Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
The University of Connecticut's romp through the March Madness tournament as the number 7 seed is still one of the year's better sports narratives, and point guard Shabazz Napier was at the head of it. When the Huskies won the National Championship Game, Napier won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
That's in the past now, and Napier is taking his talents to the NBA after four seasons with UConn. He's projected to go right around where the Memphis Grizzlies pick at 22, and with all the accolades attached to his name already, you can bet teams will do their due diligence on him.
At the very core of Napier's game is his shooting ability. There are two things that are obvious from watching Napier shoot. One of those things is that his shooting form is strange, with an unusual leg kick that makes every shot look like a fadeaway or a drifting shot. The other thing you notice is that he makes most of them anyway.
Napier shot 40.5% from three last season, and proved capable of creating his own shot in one-on-one situations. He was confident pulling up for jumpers and shooting over defenders, also showing a collection of nimble isolations moves including in-and-out crossovers and stepbacks. At 6'1", Napier isn't the tallest guy and he doesn't have tremendous speed either, but he's comfortable with the ball in his hands and that goes a long way. Last season, Napier averaged 18.0 points per game on a 59.1% True Shooting Percentage as UConn's go-to guy.
The pick-and-roll is likely going to be a staple of Napier's offense wherever he goes in the NBA. His ability to knock down pull-up jumpers will force defenses to respect him on the perimeter, in turn opening up the paint for the roll man. Napier isn't an outstanding passer, but it's an area of his game that he's improved in even while taking on greater scoring responsiblities. He generally makes good passes out of the pick-and-roll, whether it's directly to the roll man or recognizing a collapsing help defender leaving open a perimeter shooter (the exact same read that the San Antonio Spurs abused against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals).
Interviews from the Grizzlies Pre-Draft Workouts
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But after his amazing shooting ability and some respectable passing skill, Napier's ability to hold down a non-dominant role comes into question when what little else he offers comes into play. He isn't outstandingly athletic, long or fast, and it shows up as a weakness in just about every aspect of his game – even on offense where Napier makes his name.
He has the ball-handling acumen to sneak to the rim, but Napier is a terrible finisher. Even a defender recovering for a chasedown-type contest could stop him because of his short stature and relatively limited hops. That in turn can interfere with Napier's attempts to do what he does best – make jumpers – as defenses can focus more on limiting that instead of worrying about his dribble penetration. A pick-and-roll defender could go over the screen and flush Napier into the paint from behind, where he simply isn't enough of a threat to finish.
Defensively, Napier has good hands, forcing 1.8 steals per game last season as a Patty Mills-esque pesk. With that said, he's terrible at staying in front of his man. His lateral strides accomplish practically nothing, and it can take a single dribble for his defender to blow by him. He's the kind of player that will have to be hidden on a spot-up type shooting guard on defense.
Napier is nearly one-dimensional as a player. Again, he's a solid playmaker and there can be a niche defensively for pesky (if also easy to shake) guys like him. But teams that draft him will draft him for his shooting and shot-making ability more than anything else.
Still, there could be a fit with the Grizzlies. Nobody knows what could happen with Nick Calathes, who's being courted by multiple European teams and will still be suspended for the first 13 games of next season because of the Tamoxifen incident. If the Grizzlies like Napier, they could pull the trigger on him to be safe. Calathes is a significantly better defender and we know about the exploitability of playing even one bad defender (hi, Mike Miller), but Napier is a significantly better shooter and we also know about the exploitability of not having enough shooters on the team.
Napier is one of this year's oldest eligible draftees, but even though the Grizzlies are without much in the way of youth to develop, they may just load up with the NBA ready guy and make a hard run at rejoining the West's elite tier. It's not a bad idea, and Napier represents a pretty good option if the team wants to go down that path.