Q&A: Former lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad eyes NBA comeback

Former 2012 top high school recruit and NBA lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad is eying an NBA comeback.

The 29-year-old swingman has hired agent Keith Kreiter of Edge Sports International and recently signed with San Miguel Beermen in the Philippines.

Following a 57-point, 19-rebound performance in a win, Muhammad spoke to HoopsHype over the phone and discussed his NBA career with the Timberwolves and Bucks, his time overseas in China and the Philippines, what he’d do differently, and why he can help an NBA team.

What’s the experience been like playing in the Philippines?

Shabazz Muhammad: This is my second league overseas besides China. I think the best thing I get out of it is the ability to work on my game since you get the ball a lot more than you would in the NBA. You get to work on your game more. It’s far from home, but I’d say the adjustment has been going smoothly, and I’ve been playing well so far. I play about 45 minutes each game, so I’m in the whole time, basically. I’m getting in really good shape and can work on different aspects of my game. I remember when I was in the NBA, I’d get 10-12 minutes and try to make the most of those minutes. Even playing over 30 minutes in China was a lot of minutes.

Is anything different playing in the Philippines than in China?

SH: I think it’s a pretty physical league that lets guys play. That’s the first thing I noticed over here. The physicality surprised me. I didn’t think the league would be this physical. There are more ex-NBA guys in China, and there are two imports on each team. It was a good league and hard to adapt there with the language barrier. I thought it was a good opportunity for me. I definitely think it’s just as physical. One adjustment is there is no defensive three-second call, so you really have to spread the defense out and shoot the ball well to put up good numbers.

While you’re playing overseas, what goes through your mind?

SH: I think the fans here have embraced me, and I’ve really embraced that. It’s the biggest thing you have to do. Being in the NBA for five years, you can always have your head down if you’re overseas, but I think my attitude has changed, and I learned to go out there and play the best basketball I can. I take each game at a time with the ultimate goal of getting back to the NBA. I’ve been able to work on my three-point shot and my pick-and-roll passing ability. The end goal is to get back into the NBA. These are stepping stones for me to get better as a player on and off the court.

At 29, why should an NBA team sign you?

SH: I’ve been working on my game seriously. When I was in Milwaukee, I noticed I had gotten myself out of shape. I’m in tip-top shape right now. I’m 220 pounds. That was my original weight when I came into the NBA and had some good years in Minnesota. I realized you can’t take the NBA for granted, and that’s one thing I thought I did when I was in the NBA. Now, I’m thinking about getting back there by working my butt off and doing everything I have to do on and off the court as a person to be the best player and teammate I can be.

Is there anything else you’d do differently looking back on your NBA career?

SH: I’d say be more serious with my diet. I wasn’t as athletic as I could’ve been. In the Philippines, I’m just as athletic as my first or second year when I came into the NBA. I was frustrated when I wasn’t playing as much when I got into the NBA. You have to keep working. You’ll always get your chance. You have to always stay ready. Being too impatient, you’ll regret what you did. That’s one reason why I want to have another opportunity at it. I’ve taken it as a positive note here to work on my game and, hopefully, make some noise here and get back.

What can you bring to an NBA team now?

SH: I think obviously scoring. There’s a lot of small ball now in the NBA. I’m a really good rebounder, and it’s one thing I take an initiative in. I’d bring energy off the bench. That’s one thing I know I did when I was in Minnesota. I’d make sure I’m always staying fit and ready while being the best teammate I can be off the floor as well to the young guys. I’d let them know they can’t take the league for granted. I’d make sure I got extra shots and did all the little things. You can get frustrated when you’re not playing, and all of a sudden, you go in a game at the 45th game of the season, and they throw you in the game.

When you went to Minnesota as a lottery pick, how would you describe your tenure there and vision for the start of your career?

SH: Flip Saunders drafted me. I loved Flip. He was a great coach and mentor. Coming into the league, he taught me a lot. I didn’t play much my first year. I had coach Rick Adelman. Flip always used to tell me to keep working. It was always the group with me, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. We’d always talk to him. When we played Utah, he’d always look and see their young guys and say we had to outplay those guys and make it into a challenge for us. He was a great mentor who always made you want to work your hardest for him. In my third and fourth years I had good years and was offered a pretty good contract with the Timberwolves.

What did you think of your time in Milwaukee?

SH: It was a new situation for me. It was my first time playing in the playoffs, which was a big thing. I thought I played well and I liked playing with that team. It was a great team with a young Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, etc.

What are your thoughts on your career to this point?

SH: I know some of the stuff I needed to clean up and do better. I started to do that (since going overseas). I’ve seen guys like Patrick Beverley overcome a lot of stuff and play overseas before coming back, and he’s having a great career in the league. I always keep my head up. My ultimate goal is to get back into the NBA. Every game, I work on my game and have a great attitude doing it. I also have fun. I’m playing the game for a living.

As a former top recruit who went to UCLA, what do you think of the NIL now?

SH: I think guys should get paid for their likeness. I think that’s a good thing they’re doing. It’s pretty interesting. I don’t know what I would’ve done if they had the NIL, and I could’ve gotten paid. I’m happy for the young guys who are getting paid.

Do you think kids should be eligible for the NBA out of high school, and would you have gone straight to the NBA as the top high school prospect if the rules allowed you to do so?

SH: I definitely think I was ready enough to go pro out of high school. Even when I was in high school at Bishop Gorman, we used to work out with Rob McClanaghan, Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans, and OJ Mayo when they were all there working out, plus Derrick Rose. I knew I could fit in a little bit. I probably would’ve gone to the NBA straight out of high school. I think you should give players the option if they want to go pro out of high school, especially now that guys can get paid in college. It doesn’t make a big difference if guys could go out of high school or not.

How is high school popularity different now than when you played as a star recruit?

SH: A lot of these kids now are worried about putting a video on Instagram. There was no Instagram. There was Twitter, but it wasn’t as popular back then. You had to come to every game to watch us play. Some of these young guys are posting on Twitter and Instagram. You can get stuck on that, so I say focus on the real stuff and stay in the gym. All the other stuff will come.

You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto

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