Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Nets have him on their radar.
Darren Wolfson of ESPN said on his podcast Thursday that the Brooklyn Nets are someone to look out for once Muhammad becomes a free agent. At 24, he just finished up his fourth season in Minnesota, and the Wolves would like to hold onto him.
Being a restricted free agent, they’ll retain Muhammad just by matching whatever offer he’s given. But that shouldn’t deter Sean Marks. Although he’s struck out with the likes of Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, there’s always the chance that the original team decides not to match, and Muhammad would add an intriguing wrinkle to the Nets.
Brooklyn shoots a ton of threes, and Muhammad doesn’t. I see why some would think he won’t fit. He connected on just 33.6 percent of his 146 bombs, but his slashing, below-the-foul-line approach makes the shooters’ lives so much easier because he’s contrasting who’s out there alongside him.
Muhammad was one of the first guys off of Minnesota’s bench, and in 19.8 minutes a night, he averaged 9.9 points on 48.2 percent from the field. His production was down slightly from last year which was down from the year before that, but seeing fewer minutes will do that to a player.
(The per 100 stats for years three and four are about the same.)
If I had to guess, the reason his minutes dropped a bit because of his defense. As a group, Minnesota isn’t great. But Muhammad was arguably the team’s worst defender. Tom Thibodeau spent all this year trying to instill a defensive-first mindset, and it’s tough when a key guy is missing assignments and struggling to stay with his man.
Regardless, Muhammad has a promising future as an offensive player. At 6-6 with a 223-pound frame (and a 6-11 wingspan), the transition between shooting guard and small forward is seamless. Additionally, Muhammad’s shockingly explosive, which makes his inside game more efficient.
He can either go above defenders or through them and, since he’s a mismatch one way or the other, it’s easy for him to get to his sweet spots.
According to NBA.com, 232 of Muhammad’s field goal attempts are inside the restricted area, and his conversion rate is 67.7 percent — that’s better than James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. I know those three aren’t comparable, but it shows that Muhammad’s a reliable finisher. He can create for himself or work off the ball, and that latter is a welcome sign.
The Nets already have a handful of guys facilitating. They don’t need another.
Once he starts moving outside of the restricted area, though, he loses his potency. Muhammad shot 31 percent on mid-range shots and 42.1 percent inside of the paint but outside of the restricted area. Something to consider, however, is having him camp out in one of the corners.
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Of Muhammad’s 146 threes, 59 of them came from the shortest perch. He connected on 24 of them. At 40.6 percent, you have a marksman who forces the defense to make decisions; do they help off and give up an open look?
Those speak to me in a different way. Being self-aware is one of the best traits a human being can have, and Muhammad is that. For the 2016-17 season, 24.4 percent of his shots were threes. Of that, 40.4 percent came from the corners. The conclusion is this: Muhammad is actively looking to put himself in a position to succeed.
He knows what his game is and he isn’t afraid to step out of it, but he’ll return if he needs to get back into a rhythm.
Being in an offense that relies so much on the three-ball means a lot of reps and plenty of chances to fine-tune his shot. Furthermore, he’s still young and can develop other parts of his game.
The remaining elephant in the room is Muhammad’s defense. He doesn’t get many steals (0.3), is almost non-existent in the blocks column (he had six in 78 games. Isaiah Thomas had 12) and the advanced metrics don’t favor him. His defensive box plus/minus was minus-4.3 this year, meaning he was a little more than four points worse than the average player per 100 possessions. Over that same stretch, Minnesota allowed 116 points with him on the court.
However, there’s another set of stats that makes my brain bend — when Muhammad’s off the floor, the Timberwolves give up 113.1 points per 100 compared to 110.3 when he’s on, according to Basketball Reference.
It’s entirely possible that his poor showcase is rooted in the bad defensive team, but Muhammad has everything to be a capable defender: size, length and athleticism. However, when he was at UCLA, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress noted his lack of intensity on the defensive end. Old habits die hard, don’t they?
Regardless, Muhammad is a solid young player. He’s crafty, versatile and can develop into a feared scorer if he chooses to. It’s likely Minnesota matches Brooklyn’s offer, but stranger things have happened. Even if they do, it won’t hurt the Nets to throw their name in the hat.