While I’ve stated that I generally don’t like comparing prospects to existing or former NBA players, it’s hard not to compare Shabazz Napier to former teammate, Kemba Walker. Both were undersized ball-dominant point guards who lead their unheralded team to the NCAA Championship. Both were shoot first point guards who sometimes displayed questionable shot selection, and neither one was looking like much of an NBA prospect after their first two years at Connecticut. And, of course, both won the Final Four MVP while winning the NCAA Championship in their final year in college1.
While Walker was a lottery lock, in the draft, and eventually went 9th to Charlotte, Napier isn’t guaranteed to even hear his name called in the first round. That’s not only a sign of Napier’s weaknesses, but also how much better this year’s draft is than the 2011 draft.
Napier certainly has talent. Despite an incredibly odd looking jumpshot that sees him almost fadeaway, kicking his right leg out and leaning back on the release, on every single shot, he shot more than 40% from the three point line, many of those shots coming with a high degree of difficulty. He’s not just a jump shooter, though, as he displayed an ability to pull up and hit, both on the drive and off the pick and roll.
He also showed he could beat his man off the dribble and get to the hoop, although sometimes struggling to finish inside.
And while he’s not a pure point guard, he’s a good passer who sees the court well.
While Napier might be one of the most recognizable names in the NBA draft, partly due to his success but also the fact he’s a four year senior, an anomaly in the NBA for NBA prospects (DraftExpress currently predicts only three seniors being taken in the first round), there are many questions about whether his college success can translate to NBA success.
He doesn’t have great height for the point guard position but he’s got decent length that compares with many other successful point guards in the league (Walker, Chris Paul, Ty Lawson). Like his former teammate, though, it’s unclear how well Napier will be able to defend on the next level. He wasn’t a great defender in college, struggling to contain some of the more speedy point guards, which makes you think he’ll have worse problems on the next level.
And he doesn’t have Walker’s strength or Lawson or Paul’s blinding speed.
His lack of height and athleticism (he’s a better than average athlete, but not exceptional enough to make up for his lack of height) also hurts Napier when he drives the ball, because he struggles finishing over much taller players. In fact, that could be why he has such an odd shooting form, since the form creates space between him and the defender.
His decision making is also questionable, which is troubling for a point guard. He falls in love with his jumpshot and forces far too many bad shots, although he did make strides in that department this past season. And while Napier definitely found team success this year, when he had more talented teammates (Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb) he not only couldn’t help Connecticut win, but also make those talented teammates look better. In fact, Drummond’s relatively low draft position was in part due to Napier being unable to get him involved.
The biggest question surrounding Napier might be whether he has the ability to be a role player, in the NBA. He really only found success in the NCAA when he was allowed to dominate the ball, but he’s simply not talented enough to be able to do that on a good team in the NBA. His likely future would be a Patty Mills type role, coming off the bench and providing instant offense. Whether he will be able to settle into that role is what teams should wonder. One of the biggest obstacles players have coming into the league is figuring out what their role is. For many players who were stars in college, they can’t get past the fact that they simply aren’t good enough to be anything more than a role player in the NBA and adjust accordingly.
Derek Fisher was a major contributor on five Championship teams not because he was an All NBA player, but because he was smart enough to understand what he was good at and what he wasn’t good at. And he never tried to be more than he was. That’s an unheralded skill in the NBA, and often the difference between a player with a long career and a player who should have enough talent to stick in the league, but ends up playing overseas.
While the Raptors should be looking at point guards in the draft, due to them not having any signed beyond this month, I’m not sure if Napier would be a good choice. He’s got talent, and his outside shot would definitely be helpful on this team, having a backcourt of Napier and DeMar DeRozan will have opposing backcourts circling Raptors’ games on their calendar, knowing they’ll probably have big scoring nights.
He could be a very nice backup point guard, though, should Lowry return.