Mustafa Shakur is in the NBA Development League, but only five months shy of 30, he is not at the developmental stage.
“D” for him stands for determined. He is determined to make yet another successful push in his vagabond pro career.
The D-League on Tuesday named Shakur its player of the month for games played in February. He averaged 20.4 points on 46.2 percent shooting from the field, to go along with 7.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 steals. His 30 steals in February were a league best. He scored in double figures in all 10 games, including five games where he scored at least 20 points.
Shakur (6’3″ and 190) played his last game with Arizona seven long years ago when the Wildcats were defeated by Purdue in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. It was so long ago that it was Lute Olson’s last game as the Wildcats’ head coach.
Starting in the 2007-08 season, Shakur, undrafted by the NBA, toiled overseas in Poland, Spain and Greece before returning to the U.S. in 2009 to play in the D-League at Tulsa.
He finally got a shot in the NBA when he was signed to a 10-day contract on March 14, 2010, but he never played in a game with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Shakur got another chance at the NBA a year later with Washington after playing in the D-League with Rio Grande.
He made his NBA debut Jan. 22, 2011, with the Wizards. His stint in the NBA: 22 games with a total of only 159 minutes played. His scoring total is 51 points.
He returned to France to start the following season and finished in Italy, where he started the 2012-13 season before the D-League came calling again. He finished the season at Erie (Pa.), close to his Philadelphia home. After beginning this season in Erie, he was traded back to the Thunder’s affiliate in Tulsa in October.
Shakur has played 113 games in the D-League spanning four different seasons. He is close to achieving at least 2,000 points, 700 assists and 500 rebounds in his D-League career. He has 2,013 points, 690 assists and 495 rebounds.
Those are impressive yet dubious marks similar to Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh’s home run total as a minor-leaguer in Bull Durham. His cup of coffee in the NBA brings to mind Archie “Moonlight” Graham, another Kevin Costner baseball movie character in Field of Dreams, but at least Shakur has 22 games to his credit whereas Graham did not record an at-bat in one major-league game.
Shakur’s career NBA earnings — $95,120 — has a LaLoosh and Graham theme. Similar to LaLoosh and Graham, you can’t help but pull for Shakur, who is one of the most classy players Olson produced.
A McDonald’s All-American out of high school, Shakur has evolved into one of the D-League’s top players by showing balance in his game and maturity in how he handles Tulsa’s team like a veteran point guard should. One of his teammates is former Arizona player Grant Jerrett, another McDonald’s All-American, who is only 19.
Shakur can teach a kid like Jerrett what it means to have patience and perseverance. Shakur was a five-star recruit out of high school and was ranked higher by Rivals.com than Chris Paul.
Nothing comes easy. Shakur is an example of that, but he has never become consumed by his shortcomings. The game does not owe him anything. He does not behave that way. His leadership qualities have a positive impact with Tulsa. Every time Tulsa breaks a huddle, Shakur leads the 66ers by shouting “Family!”
His belief in himself has taken him this far through the criticism and doubt from others, including those in NBA front offices. His determination defines him, not the 159 minutes he’s played in the NBA.