MANKATO, MINN. – His team’s most acclaimed player almost all his life, NBA rookie Shabazz Muhammad now finds himself well down the Timberwolves’ order of possibilities, so much so that a player formerly infatuated with scoring has used training camp’s first two days accomplishing the little things instead.
That includes trying to prove he’s the best offensive rebounder on a team with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, who aren’t too bad at that themselves.
Even his old-school coach, who’s not easily swayed by rookies, sounded impressed after two days.
“He really goes to the offensive boards,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said after Wednesday’s second consecutive three-hour-plus practice. “He pounds people in there.
“Young guys, they’ve got to know they have to play hard and impose their will where their strengths are, and he has been doing that the first two days. He has played very hard. He has come in and he’s competed.”
Muhammad, 20, made himself one of the nation’s top two prep recruits by overpowering smaller, younger opponents as a 6-6 power forward on his way to averaging nearly 30 points a game for a Las Vegas high school.
Now, less than four months after he became the most polarizing player in the NBA’s June draft, he’s out to reinvent himself as a first-time pro on a team that’s built around Love, Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin.
“I think I’ll find my identity out there,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m just trying to be one of the hardest workers out there. Being a rookie, that’s what you have to do and that’s what is expected of you. This is a great team. Kevin and Pek and all those guys are going to score most of the points. I understand that. I’m just going to try to rebound the ball and find my points cleaning up their work.”
Granted, it’s still so very early, but it’s a start for a guy who mentioned he’s most focused on bringing energy to his team, and a reporter immediately pointed out that Energy is the name of the Wolves’ D-League affiliate.
He will not find his way in the NBA as a rookie by being a one-dimensional player focused on himself, a knock he refused during his first and only season at UCLA a year ago.
He knows it.
“I’ve always been a tenacious rebounder,” Muhammad said. “That’s one thing I love to do and that can help our team out a lot.”
His teammates know it, too.
“He is just relentless,” Love said, “and I told him he has to keep that up, especially if you really want to work your way into some significant minutes. Just keep doing that and we’re going to be OK. He’s a bull in there. He likes to throw himself around, and he doesn’t care what people say.”
Martin reached out to Muhammad last summer with some veteran’s advice about being a professional after Muhammad was sent home early from the NBA’s annual rookie symposium for violating its rules by bringing a female to his room.
“He’s a gifted player,” Martin said Wednesday. “Yesterday he had eight or nine offensive boards throughout the day. If he stays on track, he’ll be all right.”
Muhammad has hired his own chef, lost nearly 15 pounds, wrote a letter to Wolves President Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor vowing his summer indiscretion won’t happen again and to be “more mature as a player.”
“As a rookie you come in, be the third- and second-team guy and work your way up,” said Muhammad, whose play helped the second unit thump the Wolves’ top nine players in a scrimmage Wednesday. “That’s how it is in every sport. That’s the one thing I don’t mind. I don’t expect anything. I’m just going to play hard and see what happens.”
• The Wolves came through another long workout seemingly healthy for the second consecutive day. “They were tired,” Adelman said, “but they pushed their way through it.”
• Last summer, Martin said he felt like he was 26 again. He changed his tune after Wednesday’s practice.
“My body doesn’t feel too good at all right now,” he said. “It’s letting me now I’m 30 and this is Year 10 [in the league]. Once training camp comes, it lets you know, but I’ll get back to 26 again.”
• Wolves players and the team’s traveling party went to Taylor’s Mankato home Wednesday night for training camp’s annual lasagna feed.