Flip Saunders is a staple of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. He accumulated 411 victories during 10 seasons as Wolves head coach, 60 more than every other coach in franchise history — combined. Flip’s time on the sideline is more commonly known as “The Kevin Garnett Era,” when, despite eight-consecutive postseason appearances, Minnesota failed to achieve the ultimate goal, an NBA championship.
Saunders replaced Bill Blair 20 games into the 1994-95 season and left the Wolves much like his predecessor — fired 56 games through the 2004-05 campaign, the season following the team’s only appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Two seasons after the departure of Saunders, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics where he’d eventually become an NBA champion — a tragic ending to a tale from the perspective of Timberwolves fans.
Tuesday was the start of training camp and a new era for the Timberwolves behind the one fans call Flip.
Chase Budinger went down with another injury last week and had his meniscus removed by Dr. James Andrews Tuesday morning — it’s the same meniscus that repaired in a surgery last season. He’s never played an entire season healthy, never has started more than 22 games and there’s no reason for the Wolves to worry because Derrick Williams and Corey Brewer are comparable backups.
But what about Saunders first draft selection as president of operations, Shabazz Muhammad?
Saunders swapped Minnesota’s ninth pick of the draft with the Utah Jazz in exchange for their 14th and 21st overall selections. Considering his skills, Muhammad was a steal, but off-the-court drama surrounding the 19-, erm, 20-year-old guard from UCLA poses, for some, reason for concern.
Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, did everything in order to help his son achieve what he couldn’t; become an NBA player. Muhammad attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas– one of the top athletic high schools in the nation. Muhammad left Bishop Gorman as one of top recruits in the country. The exposure came as no accident and was planned by Holmes from the beginning, even the reason behind naming Muhammad “Shabazz” was because it “would sound good and be marketable worldwide.”
He’s 6’6″ tall and 240-pounds — a solid, strong slasher who converted on 40 percent of catch-and-shoot opportunities last season. Like Brewer, Muhammad is also productive getting up the floor in transition and found five possessions per game in the open floor. However he only managed to average one point in those possessions.
These are Muhammad’s averages last season.
Less than one assist per game is the eye-opening concern, but the Wolves don’t need him to be a facilitator — he’s an ideal fit for coach Rick Adelman‘s Princeton offence. Muhammad is also relentless attacking the basket, scoring and rebounding the basketball using his physical dominance. He averaged more than five rebounds, was good for more than two putbacks–scoring after an offensive rebound–and made it seven times to the foul line per game, adjusted to 40 minutes, last season. (Per 40 minutes played: A statistic (e.g., assists) divided by minutes played, multiplied by 40)
This video shows examples of Muhammad’s dynamics on the court as listed above.
Now watch this video of one of Budinger’s better NBA games.
Brewer and Williams have money as their motivation; Brewer signed a new deal in the offseason worth $15 million over the next three seasons; he’s expected to start in place of the injured Budinger. No season will prove more significant for Williams — the team must decide to pay him an extension by the end of this month worth a little more than $6 million.
The selection of the skilled Muhammad potentially brings a unique scoring presence to the Timberwolves, a significant presence, one similar to the one Saunders seems to have instilled over the summer in Minnesota.