Will Shabazz Muhammad see increased minutes in season's final weeks?
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On-court sightings of Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad have been notably sporadic for much of the season.
It has become common to hear screams of "Put in Shabazz!" from particularly zealous fans in the Target Center crowd.
But those calls have been answered only in small bursts. As the Wolves have struggled to break out of the mold a of .500-caliber team, coach Rick Adelman has shuffled his bench rotation on a nearly a game-to-game basis. In turn, Muhammad has made only spot appearances at meaningful junctures in games.
Muhammad, the 14th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, ranks 23rd in total minutes among the 27 active first round picks in his draft class (258 minutes in 33 games, one minute ahead of Washington's Otto Porter Jr.).
When Muhammad has seen the court, his offensive and defensive production has been inconsistent (3.7 ppg, 1.5 ppg, 0.2 apg), but at the same time, he hasn't had much of an opening to find that elusive rhythm.
His potential has popped up in flashes. At Phoenix in late February, in what at the time was a critical game for the Wolves' playoff hopes, Muhammad went off for a career-high 20 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. Some viewed that outburst as his ticket for a heightened bench role.
However, that didn't happen. Even with the Wolves having now been pushed out of the Western Conference playoff race with less than a month left in the season, Muhammad's usage in Adelman's rotation has continued to be erratic and outright puzzling at times.
Following his performance against the Suns, Muhammad averaged 12.5 minutes in the next four games. But his playing time fell off once again. In the Wolves' last 10 games, he has logged more than eight minutes only three times.
The Wolves subjected the Lakers to an eye-popping franchise-record 147 points on Friday in a 36-point beatdown. The rout was set in motion from the start, with the lead cresting over 20 points less than minutes into the second quarter.
The game was well in hand entering the second half. Yet, Muhammad ended up playing only the final seven minutes of the game. He went on to score nine points, shooting 4-of-4 from the floor.
Whenever asked about Muhammad's limited minutes, Adelman's stance has remained relatively the same.
"I don't worry about individuals as much as you guys do. I mean, really. I'm trying to win games and play guys I think can help us," Adelman said last Thursday.
"(Against Atlanta on Wednesday) I felt we needed to get Chase (Budinger) on the floor, get some scoring from him. I put Robbie (Hummel) in in the fourth quarter for the same reason. Those two guys on the floor space the court for us. There's always a reason. Believe it or not, I have reasons for why I do things. I think sometimes it's consistency that I'm looking for more than anything else."
Muhammad isn't alone in getting sporadic minutes. Reserves Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and Hummel have all seen there playing time come in similar irregular intervals. However, Muhammad's rookie first round pick status only serves to increase the debate over what he could be capable of if given increased playing time.
Wolves rookie center Gorgui Dieng is a prime example. Like Muhammad, Dieng's opportunities of getting on the court had been spread out as he tried to adapt to the NBA game (274 minutes in 42 games prior to March 15).
When starting center Nikola Pekovic was sidelined in mid-March due to a nagging ankle injury, Dieng was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time. He proceeded to post double-doubles in five of his next six games. In a season that has come down to silver linings, Dieng's recent breakthrough has provided the Wolves a refreshing glimpse at what the future could hold.
Is Muhammad capable of similar outburst this season? It's possible, but Adelman and the Wolves won't know unless he's given a legitimate chance in their final 11 games. Again, with the playoffs no longer in the picture, what do the Wolves have to lose?