Hours before taking on the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics on Saturday, it was a given that Mustafa Shakur would likely suit up for the Washington Wizards and get his first NBA minutes. Tell Shakur the same thing that Saturday morning and he wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, he didn’t even believe his agent when he told him that he was being called up to the big time that day from the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
This wasn’t Ernie Grunfeld going after the same old stale veterans in a pinch. This was a legitimate prospect yearning for a chance and getting one from a rebuilding team … and the move was certainly not performed as a cursory, ‘We need to meet a roster minimum.’ Rather, it was a ‘Get ready to play kid … Kirk Hinrich is out and there’s no way we can exhaust John Wall with a ton of minutes.’
Shakur was inserted into the lineup at the 4:26 mark of the first quarter, after Wall picked up his second foul and with the Wizards down 24-11. By the time Wall was inserted back into the game at the 9:50 mark of the second quarter, the Wizards had held off Boston domination, keeping their deficit to a manageable 11 points. The Wizards were down 68-62 when Shakur checked in with 2:40 left in the third quarter and by the end of the period, Washington was only down 72-70. Shakur finished the game with five assists, zero turnovers, five points on 2-4 shooting, two rebounds and two blocked shots. His plus/minus of plus-6 was second highest on the team next to Cartier Martin’s plus-8.
“I thought he played great … could have been player of the game,” said Flip Saunders when I asked him about his impressions of Shakur after the 85-83 Washington win. “Here’s a guy coming in, doesn’t really know much of our offense, and [he] made a couple plays for himself … looked like he belonged out there, was comfortable, defended pretty well, and got it to a manageable situation. [...] When you’re down and you’re putting in a guy who just got off the plane, you wonder ‘Where are we going to go with this?’ We simplified things and he made some good plays.”
“Looked like he belonged” in deed. TAI caught up with Shakur before he was set to make his NBA debut, here are his dealings with the media in the aftermath:
A lot of people, myself included, laughed at Shakur’s comically-sewn jersey. I also still occasionally laugh at the word ‘poop’. It might not have been so much over-sized as the name and numbers on the back were too far from the top … but I think Shakur will take the memory of a funny jersey in exchange for the debut he had any day. Nevertheless, a picture: