Shabazz Muhammad returned to Minnesota a more confident player than the one who went to play four games with the Iowa Energy of the NBA’s Development League.
And this is coming both from Muhammad -- who averaged 24.5 points on 57.1-percent shooting along with 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game – and Wolves president of basketball operations, who was in Des Moines Sunday to watch Muhammad play.
First Muhammad, who returned to the team for day’s practice: “It felt great,” he said about his extended playing time in the D-League. “It felt a little bit like college and high school. I mean, it was a good thing. It gave me a lot of confidence coming into practice today. And I believe I can really help this team out if I just get the opportunity.”
And now Saunders: “He went down, he played hard, he played team basketball,” 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.”
All that said, of course, when that opportunity to play extensively for the Wolves is unknown. For the first time in nearly two years Wolves coach Rick Adelman has an entirely healthy roster to work with. With backup center Ronny Turiaf back and a healthy Chase Budinger to help spread the floor for the second unit, it’s going to be hard for Adelman to find minutes, especially for a rookie.
“We have 15 guys,” Adelman said. “Only so many guys can play. But, in this league, things can happy very quickly, and you’ve got to be ready all the time. I think he’s proven with his attitude and everything else.’’
This is a situation Muhammad said he understood. “Whatever the coaches do, I’m going to respect,” he said. “And I’m going to wait my turn.’’
Here are some other items from today’s practice:
--Saunders identified four things that have hurt the Wolves at different times in close losses this season: Free throw shooting down the stretch, getting multiple defensive stops, turnovers, and finding the second option on offense when the first option isn’t there. “Those are the things we continue to work on every day,” Saunders said. “Even though I’ve been a coach, I’m pretty patient on things because I look at this team and I realize we’ve played 37 games. These guys have only played 37 games together. So it’s a work in progress.’’
--Adelman was asked if Budinger might be a candidate to start going forward. The answer: his current 18-minute time limit (though he played 22 minutes in San Antonio. “I couldn’t get him out of the game,” Adelman said, defending himself) would make that a moot point in the short run. “I haven’t even thought about that,” Adelman said.
--The new method for putting together All Star teams will make it harder for Wolves center Nikola Pekovic to make the Western Conference squad. But Pekovic, who has averaged 22.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in January, is definitely worthy, according to Saunders. "I had some people, this was three, four weeks into the season, question me and say, 'How could you be happy with Pek's signing? don't you think you made a big mistake?' At that time, I said no. I knew over the summertime that Pek had not played at all, and when a guy hasn't played for the first time in seven, eight years, it's going to take some time. ... It was just taking time to get his body to where he wanted it to be. Our medical people have worked a lot with him abou this flexibility. There's no qustion right now that if they had not changed the rules on the All Star games that he would be an All Star. So our job now is to push, because I think he's deserving of being an All Star. He's one of the top big guys in the league.''
--Monday was Turiaf's 31st birthday, and the team concluded practice by singing Happy Birthday to him.
That’s about it for now. Have a great rest of your day.