We caught up with 24-year-old wing Shabazz Muhammad, who was a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, about his current free agency.
Muhammad, who plans to legally change his first name to Bazz because that is how most of the league knows him, has played most of his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, last season he was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks and was a part of their rotation in the postseason.
He has had limited playing time in his career, but when adjusted for starting minutes, he’s been a serviceable player. Muhammad has averaged 18.9 points with 5.8 rebounds per 36 minutes during the first five years of his career.
Here is what he told HoopsHype about how he has worked to make his style of play even more suitable for an NBA team next season.
I used to live in Los Angeles and watched you play at UCLA. It’s been awhile since then, though, so it’s great to connect. Where are you calling from today?
SM: I’m actually calling from Los Angeles right now. I’ve been training at the Sports Academy, it’s like a one-stop shop. They have physical therapy and yoga and so much else. It’s good for my body because I can see how much fat I’m losing and how much muscle I’m gaining. I’m doing a lot of lifting and working out with Chris Gaston in the morning and at night. I’ve been shooting a lot of three-pointers, working on my ballhandling and creating space away from my defenders to get my shot off. I’m getting in shape, too. I am watching what I eat, lots of chicken salad and fruit and water. I was about 15 percent body fat when I came and I think I’m at about six percent now. I’m not even close to being done, I think I can lose a couple more pounds just to jump higher and be quicker. I like the way I’m progressing right now. I’ve been feeling great and moving a lot better. I’m doing yoga two times a week, stretching is a really big deal to me. They say have an empty mind and it helps me let my muscles stretch without worrying about anything else. I’m definitely going to continue with that.
What are some of the takeaways you’ve had training with Gaston this offseason? Where do you think it will show the most on the court?
SM: We’ve done a lot of really helpful work on my ballhandling ability. I think if I can get the fade at two, start with the rebound and push the ball then that can help me create space. I’m trying to knock down three-pointers, the biggest thing for me is the corner three-pointer. I’m shooting about 200 from each side a day. I definitely think it’ll show the most on the defensive end of the court, though. I’m in the best shape of my life. And on offense, I can still score in a bunch of different ways and that will be great now that I’ve been working on my conditioning because I can play more minutes and be more effective. That’s a big part of my development.
You spoke earlier about your shooting and last year was the best in your career on corner three-pointers. But it was also your best year on mid-range shots. How did you become a better shooter on these attempts?
SM: It’s easy to look at Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who shoot tons of three-pointers. But if you have a mid-range game, especially in the halfcourt when the game is slowed down, it can be a really big thing. I’ve been working on that, too, and I think the midrange shot is a lost art that can still get you a bucket – especially in the halfcourt and in the playoffs when the game is tight.
Last year, you also finished at the rim well. What are some of your strategies to attack the basket?
SM: I like jumping off two feet if you’re in traffic against a bigger defender. I’m strong and it’s helpful for someone with my body type to use both feet in the air because it helps your balance. I like being on both my feet if I get fouled so I can finish the shot.
You’re pretty solid at getting to the line and making and-one opportunities. How much value does that add to your game on offense?
SM: That’s a big thing that helped me out with coming into Milwaukee. I gave them that scoring punch even with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe running the lane. I was able to get fouled and I think that’s definitely one of the things that helps my game a lot, not shying away from the contact and getting those free opportunities for your team.
You’ve played in Milwaukee and Minnesota with two of the best young players in the game. What are your impressions of Giannis and Karl-Anthony Towns?
SM: I’ve known KAT since he was a rookie, he used to live next door so we would play video games and hang out all the time. He’s a gym rat. For how tall he is, he’s so nimble and good on his feet. He has an outside game and an inside game. That’s something that never changes with him.
I look at Giannis the same way. He’s basically a point forward because he can bring the ball up out there. Watching him on TV is different than playing with him because you can see how many spots our coach can put him and he can succeed at all of them. He’s one heck of a player and I was so pleased playing with them. I’ve tried to help them be relentless and aggressive.
How important is it for you to play in an offense that gets out in transition? That seems to be a huge part of your game.
SM: Oh, it’s so important. That’s why I did so well with the Bucks at the end of the season. Giannis pushes the ball and puts pressure on the defense, which works well for me. Ricky Rubio did an outstanding job with that too. I loved playing with him because he knew I was going to run the floor and that caused problems for the defense.
Tell me about the ways you’re working to improve your catch-and-shoot and spot-up efficiency.
SM: I’m working mostly on my three-pointer because I’m already a pretty good scoring threat driving the ball. I think if that little gap given to me is something I can use to be a knockdown shooter from three, that would just really help my game and take me to the next level.
Have you considered going the opposite direction and being more of a post scorer?
SM: I have. The game is going small and that’s a really big thing, too. With Milwaukee, I was sometimes rolled out at power forward. Their lineups were pretty small. You have to rebound more often. I want to play shooting guard and both forward positions, showing that versatility where a coach can throw me out there and I can play any position.
I wanted to talk to you about your college teammate Kyle Anderson. Tell me what you think he’ll be able to accomplish on his next contract?
SM: He is so smart and I think the system in San Antonio is perfect for his game. I was surprised they didn’t keep him. He’s always working to improve his game. Basketball comes to him so easily and he’s definitely going to help out the Grizzlies. His knowledge of the game is going to make that team a lot better and I’m very happy for him. I can’t wait to see what he does there.
Let’s walk through all of the head coaches you’ve played for and go over some things you’ve picked up from each of them.
SM: I’d say with coach Rick Adelman, he didn’t talk as much because he is a veteran’s coach and tries to have rookies learn from the vets. It was a really good experience and one of the best seasons for the Timberwolves. I learned a lot from Kevin Love and sat with him on the plane every day, just trying to absorb as much information as possible. That was a great learning experience for me. And then Sam Mitchell was really good; he was really hard on us, but he helped us figure it out even though we were so young. It was challenging but fun. Tom Thibodeau is obviously defensive-minded, but he just wants you to work hard. Joe Prunty was an interim coach, but we played really hard for him and made the postseason.
What about off the court, where you’re approaching more of a veteran status around the league? What can you provide a team in that regard?
SM: I definitely have a lot of wisdom and I can share it with young guys. I can show them what it means to be a pro on and off the floor. I think most of the time, it’s just about repetition and work ethic. Work as hard as you can. Have a great attitude and good things will come to you.