Photo / Bruce Ely

ESPN's Zach Lowe 'Likes' Shabazz Napier's 'Disappearing Act'

by Cody Sharrett

In his weekly installment of '10 Things I Like And Don't Like,' ESPN's Zach Lowe shone a spotlight on Trail Blazers guard Shabazz Napier and the career-high numbers he's put up this season since forcing his way into head coach Terry Stotts' rotation. In 39 games this season, the UConn product is averaging 10.1 points on 43% shooting from three-point range. 

Napier, most notably, helped Portland go 5-2 as starting point guard Damian Lillard has battled injuries in recent weeks, leading to more playing time alongside both Lillard and CJ McCollum. 

The biggest improvement in Napier's game has been using his size -- or lack thereof -- to get around defenders and score for himself or setup teammates with highlight-reel passing.

Writes Lowe:

"Like [Charlotte Hornets guard] Kemba Walker, Napier has discovered that his most obvious limitation -- his height -- can be an advantage. He scrunches through double-teams on the pick-and-roll, hunching so low as he skitters through traffic that he almost vanishes...

Napier takes the game down to toddler height, where bigger guys can't reach him -- and he can still scan the floor for teammates.

The craft has translated to his shooting. Napier has hit 63 percent of shots within the restricted area after failing to crack even 46 percent -- hideous for a player of any size -- in any prior season.

Napier's leap has unlocked some fun new lineups for Terry Stotts. The Blazers have outscored opponents by 22 points per 100 possessions in 140 with CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, and Napier on the floor, 30th among almost 1,900 trios who have logged at least 100 minutes together, per (Seven of the 29 above them are combinations of Golden State players.) Napier has been so reliable that Stotts has even (briefly) experimented with letting Napier and Evan Turner run things without either McCollum or Lillard on the floor -- instead of staggering those two stars so that one always plays."

Napier is currently in his second season with the Trail Blazers. After winning two NCAA championships at Connecticut, Napier spent hsi first two NBA seasons split between the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic before joining the Blazers in the summer of 2016.