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Updated: February 26th, 2014 9:46pm
Numbers Game: On what planet were Wolves good enough to sit Shabazz?

Numbers Game: On what planet were Wolves good enough to sit Shabazz?

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

With 25 games remaining in the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are six games back in the loss column for the 8-seed in the Western Conference. Despite showing a pulse recently, and despite having an extremely weak schedule over the next two or three weeks, playoff hopes are dim, at best.

The Wolves, who regularly blow double-digit leads and have only one win by fewer than four points, have only themselves to blame, really.

Whatever the ultimate outcome is this season, there are two themes the Wolves should have been paying closer attention to throughout the past few months:

29: The number of rookies who have played more minutes than Shabazz Muhammad this season.

Now, Shabazz's breakout game in Phoenix on Wednesday could have been a blip on the radar. This isn't to say he's the next Dwyane Wade. The jury is still way out.

But answer this for me: On what planet are the Wolves good enough to stash the 14th overall pick on the bench for the first three-and-a-half months of the season?

Corey Brewer. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Dante Cunningham. Robbie Hummel. And to some degree, Alexey Shved. All run-of-the-mill, largely replaceable entities with very little upside. Not to mention, the Wolves' bench is one of the worst in the NBA by almost any measurement -- 29th in field goal percentage, 29th in efficiency rating and 26th in scoring (per 48 minutes).

I was mostly against the Muhammad pick at the time, and I'm certainly not sold yet. But the Wolves made their commitment when they drafted him. He's on the roster, and he has more upside than all but about three or four players on the team.

Rather than saving him for slivers of garbage time all season - during which Muhammad would mostly just chuck contested 20-footers, which probably didn't help his cause - Adelman should have been playing him for weeks.

It's amazing what can happen when a coach empowers a young, talented player.

6: The number of minutes Ricky Rubio sees the court, on average, in the fourth quarter.

That playing time number drops slightly due to the Wolves having so many blow-out victories, but in closer games Rubio often sits until the 5:00 mark of the fourth quarter.

It's no coincidence the Wolves (according to simple +/- numbers) are among the top three first- and third-quarter teams in the NBA, but one of the three worst fourth-quarter teams.

Yes, J.J. Barea is a better shooter than Rubio, and Barea is more likely to go off on a 15-point scoring binge. But Rubio's ability to create open shots for teammates, his superior perimeter defense, and his willingness to create ball movement on offense make him the superior overall player.

To illustrate further, here are a few reasons why Rubio - who plays only 31 minutes per game - should see more minutes in the fourth quarter, despite his mediocre shooting:

• When Rubio is on the court, the Wolves outscore opponents by 8 points per 48 minutes. When Barea is on the court, the Wolves are outscored by 3 points per 48 minutes. That's an 11-point difference per 48. Of course, Rubio plays more often with Kevin Love, which definitely matters.

• That said, Barea goes from a minus player with Rubio off the court (-4 per 48 minutes) to a plus player (+2.5) with Rubio on it.

• When Rubio is on the court, Chase Budinger shoots 49% from three-point range. When Rubio is off the court, Budinger shoots just 24% from deep.

• When Rubio is on the court, Kevin Martin shoots 42% from three (and 45% overall), but just 32% from three (33% overall) when Rubio is on the bench.

• Rubio ranks second in the NBA in "hockey assists" - the pass that leads to the assist.

• Rubio is shooting 47% from inside 5 feet this month (he was under 40% for the season before February).

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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