MINNEAPOLIS -- Shabazz Muhammad returned to the Twin Cities a more confident player, more convinced he is an NBA player and yet aware that, for now, patience might be his greatest asset.
Muhammad, the No. 14 overall pick in last summer's draft by the Timberwolves, just completed a four-game swing through the NBA Development League with the Iowa Energy. In those four games he averaged 27.8 minutes, 24.5 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor. For a player who initially appeared cool at the idea of a short D-League stint, Muhammad came around quickly.
"First of all, it was really fun getting out there and actually getting to play," he said after Monday's practice with the Wolves. "I mean, getting to run in transition and stuff like that, actually getting to play? It was a good experience for me. ... It gave me a lot of confidence going into practice today. I can really help this team out if I get the opportunity."
But he might have to continue waiting for that.
For the first time in nearly two years, Wolves coach Rick Adelman has a completely healthy roster. Center Ronny Turiaf, recovered from injury, is getting big minutes off the bench, as is forward Chase Budinger. With the Wolves desperately in need of a winning run, it might be difficult for Adelman to find playing time for many players on the back end of the bench, including Muhammad.
"He has improved since training camp and, down there, he showed it," Adelman said of the 6-6 swingman from UCLA. "He attacked the basket, he passed the ball."
"We have 15 guys," Adelman said. "Only so many guys can play. In this league, though, things can happen very quickly, and you've got to be ready all the time. I think he's proven that with his attitude and everything else. But with any young player, defense is the thing that's hardest thing that comes to them."
Still, the decision to give Muhammad a short D-League stint was a success. And it might not be his last. Both Muhammad and fellow first-round pick Gorgui Dieng could get short trips to the Energy in the weeks to come.
"He went down, he played hard, he played team basketball," Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said. "He was aggressive. I wanted to see him run the floor and do the things he can do. I think, no question, he gained a little confidence. When you haven't played much, it's nice to get down there and just play. I thought he did a lot of good things. Whether that translates right now, we don't know. Because we have a lot of people who are in his position. I think he proved that no question he's going to be a player in this league."
Saunders said Muhammad will have to continue to work hard in practice, take advantage of every minute of playing time.
"He does do something that we don't have," Saunders said. "He's aggressive to the basket. (Sunday) I think he had seven or eight dunks, two or three of them over people. He's aggressive. He attacks. I think (Adelman) is looking at something that, if he continues to improve defensively, he might get an opportunity."
That opportunity definitely will come, Saunders said, though perhaps not this season. And it appears Muhammad accepts that.
"That's something that's up to the coaches," he said. "I'm going to be ready, and I'm going to be working hard, and I'm going to be prepared for when that time comes. Like I said, I'm feeling good. I think I'm playing really well right now and I have a lot of confidence. ... Whatever the coaches do, I'm going to respect it, and I'm going to wait my turn."
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