Shabazz Muhammad started his first career NBA Summer League game with a specific plan. Judging by the statistics it didn’t go so well, but like a lot else in his life, Muhammad disagrees with the outside perception.
“I though I played really well,” said the former Bishop Gorman and UCLA wing.
Muhammad didn’t play badly Saturday in the Minnesota Timberwolves 83-81 loss to the NBA D-League Select Team at the Thomas & Mack Center. And even if he had, it’s an incredibly small sample size at the start of what the lottery pick hopes is a long NBA career.
The 14th pick in this year’s draft finished with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting, including 1-for-3 on 3-pointers, one rebound, one assist, three turnovers and four fouls. His plan for the game didn’t have anything to do with how many points he scored, although he surely would have preferred to pour in three more for a victory.
“I know I can score the ball,” Muhammad said, “and I’m just trying to learn how to really pass the ball.”
How does he do that while also adjusting to NBA speed, even if it’s just Summer League speed? The answer — keep your head up and look for teammates — sounds simpler than it is.
Muhammad recently finalized his rookie deal, making him one of the few players on the court with a guaranteed contract. He doesn’t, however, have any guaranteed playing time come the regular season. Figuring out how best to find his teammates while learning to pick his spots to score could serve him well in finding court time for a suddenly loaded Minnesota roster.
Since the draft, in which the Timberwolves effectively traded Trey Burke for Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, the team signed veterans Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer to three-year deals. They also added shooting guard Kevin Martin, creating a logjam at multiple positions.
Of course, anonymity could be exactly what Muhammad needs. After spending at least the past two years under a spotlight this time away from it may be what he needs to learn his role and how best to create for others.
“It is a fresh start,” Muhammad said.
The Timberwolves return to the Mack on Monday at 3:30 p.m. vs. the Phoenix Suns. Considering Muhammad’s confidence in his ability to score won’t change between now and then he’s likely to go into that game with the same plan: don’t rush shots and find his teammates.
With enough games that may become something he can just do instead of telling himself to do it. For now he’s working on that plan game-by-game in front of a crowd happy to see him again.
“It felt great,” Muhammad said. “Vegas is always my home.”