A Timberwolves team that has searched for scoring from its second unit all season on Friday told top draft pick Shabazz Muhammad he is headed to the NBA's Development League so he will get a chance to play.
Selected 14th overall in last summer's draft for his scoring ability, Muhammad has played sparingly in 11 of the Wolves' 32 games this season because coach Rick Adelman has preferred to use veterans Corey Brewer and Luc Mbah a Moute as well as fellow rookie Robbie Hummel at Muhammad's natural small forward position.
That position will get even more crowded any game now when Chase Budinger returns from a season-starting knee injury.
Muhammad will join the Wolves' D-League affiliate in Des Moines on Sunday so he can practice a couple of times with an Iowa Energy team that plays games at the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday and Thursday. He is expected to play at least four games there, through the Energy's Jan. 12 home game against Rio Grande Valley.
Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders on Friday called the assignment "the right time" for Muhammad to get some meaningful playing time. The holidays are over, the Wolves' demanding schedule to start the season eases some and Budinger's return gives the team yet another player who will see time ahead of the rookie from UCLA.
"He can play more minutes in those four or five games there than he might all year here," Saunders said. "No one has seen it, but he has worked hard and he's gotten better here this year. But he needs to play."
Saunders said he has not considered doing the same with fellow rookies Hummel and Gorgui Dieng because both players have been part of Adelman's rotation and because both Saunders and Adelman particularly like the challenging physical presence Dieng provides in practice with his length and shot-blocking abilities against big men Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love, among others.
The Wolves traded the ninth pick in last summer's draft to Utah for the 14th and 21st pick they used to select Muhammad and Dieng. The Jazz used that pick to take Michigan point guard Trey Burke, who on Friday was named the NBA's Western Conference rookie of the month.
Muhammad recently said he would prefer to remain in the NBA because he thinks he will get better practicing against NBA players and because he thinks he can provide what the team and its second unit need. He was not available for comment Friday afternoon after being told he was being reassigned.
"With a lot of things I do, I think I can help this team out a lot," Muhammad said earlier this week. "It's definitely frustrating not playing, especially when you think you can go out there and help the second team with scoring. You've just got to stay ready. I'm really strong mentally, so that's one thing that helps me. I think I'm getting closer and closer to where I want to be at, getting closer to the rotation. All I can do is hang in there and get better as a player."
Muhammad's D-League assignment is intended to do just that.
"It's really good for young guys to go down and get on the floor, get minutes and see how far he has come because he has gotten better in practice," Adelman said. "He has gotten better in a lot of things. I remember when we had Aaron Brooks in Houston: We sent him down for five or six games because he wasn't playing and it really helped him. Right after that, he started playing and he started playing very well. It's a really good experience for some guys to do down there if they can get three or four games played in a week. It really helps them."
Saunders said Muhammad accepted the assignment willingly.
"He was good about it," Saunders said. "I told him it's a tough league to go play in because you go down from the NBA with a bull's-eye on your back. I told him he better be ready."
The Wolves will send a staff member with Muhammad while he's with the Energy to work him out individually as well and to let him know he hasn't been forgotten. Saunders plans to attend the Jan. 12 game in Des Moines.