Photo / Bruce Ely

Napier Could Prove to Be Another Steal for Blazers

by Cody Sharrett

The signings of free agents Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli earned the lion's share of the headlines around Rip City this offseason, but the addition of point guard Shabazz Napier from the Orlando Magic for cash considerations could prove to be another coup for the Portland Trail Blazers.

In his preseason debut, a 98-89 Trail Blazers win over the Utah Jazz Monday night, Napier showed fans a glimpse of the talent fellow guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have praised throughout training camp. The former UConn Husky and two-time NCAA champion scored 11 points, shooting 4-of-6 from the field -- including 2-of-3 from three-point range -- in just under 17 minutes of work. 

"I’ve been impressed with him in training camp and in September," head coach Terry Stotts said of the former first-round draft pick. "I think he’s a quality guard. He shoots the ball a little bit better than maybe I expected. He’s a smart player, he’s tough. I’ve been very impressed with his defense throughout September. I think you saw [at Fan Fest] and tonight, he can get a shot. He’s a good player."

Napier entered Monday's contest in the second quarter playing alongside Lillard, assuming ballhandling duties in the Blazer offense. Right away, Napier's ability to create and attack the basket was evident. 

"I think what I like about [the Blazers’ offense] is that I can be aggressive," Napier said after the win. "Coach tells me to be aggressive and be who I am. That’s basically what you wanna hear from a coach."

Napier's teammates have immediately taken to his assertive nature on the floor.

"I like his aggressiveness; he's a dog," McCollum praised his new teammate. "Defensively, he'll attack you. Offensively, he'll attack you. In pick-and-rolls, he's smart. He's a good passer. He's just got that winning pedigree coming from UConn. I like his personality, his work ethic and his approach to the game."

Like his teammates, fans even noticed Napier's effort at both ends of the floor, never seemingly to go anything but full-throttle in Monday's game. While Napier shrugged off the fans' observations, he said there's more of that effort to come as he becomes more familiar with his new teammates and offense.

"I didn’t think I was [fast]," he laughed. "I actually think I was kinda a little slow. I think with this team, that’s kinda the flow they want. I’m kinda suited for that. I’m able to get in the right spots and fortunate to make shots. I’ve just got a group of guys who are able to run, so it’s easier for them. I just try to my best to be the best guard I can be out there."

On a team that features two of the top guards in the NBA in Lillard and McCollum, as well as another talented ballhandler and passer in Turner, playing time is likely hard to come by for a young point guard like Napier. With performances like Monday night, Napier's 'grind' will make it hard for Stotts not to find the 25-year-old some minutes when the regular season rolls in. 

"Just grind; I’m in a great opportunity with Dame and CJ, just learning from them and watching them — competing against them," Napier said of the competion for minutes.

"It’s a great opportunity. I just wanna continue to compete."

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