Issac Baldizon

Offense On-Demand

The Specific Fit of Shabazz Napier
by Couper Moorhead

Shabazz Napier is a remarkable player.

If all you did was watch random segments of Napier’s game film over his four years at the University of Connecticut, you would notice a ton of jumpers off the dribble. Almost half of his long-distance attempts last year, in fact, came off the bounce. For those of you who swear by the Code of Efficiency, each of those jumpers would raise another red flag. How can a team be successful, much less win multiple National Championships, while depending on so many shots that shrug in the face of efficiency?

Napier, somehow, was as efficient as they come. As he shouldered more and more of the offensive load during his career, his true-shooting percentage spiked – topping .590 over his past two seasons. We can’t make direct 1:1 comparisons between college and the professional level, but for comparison’s sake that .590 mark would have been among the Top 20 in the league this season. At the very least, it’s a good starting point.

There’s more to Napier than jumpers, of course. He’s incredibly quick, has a tight, confident handle on the ball – a combination that means he can get a shot off just about whenever he wants – and, most importantly for Miami’s purposes, is an experienced and adept pick-and-roll manager.

It’s not just that Napier ran a ton of pick-and-rolls at Connecticut; he also knew what to do with them. He attacks space when it’s there, keeps his dribble alive against traps, takes the jumper when the defense hangs back and has every pass in the book. Pocket passes. Behind-the-back. Lobs on the move. He's not just a user in the pick-and-roll. He's a creator.

“There’s a shiftiness, a cleverness to the way Shabazz attacks the paint and pick-and-rolls in particular,”Spoelstra said. “ It’s tough to get a read on him just in terms of where he’s going, when he’s going and how he’s doing it. I’m sure he’s worked on that quite a bit, but that’s also a lot God-given to have that kind of balance and rhythm that you don’t typically see.”

It won’t all be sunshine and roses during Napier’s rookie season. It never is for a first-year player. Those off-dribble jumpers are going to come against taller, longer and quicker players than Napier has regularly faced before. He’ll have to develop a floater to finish over the trees in the middle of the floor, and he’ll also have to become more comfortable as a spot-up shooter than Connecticut ever needed him to be.

And that works for the HEAT. Efficiency can be a relative term. Corner threes and dunks are wonderful when you can get them, but sometimes the greatest gains don’t require perfection.

If there was one segment of the game where Miami could use an offensive boost, it was the first six minutes of the second quarter. With players shifting in and out of the starting lineup, depending on who was in uniform, the one stretch of the game guaranteed, based on Spoelstra’s rotations, to feature a bench lineup suffered the most.

Presumably, that’s where Napier and his pick-and-roll running, shot-creating game will get the most consistent opportunity.

Napier doesn’t have to be the most efficient point-guard in the league to help the HEAT this season. He just has to help them be a little better during the stretch that has historically left the team struggling to score. Given his ability to create in the pick-and-roll, that’s a reasonable expectation for the four-year guard.

On the other end of the floor, Napier is a more effective defender than his 6-foot-1 stature may indicate. While he’ll certainly have difficulty in the post at first against some of the league’s bigger players, Napier is a highly competitive, quick-handed on-ball defender who appears to take pride in keeping his opposition in front of him. Despite playing by far the most minutes on his team, only 15 percent of opponent isolations came against Napier. Ballhandlers, it seems, didn’t enjoy the idea of going right at him.

“To be able to set the tone for your defense [is important],” Spoelstra said. “[UConn’s] system, I loved watching it. I really did. Pick up full-court, 94-feet, get after you, make you feel the pressure. That’s familiar to us.”

Who Napier becomes over the next few years will decide how his NBA career plays out, but that’s a question for tomorrow. Today, he has both the skillset and the attitude to help the HEAT on the HEAT’s terms.