Napier Headlines Big Names at Pre-Draft Workout

Ryan Wolf/
by Matt Petersen

After Monday’s pre-draft workout was headlined by potential, Tuesday’s theme was pedigree.

A national champion, two sons of former NBA players and a 20-points-per-game NCAA scorer highlighted the latest group of NBA prospects to work out for Phoenix.

Shabazz Napier, the point guard star of national champion Connecticut, would have garnered enough attention on his own. He was joined by Michigan star forward Glenn Robinson III and Syracuse forward Jerami Grant, sons of former NBA standouts Glenn Robinson and Harvey Grant, respectively.

New Mexico big man Cameron Bairstow (20.4 ppg in 2013-14), Memphis guard Joe Jackson and Saint Joseph’s forward Ronald Roberts Jr. rounded out a group that left an impression of immediate impact.

“It was an older group than [Monday],” McDonough said. “Yesterday we had a lot of freshman. Today we had more seniors. The guys played well. You could see the difference. Yesterday’s group, I think, you saw the potential. In today’s group you saw the production.”

The difference was especially visible in Napier, UConn’s water-bug point guard and NCAA All-American. The 6-1 prospect exhibited his trademark speed and aggressiveness in the Suns’ uptempo workouts.

Even before arriving at Phoenix this week, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough had Napier pegged as a prospect that could pay dividends sooner than later.

“I think having the ball in your hands as much as Shabazz had it in his hands at UConn is invaluable experience.” McDonough said. “We place a value on winning. I think of the guys in the draft, he’s probably one of most ready to come in and make an impact right away.”

Napier’s arrival coincides with a recent trend toward taller point guards. Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams stands at a lofty 6-foot-6.  Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook stands at a now-typical 6-foot-3 .

Meanwhile the point guard position is also the deepest in the league. Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Memphis’ Mike Conley Jr. did not make the All-Star team last season despite career years that many felt merited the honor.

Napier, however, was adamant that his focus remains on the factors he can control – namely, himself.

“I can’t worry about that,” he said. “I’m just going to worry about myself. At the end of the day, I don’t compete against anybody but myself. I’m trying to prove what I can do and get better at things I don’t do well…at the end of the day, I have to improve.”

Robinson Digs Phoenix, Vice Versa

Run-and-gun has always been deemed a player-friendly offense, but Glenn Robinson III was openly effusive about his affinity for the Suns’ brand of basketball.

“I love the style of play of Phoenix,” he said. “We got up and down, ran the floor, got some shots up, so I thought it went well.”

The appreciation is mutual for the 6-7 forward out of Michigan. The appeal is centered around the complete skill set he offers, one that McDonough feels may be undervalued by simply looking at the box score.

Despite hitting just over 30 percent from three last season, the Suns’ general manager feels Robinson’s shot is already an asset.

“His stroke looks good,” McDonough said. “He’s a guy that when you watch him shoot, even from the NBA line, you look at his percentages  you’re a little surprised – at least I was a little surprised – that they were as low as they were. I think that’s a matter of time and repetition with him.”

“He’s got, physically, what you’re looking for in terms of size, length, athleticism,” McDonough added. “He’s a high-character kid from all the information we gathered and our interactions from him. once he gets that shooting, he’ll be a pretty complete player.”

Bairstow Impresses, Grant “Freakish”

The University of New Mexico doesn’t get the same exposure as some of the more notable programs, but that didn’t prevent McDonough’s staff from keeping tabs on Lobos big man Cameron Bairstow.

The 6-10 senior blossomed in his senior season, more than doubling his scoring thanks to off-the-charts efficiency (55.6 percent) from the field.

“He stood out in the workout,” McDonough said. “He was a guy who got better every year, especially this year. I saw big improvement from him at New Mexico. Just his knowledge of the game and his physicality, I think, stood out. he set good screens. He knows when to duck in and seal his guy when he gets him up behind him around the basket. He just knows how to play. He’s kind of got that Aussie toughness, too. Those guys are pretty tough dudes.”

Jerami Grant took a more aerial approach to his workout. The 6-8 forward was one of the main beneficiaries of the up-and-down nature of Tuesday’s scrimmages, playing wide-and-high receiver for the point guards.

“His length and athleticism are pretty freakish,” McDonough admitted. “He had some really impressive finishes over the top, today, and made a few athletic plays that no many guys can make, especially at that age.”