LAS VEGAS – New Timberwolves swingman Shabazz Muhammad made his pro debut Saturday afternoon wearing blinding yellow sneakers in the same neon town where he played his way to national high school fame.
He did so, he said, by trying to reveal the player he can be rather than the one he was.
He played 32 games in his lone collegiate season at UCLA and recorded 27 assists, or fewer than one a game. That’s a fractional average he surpassed Saturday with a single assist late in an 83-81 Las Vegas Summer League loss to the NBA D League Select team, an afternoon when he veered down a new career path trying to show he’s not just a me-first shooter.
Muhammad played 24½ minutes Saturday, during a game in which neither he nor Gorgui Dieng was the Wolves’ best rookie draft pick on the floor — second-round point guard Lorenzo Brown was. Muhammad scored seven points on seven shots while also collecting three turnovers and four fouls.
“I’m a guy who wants to work, just trying to work on my weaknesses,” Muhammad said. “I wasn’t out there trying to score 30. I wanted to pass the ball, look for others and play defense. Those are the two things this team wants me to do, and that is what I’m trying to do.”
Muhammad scored five of those seven points early, when he helped lead the Wolves to a 22-11 lead after one quarter before a D League team consisting mostly of grown men who have played around the globe flexed its muscle and pushed back.
“I thought he did great,” Wolves summer league coach David Adelman said. “It was a really physical game and they got into him. He started well, made his first few shots. But how do you react when people hold and grab you and it’s a little different type game? How do you get to your spots? He’s going to have to learn that.”
Saturday’s game appeared to be the start of Muhammad trying to disprove the selfish-player tag that followed him out of that one college season.
“I pass the ball pretty well, but it’s something to work on,” Muhammad said. “I think I made a lot of good passes today. I didn’t really force anything. I know I can score the ball and I’m just trying to learn to pass the ball and that’s what I tried to do today. If the shot’s there, obviously I’ll take it. But that’s the one thing I’m not trying to do — rush the shot — because the one thing I know I can do is score.”
He played four years at elite Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School, averaged 25 points and nearly eight rebounds as a junior and was named the national McDonald’s All-American Game MVP after his senior season.
On Saturday, he came back home to start a new day in UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center.
“It felt great,” Muhammad said. “Vegas is always my home.”
• Muhammad and Dieng signed their rookie contracts on Saturday, a formality once the Wolves have executed other moves with free agents Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer.