Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, July 18, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is a proving ground for a lot of players. Often it’s about guys on the fringes of the game trying to play their way into a roster spot, but there are also ballyhooed draft picks from years past trying to prove their worth. Guys like Shabazz Muhammad.
In his first professional season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Muhammad averaged 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in only 7.9 minutes per game. Because of injuries and some conditioning issues, he appeared in only 37 games and even spent about a week in the Developmental League.
It’s not what the Bishop Gorman High product had envisioned for a debut season when he was selected 14th overall last summer. Similar to former Rebel Anthony Bennett, though, Muhammad is far from a lost cause and is out to make a statement during the Summer League.
In his first game, Muhammad scored 27 points on 10-of-24 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. Through five games, he’s averaging 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game. He plays again with Minnesota tonight at 7 p.m. against the New Orleans Pelicans in the Cox Pavilion.
“He understands what it takes now in the NBA,” said Minnesota Summer League coach Sam Mitchell.
The Sun joined the scrum with Muhammad after his first game to find out what’s different about his second pro summer and what parts of his game have developed the most:
How did it feel to get back out on the court?
Felt great out there. It’s my second year here. The first year, there was a bunch of jitters and second year I felt it was a good opportunity for us. We have a lot of young guys on our team, and I’m trying to give those guys advice out there. I thought I played pretty well out there on both ends of the floor.
How different does it feel physically and mentally coming into your second Summer League?
It feels way different. I’m so much more mature. I know the game more, and I’m more confident in my ball handling and jump shot.
Is part of this experience for you about working on being a more confident player and scorer going into next season?
Oh yeah. The coaching staff has told me to be confident and do what I do best, which is rebounding and scoring the basketball. My thing here is to help the young guys out, guys like Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III who are coming down here and need to learn the plays and rotations. That’s one thing that I’m really concerned about.
So you’re already one of the veterans?
In the Summer League I am now. Not in the regular season; there I’m still a young fella. Like I said, I’m going to try to help those guys out until we can carry it over to the regular season.
Do you feel better without the extra pounds?
Yeah, I definitely notice it. I can tell when I’m running the floor and getting rebounds. I like to play really tenacious on the glass, and I have to be in really good shape to do that.
You guys have a group of players on more solid ground than most teams. Has that helped the team’s development?
There are definitely benefits there while getting the chemistry. Our starting five out there is all guys who are guaranteed contracts. I think this is a good opportunity for us to all gel together.
This is above your pay grade, but how much do you pay attention to trade speculation?
We don’t worry about it too much. You always look at the speculations for LeBron, Carmelo and Kevin Love. With Kevin it’s all over the news, but I know our front office is going to do a great job getting the best players possible in here to compete and get to a higher level.
What’s your overall transition going to be like from a rookie to a second-year player?
I thought I played really well last year when I got in the game. I didn’t rush, and that’s what coach Flip Saunders has been telling me: 'Just go out there and play your game.' That’s what I’m going to do this year. I think I’m going to have a better opportunity to prove myself, and I’ve really been working for it.