George de Paula
Shabazz Napier | 2014 NBA Draft Profile
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
UConn | Senior | Forward | 6-foot-1 | 180 lbs
2013-14: 35.1 MPG, 18.0 PPG, .429 FG%, .405 3FG%, 5.9 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.8 SPG
2012-13: 37.3 MPG, 17.1 PPG, .442 FG%, .398 3FG%, 4.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.0 SPG
2011-12: 35.0 MPG, 13.0 PPG, .389 FG%, .355 3FG%, 3.5 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.6 SPG
2010-11: 23.8 MPG, 7.9 PPG, .370 FG%, .326 3FG%, 2.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.6 SPG
Editor’s Note: Throughout June, Timberwolves.com’s Draft coverage presented by Coors Light will profile a series of prospects that could be available at Minnesota’s No. 13 pick, or if they choose to be mobile during the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26. Part XI highlights UConn point guard Shabazz Napier, who won two NCAA titles with the Huskies but really became a household name during the 2014 championship run.
The 2014 NCAA Tournament put UConn point guard Shabazz Napier on the map nationally, and rightfully so. Napier played his most consistent basketball of the season during the Huskies’ tournament run, delivering the program’s fourth national championship in the process.
Napier averaged 21.2 points per game during tournament, and in the process he became known as an incredibly valuable leader. It’s something he was able to learn watching Kemba Walker during UConn’s 2011 championship run, and it’s a quality he’s hoping to show NBA personnel he can bring to a franchise at the next level.
He said his experience at UConn, and this latest run, helped him learn a lot about succeeding on the basketball court.
“It just taught me to be a better leader,” Napier said. “I knew I was a great leader, but at the end of the day things like that teach you how to understand the game better, how to be a better leader. I think if we would’ve lost in the first round, I think I probably wouldn’t know how to deal with certain aspects of the game against Villanova, against Iowa State. Every game teaches you something new. You’ve got to be open to understand that.”
Right now, Napier projects to be a pick during the latter third of the first round. He’s older, which often makes NBA executives ponder the upside potential of a prospect moving forward, but Napier said he hopes to use that as an advantage.
He’s been through a lot at UConn, particularly the lows of being ousted in the first game of the 2012 NCAA tournament and missing the tourney all together in 2013. Then, of course, there were the two championships that book-ended those two difficult outcomes.
It all helped him prepare for the next level, he said. As far as his own game goes, he’s trying to improve his game across the board this offseason.
“I’m not just focused on one thing, I always want to focus on everything—the good things, things I do well and things I don’t do well,” Napier said. “I’m never satisfied with what I have, I want to continue to grow, and that’s just how, you know, I was brought up to be. I think your maturation of the game is helping you stand out amongst a lot of folks, so I want to hopefully get better overall and just adjust to the game quickly because at the end of the day, this is the NBA. Elites play here, and hopefully one day I can call myself elite. But I’ve got to work hard to do that.”
He’s got the belief in himself to make it happen. Now, he’s looking for a team to show their belief in him. He’s hoping his experience and success at the collegiate level will help facilitate that opportunity.
“The one thing I can bring to the table is my experience,” Napier said. “And, you know, with potential, that’s kind of a word to throw around because you never know if you’re good or not. With me, it’s certain that I’m going to bring that to the game—my experience, consistency, stuff like that. You know, I’m always going to try to learn as much as I can.”
During the Huskies’ stretch run, Napier gained prominence nationally for his ability to lead his team and produce under pressure. He’s a gamer, and he’s a proven winner. Napier can make big plays during big moments, and given his experience in two national championship runs and in the Big East/ACC, you know he’s going up against top-notch competition. Napier has proven to be a solid defender in college, though his size/wingspan might be challenged at the next level in that regard. He greatly improved his 3-point shooting over his four seasons at UConn, jumping from 32.6 percent as a freshman to 40.5 percent as a senior. He also became much better at drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line. The biggest jump came from his junior to senior season, when he went from 144 free-throw attempts up to 207 in his senior season. Napier is also very good at finishing in transition, has a nice step-back jumper and can get his teammates involved in the offense very well.
Napier isn’t the biggest point guard in the draft, and his lack of length (6-foot-3 wingspan) might hinder his ability to make a defensive impact at the next level. He can be at times a streaky player on offense, and he’s not always privy to putting up the highest percentage of shots—his 42.9 percent field goal percentage as a senior is a testament to that. He’s also one of the older players in the draft, so his upside at this point will be questioned. Napier also averaged 2.9 turnovers per game during his senior season, which will raise questions about his ability to take care of the basketball.
THEY SAID IT
“At the end of the day, winning gets you whatever you want. It gets you more fans, it gets you everything the team needs. I think it should be No. 1. Certain guys know how to win, certain guys know what to do at certain times. There are guys that understand the game, and my knowledge of the game has come from being in college four years.” — UConn’s Shabazz Napier on importance of a winning culture
WHAT HE CAN BRING TO THE WOLVES
Napier has some of the same characteristics that Kemba Walker had coming out of college in that he’s coming from the same winning program and he was a major part of the team’s on-court leadership. You’ve heard him say he brings a winning culture to a team, and that’s incredibly important. You get the feeling he’ll do anything he can to help his team win. Skills-wise, Napier could be a very nice complementary piece backing up Ricky Rubio. He can also bring a combination of scoring and ball movement, and he was a pretty capable rebounder at the NCAA level. Overall, he’s a gamer whose biggest attribute is his leadership and ability to exude confidence on the court.