Shabazz Muhammad was one of the most polarizing players leading up to the 2013 NBA Draft, as questions about his selfishness as well as his overall effort and skill level made him a risky pick for a lot of teams. The Minnesota Timberwolves wound up with him after a draft day trade with the Utah Jazz, but concerns about his maturity were not quelled when he was sent home from the league’s rookie symposium after bringing a woman back to his hotel room. On it’s own bringing a woman back to his room isn’t that big a deal, but since it’s against the rules and Muhammad presumably knew that his pro career was not off to a good start.
Timberwolves’ president Flip Saunders did not rule out sending Muhammad to the D-League in the aftermath of the incident at the rookie symposium, but more recent events point to Muhammad possibly seeing an expanded role right out of the gate this season. He reportedy sent a letter of apology to Saunders and Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor in early September, vowing to be “more mature as a player”, and he also has shed some weight prior to training camp getting going this week.
The Timberwolves got bad news on the injury front earlier this week, with forward Chase Budinger undergoing surgery on his left knee on Monday. An injury to the same knee limited Budinger to just 23 games last season, his first with the Timberwolves, and he is out indefinitely.
Muhammad fits best as a small forward, but Minnesota has a bit of a logjam at the position right now even with Budinger sidelined. Corey Brewer is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2012-2013 (12.1 points per game with the Denver Nuggets) and is expected to be the starter, with 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams in line to see time behind Brewer if he can ever emerge from coach Rick Adelman’s doghouse.
Adelman is not known for trusting rookies, so Muhammad is likely to see limited minutes early in the season no matter how good he looks in camp and preseason games. But if Brewer and Williams remain underachievers and Budinger is sidelined for most of the season again, it may only be a matter of time before Muhammad is a prominent part of Minnesota’s rotation and perhaps even a starter. That possibility alone makes him a dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year in my opinion, though things could just as easily go the opposite direction.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.