Shabazz Napier, 6-foot-1 point guard, Connecticut
2013-14 stats: 18.0 pts, 5.9 rebs, 4.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, .429 FG%, .405 3P%, .870 FT%
After beginning his career as the sidekick to current NBA player Kemba Walker on the Huskies’ 2011 title team, Napier ended his college tenure in storybook fashion, starring en route to UConn’s national championship this past spring. While he’ll always be known for his team accomplishments, Napier also made great individual strides during his four years, shoring up his deficiencies and enjoying a dominant senior campaign. But as good as he was as a collegian, Napier’s size is the one thing he can’t change on the next level, somewhat mitigating his perceived ceiling.
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Career highlights: The Boston native was a starter alongside the aforementioned Walker as a freshman, averaging 7.8 points, three assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on the title run and though he wasn’t a featured option, Napier scored double figures on 12 separate occasions and was named to the Big East’s all-rookie team. As a sophomore, Napier posted averages of 13 points and 5.8 assists per game on an underachieving squad, then in a junior year in which Connecticut was banned from the NCAA Tournament, averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds and two steals per game, shooting 44.1 percent from the field, scoring in double figures in all but four contests and earning first team all-conference honors. Napier closed out his career in strong fashion, with per-game averages of 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and two steals per game, leading the team in those categories, while shooting 40.5 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the free-throw line, winning the AAC player of the year and Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, the Bob Cousy award for the nation’s top point guard and a first team All-American honors, with a career-high 34 points to beat Memphis in overtime, a 14-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double against Yale and a game-high 22 points in the National Championship among his best performances.
Strengths: Napier’s toughness, ability to make plays in the clutch and understanding of the game stand out as much as his quickness, playmaking, defensive pressure, versatility and shot-making ability. He proved that he can function as a pass-first point guard, but can play off the ball and create for himself off the dribble just as well, possessing deep range, the ability to operate in pick-and-roll scenarios, a knack for finishing in the lane and a willingness to draw contact, leading to trips to the foul line. Defensively, Napier excels at pressuring opposing ballhandlers, but can also play the passing lanes and has an uncanny gift for rebounding at his size.
Weaknesses: A previously-common opinion about Napier was that he had some selfish tendencies and while that line of thinking has disappeared, he still exhibits some questionable shot selection. Additionally, overdribbling and thus, turnovers can be problematic at times, as he will force the issue on occasion, yielding mixed results. As determined as Napier is to not let his size be an issue on the court, on the next level, with point guards just as quick as he is - but with more size and athleticism - there will be the occasional mismatch, particularly if he’s posted up.
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Draft projection: In the aftermath of his tournament performance and with the setting of pre-draft workouts feeding into his competitive nature, Napier’s stock could be on the rise, making him a viable selection anywhere from the mid-teens to the mid-20s of the draft’s first round. For a team in need of a floor general to come in and play significant minutes, whether as a starter or a change-of-pace backup used in dual-point guard lineups, Napier has a lot of appeal, as all indications are that he should make a fairly seamless transition to the next level, besides not being as much of a focal point of his new team. Napier has the look of a longtime NBA rotation player with the ability to score in low double figures if necessary, but more importantly, the skill set to affect the game on both ends of the floor and from a leadership standpoint.