What to make of UConn’s latest electrifying point guard.
It wasn’t long ago the UConn Huskies were carried to their third National Championship by the enamoring play of a young, undersized guard with a mean step-back jumper. Fast-forward four years and it almost seems like we just got done watching the same movie. Just weeks ago, the Huskies cut down the nets for the fourth time, and a lot of the credit for that belongs to a fearless guard with brilliant playmaking ability, and he goes by the name of Shabazz Napier.
It’s almost as if Napier served in an apprenticeship to Kemba Walker during his early days at UConn, because the two are eerily similar. Napier is super competitive; the kid is simply a gamer and actually raises his game as the competition rises. A lot of people view Napier as just a scoring point guard who struggles to distribute, but there is more to his game. As a senior, Napier became less concerned with scoring and more concerned with facilitating. Despite being the best player on his team by a rather large margin, Napier was still able to shell out five assists per contest; good for third in the AAC.
Still, scoring is still Napier’s true forte. While he’s super dangerous with the ball in his hands, Napier is deadly off the ball in catch-and-shoot situations and when he’s on the move coming off of screens. With that said, most of Napier’s offense will still come from situations when he has the ball in his hands. The Bostonian is a natural when it comes to handling the ball, and his pull-up jumper off the dribble is the most dangerous asset in his arsenal. During his senior season, Napier shot 43 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent on three-point attempts (he attempted 5.2 three-point field goals per game). Napier finished third in the AAC with 18 points per game, and ranked first in the AAC in points produced with 745 (sixth in the NCAA), first in offensive win shares with 4.9 (eighth in NCAA), and his offensive rating of 118.9 ranked fifth.
Defensively, Napier excels in on-ball situations, but due to limited size, length and athleticism, his potential on this end could be the cause for some concern. At best, Napier will probably be an average defender, and while he will never be liability on this end it will never be a strength of his either. Napier’s defensive rating of 94.9 ranked ninth in the AAC, and his 3.1 defensive win shares were second best in the AAC and ninth best in the NCAA.
While his decision-making is improving, it still needs some work; Napier’s 114 turnovers were most in the AAC. Part of this was Napier almost never came out of the game and his team’s offense was almost always ran through him, but it’s still a bit of a red flag. Also worth noting is his lack of size; it would be generous for Napier to be labeled at 6’1”. He’s probably closer to 6’0.5” or so with shoes. However for a point guard, I wouldn’t be too concerned; Kemba Walker, Ty Lawson, Isaiah Thomas, etc. were all considered undersized coming out of college, yet they’re still effective starters.
Thanks to Napier’s brilliance in March, he should be selected in the first round after being viewed as a mid-second round pick for most of the season. This season, Napier played 1,404 minutes which was most in the AAC and in the NCAA. This guy simply doesn’t fatigue; if anything, he does the exact opposite. Napier’s play elevates as the game wears on. Also, Napier had 7.9 total win shares which were first in the AAC and NCAA.
NBA Player Comparison: Kemba Walker