Weight: 180 pounds
Position: Point Guard
NBA Comparison: Mike Bibby/Kemba Walker
Four years in college for a Division 1 basketball player is incredibly rare, but UConn’s Shabazz Napier did it. What is even more rare is he managed to win not one, but two NCAA National titles along the way. He led this year’s Huskies squad on one of the most improbable runs in recent history, culminating in a win over an eighth-seeded Kentucky team. Napier gained a lot of respect and attention during the run, even from players as notable as LeBron James. He does have his skeptics, however, who doubt how his game will translate to the NBA. I’ll take a look into his pros, cons and where he’ll likely go in the 2014 NBA Draft.
It was on basketball’s biggest stage (the 2014 NCAA Tournament) in which Napier’s game-changing abilities were on full display. He is a very potent scorer; one who can create his shot and is very quick. His style of play allows him to get to the basket and draw fouls. Napier shot 87% from the free-throw line, averaging six attempts per game. While the four-year Husky enjoys attacking the basket, he can also be a threat from deep (40%). Each season his three-point shot improved (32%, 35%, 39% in is first three campaigns). He can finish well in transition and shoots well coming off screens. Napier has that “it” factor of wanting the ball in his hands at crucial moments of the game and hitting the big shot or making a superb pass when needed. You cannot teach that decision making and assertiveness. The intangible skills Napier possesses are due in large part to his seasoning after four years. The experience proved invaluable and a big reason why UConn won its second title in four years. His style of play is similar to that of former UConn championship point guard Kemba Walker. While Walker plays similarly, Napier has a more polished all-around game and can be effective if given the chance.
Napier’s game isn’t just limited to scoring. He can dish it (4.9 apg), and crashes the boards incredibly well for a point guard with 5.9 rebounds per game. He’s a terror on defense, too with 1.8 steals per game.
If his regular season was considered a success and made him draft-worthy, it was Napier’s tournament run which saw him go from a certain second-rounder to a first-round lock. His scoring jumped to 21.1 ppg, due in part to his 46.5% from deep and superb 94% from the charity stripe. On defense, he went from 1.8 steals per game to an incredible 2.5 in those six games. His stepback jumper went from threatening in the regular season to absolutely deadly in the tournament. He made shots thought impossible and willed the Huskies to win each game, capping it off with a 22 point (4-9 from three point land), 6 rebound, 3 assist game against Kentucky.
The glaring weakness of Napier is his size. He stand 6’1 and at best, 180 pounds. He lacks any sort of imposing wingspan (6’3″) and is not known to have the most athleticism. This may hinder him trying to defend taller point guards in today’s NBA. At times, Napier can hold on to the ball too long and dribble too much. His shot leaves much to be desired (43% from the field). During his time at UConn, he was known to shoot questionable shots at times. While it not be a big deal to most, Napier will turn 23 soon after the draft. The younger options of Dante Exum (18), Tyler Ennis (19) and Marcus Smart (20) will be looked at before Napier likely. All three are looked at as the top three prospects. while Napier is thought to be 4th best by most.
Exum looks to be the shoe-in as the best point guard while most see Tyler Ennis as second best. I, however, think that Napier’s knack for being a cold-blooded killer in crunch time is what elevates his game over Ennis’. I have Ennis in the 15-17 range based off what teams are thinking, not I. While I could easily see Napier in that spot, it is more likely he gets drafted somewhere in the twenties- somewhere between 22-26. Some may see him as a potential backup point-guard, but I see Napier as an effective player and will make an impact almost instantly as a rookie. Wherever he goes after the lottery teams, I believe Napier as a steal for any team in need of a floor general.
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