RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Shabazz NapierPosted by Bennet Hayes on June 11th, 2014
The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.
Player Name: Shabazz Napier
Height/Weight: 5’11”/175 lbs.
NBA Position: Point Guard
Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round
Overview: Shabazz Napier’s inspired NCAA Tournament performance not only netted UConn its third National Championship in 11 seasons, but it also supplied his draft stock with an explosive surge. The Boston native was likely a mid-to-late second round pick if you asked scouts about him before the NCAA Tournament, but after averaging 21.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.5 APG on college basketball’s biggest stage, Napier is now a safe bet to be drafted in the first round. The college senior turned first rounder is a rare breed in today’s day and age, but the UConn faithful can tell you that the enigmatic Napier has always been one to shirk convention. The “confident” swagger that propelled Napier to stardom this March wasn’t always perceived as such; as an underclassman, he was seen as brash and erratic, a petulant youngster who struggled when shots didn’t drop or passes missed teammates. He outran that reputation under Kevin Ollie, but that doesn’t mean NBA teams won’t fear a regression to his less mature days. If he avoids such a step back and maintains his spectacular 2013-14 form, one NBA team will have added a gifted floor general to their roster. When it comes to competitiveness and confidence, few players have more of it – in this draft or any other – than Mr. Napier.
Will Translate to the NBA: Bazzy can handle the rock. With apologies to Jahii Carson, no lead guard in this draft class is craftier with the dribble than Napier. Despite modest size and limited athletic gifts, Napier always finds a way to get to where he needs to go on the floor. He constantly makes defenses work with ball fakes and misdirected eye movement – a puppet master in full control of his strings. Even more dangerously for opponents, he shoots the ball extremely well off the dribble, so leave him space at your own peril. His mental toughness and athletic ability will be tested at the next level, but Napier will still be in complete control whenever he’s doing what he does best: handling the basketball.
Needs Work: Poor decision-making and a perceived lack of maturity dogged Napier throughout his first three seasons in Storrs, and while he made major leaps in both areas during a coming-of-age senior campaign, each are concerns entering this year’s NBA Draft. Throughout his college career, Napier’s superior ball-handling (and later, shot-making) abilities seemed to tease him, as he was prone to either forcing near-impossible passes in traffic or pulling up for the challenged “heat-check” variety of jump shot. His senior season showcased an amelioration of these tendencies, but NBA GMs have to wonder whether Napier will be able to submit to the role of a heady, pass-first point guard in the league. Kevin Ollie converted the Boston native into a rock-solid leader at the college level, but will the celebration of UConn’s title run actually serve to undo some of the humility and wisdom Napier displayed in March and April? It’s far from implausible that Napier turns out to be a humble, team-first young professional, but before we bear witness to it, there’s real reason for doubt.
Best Case Scenario: Like Trey Burke a year ago, scouts wonder how high the ceiling can be for an undersized point guard with average (at best) athleticism. Napier certainly has the competitive spirit needed to tap into all of his potential, but where exactly would that leave him? Both his ball-handling and shot-making have a chance at becoming elite (even by NBA standards), and he developed into a pretty great defender at the college level – both on-the-ball and in passing lanes. His dominant six-game stretch of NCAA Tournament basketball has me wanting to reach on this one, but I’ll stay realistically optimistic in believing Napier ceiling is that of an above-average NBA starting point guard who could make an All-Star game. Anything beyond that is truly hopeful, but then again, who before this March really believed Napier would morph into college basketball’s most dynamic player?
Best NBA Fit: Few see Napier as a lead guard who will step in and start immediately this winter, so teams in need of a backup point guard — preferably ones with solid veteran leadership already in place — will emerge as prime landing spots for the UConn grad. Toronto lacks said veterans, but the Raptors (selecting at #20) do have a talented, fiery point guard in Kyle Lowry from whom Napier can learn, and down the road, potentially supplant. Elsewhere, the Oklahoma City Thunder (drafting at #22 and #29) and the Miami Heat (#26) are veteran-laden teams in need of help at the point guard position. If Reggie Jackson slides into the Thunder starting lineup next year, there will be a hole in the depth chart behind Russell Westbrook, while the Heat are still seeking consistent point guard play from their Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole platoon.
Scout’s Take (from NBADraft.net): “Napier is a gamer. He has a knack for making big plays and raising his game against great opponents… Great at “shifting gears” with the ball in his hands. He can blow by the average college defender with ease… Fearless. Confident. Plays with a swagger, truly believes in himself… Very good shooter coming off screens Can be a bit of a ball-dominator at times. Does a lot of dribbling…Does not have great athleticism or length (6’1″ with a 6’3″ wingspan)…This will limit his defensive ability at the next level.”
NBA Comparison: Jameer Nelson/Trey Burke
In 140 Characters Or Less, The Case For Napier: