More than anything else, Shabazz Muhammad was relieved.
It’s no secret that this season has, at times, been frustrating for Muhammad. Expected to be one of the Timberwolves’ biggest contributors off the bench, he has seen his performances — and minutes — fluctuate all season.
In Friday’s wire-to-wire victory over Milwaukee at Target Center, Muhammad had his best game of the season. He came off the bench to score 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting. He made four of five three-pointers, including hitting long from the elbow, a shot he has not always excelled at. Those 22 points — in just 17 minutes, 42 seconds of playing time — were the most by a Wolves bench player this season.
“It definitely feels relieving to have one of those performances,” Muhammad said. “I can definitely build on this one.”
That the Wolves need him to do so is no secret. Bench play — in particular, bench scoring — has been a problem for the Wolves much of the season. They rank dead last in the NBA at 21.8 points per game from their reserves.
Friday, Muhammad did what he does best — provide an energy boost and some instant offense. He entered the game for Zach LaVine with 5:12 left in the first quarter. Moments later he hit a 24-foot three-pointer, rebounded the ensuing Milwaukee miss, was fouled at the other end and made both free throws. By the time the quarter had ended he had 10 points and the Wolves led by 13. He scored another seven points in the second quarter.
“I thought he was terrific,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Very good, very efficient. He made a lot of good, hard plays. Tough plays. He ran the floor well, and had some tough matchups. I thought he competed defensively. Probably his best game.”
And, perhaps, his most controlled.
“He did a great job of letting shots come to him,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Sometimes he seems to force it. He let us find him in open spots, then not rushing his shot. He’s capable of having games like this night in and night out. That’s what makes him so valuable to our team.”
It does appear at times that, anxious to make an impact, Muhammad will rush things or try to force the action. Friday he seemed to let the game come to him. Of course, it helps when the long-range shot is falling, something that hasn’t been the case at times this season. Muhammad said he’s been putting in a lot of extra time taking shots after practices, working in particular on the three from the elbow.
“I’ve definitely been working and working on them, trying to get my follow-through right,” Muhammad said. “And I really think it’s going to help. I think the hard work is starting to pay off for me. And, like I said, the next game I hope to do the same thing. Go out and play with energy.”
The energy is always there. But Friday the scoring was, too.
“We need Bazz,” LaVine said. “He can score so fast. It was good to see him get in the rhythm [Friday]. I was very happy for him.”
Frankly, Muhammad was happy for himself, too.
“I think I’m one of the main guys when it comes to scoring on that second unit,” he said. “And that’s something I try to do. It felt good to see the ball go in a lot [Friday]. I hope that carries on throughout the season.”