By Jesse Granger
Shabazz Muhammad has played the best basketball of his life in Las Vegas.
The second year NBA player lit up the Cox Pavilion scoreboard Thursday for the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while adding 3 rebounds and a pair of steals.
Muhammad has carried his team throughout the 2014 NBA Summer League, averaging 16.2 points per game and is one of the vocal leaders on the court. It’s a giant leap forward for him after a thoroughly disappointing rookie season in Minnesota.
During his rookie campaign, Muhammad averaged a mere 3.9 points per game. He only appeared in 37 games and never started. When he did see the floor, it was brief – 7.8 minutes per game to be exact.
Midway through the year, he was relegated to the NBA D-League for a week. He shined in four games and returned to the Association with a new energy, but still rarely produced on the court.
So Muhammad’s dominant performance in this week’s summer league tournament may shock NBA fans across the country, but it comes as no surprise to Las Vegas locals who watched him rise to stardom just a quick 20-minute drive up the Interstate 215 to Bishop Gorman High School.
In his time at Bishop Gorman, Muhammad led the Gaels to three Nevada State Championships in four years, while the team’s collective record during his tenure was an unbelievable 111-17. His senior season, Muhammad averaged 29 points per game, including his final performance – a 36 point offensive clinic in the state championship game, 30 of which came in the first half.
His play drew national attention and by the time Muhammad graduated he was the No. 2 player in the nation on ESPN’s top-100 rankings, behind only Nerlens Noel.
From there, Muhammad took a one-year trip to UCLA, and landed in the NBA where his career has yet to get off the ground. Maybe a trip to Las Vegas is exactly what he needed to propel his game in the right direction.
“It’s great,” Muhammad said. “It’s obviously a great opportunity for me and my teammates to come out here to Las Vegas and represent.”
In the first game back in his home city, Muhammad produced a double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds, but the experience of returning to Las Vegas has been much more than on-court success.
“My parents live here, and everybody, all of my old friends from high school and middle school,” he said. “It’s always fun to get to see them, and it’s a great opportunity for me.”
While the summer league is often a proving ground where roster spots are won and lost, Muhammad is in no danger of being left off the Timberwolves roster. He currently sits behind only Corey Brewer on the depth chart, and after a year of experience could be posed to earn more playing time.
“I think I gained a lot of experience from last year, even though I was on the bench,” he said. “I learned how to slow the game down.”
Muhammad is listed as a small forward, but standing only 6-foot-6 he is a bit undersized for the position. He feels that his biggest area for improvement in order to become more of a guard is his dribbling and passing.
“I’ve just been working on my ball skills, and just becoming a better guard,” he said. “(Improving on) my shooting can always help, and overall there’s something I can always get better at.”
If he can find a way to keep his Las Vegas form going into the games that actually count, Muhammad could develop into a national star as well.