While fielding questions in Las Vegas at NBA Summer League, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks offered that point guard depth can be “handy.” It wasn’t something he was taking for granted after seeing the way injuries had affected the Nets at the position over the last two seasons.
So after trading Jeremy Lin and Isaiah Whitehead last Thursday, Marks moved quickly over the weekend to shore up the position with free agent Shabazz Napier, who officially signed with the team on Tuesday.
“He’s coming off a really good year,” said Marks at HSS Training Center on Tuesday. “Played extremely well. You can see what happened in the past where having depth at that position is something that we need. At any time where you’re able to add talent and add talent through depth as well, that’s something that will help us long-term.”
“I had a great conversation with Sean as well as (coach) Kenny (Atkinson), and I just felt like this was the place I was meant to be,” said Napier. “It’s a great group of guys here, making great steps to better themselves. I felt like this was just the perfect place for me.”
Napier, a first-round draft pick in 2014, signed with the Nets after two seasons in Portland. He previously played a year each in Miami and Orlando.
Napier is coming off a strong season in which he played a career-high 74 games in a backcourt fronted by stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. He also averaged a career-high 8.7 points, 2.0 assists and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range.
It was a breakthrough for Napier after he saw limited minutes the previous two seasons.
“A lot of people were excited by what I did last year,” said Napier. “To be honest with you, I didn’t think I did anything too special. I felt like I did fill a void that was needed, playing with Dame and C.J. and the rest of the guys, being able to play off the ball, being able to play defense. But I know for sure there’s more I can bring to the table. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the years to come. Like I said earlier, I think this is the perfect spot for me to continue to grow with a young core and with a great coaching staff. I think this is the perfect scenario for me to be in.”
A two-time NCAA champion at UConn – including his senior year when he was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, First Team All-American and Final Four Most Outstanding Player – Napier is excited to come back to the East Coast, having grown up in Massachusetts.
He’ll find two of his former Portland teammates here as well. The Nets have reached an agreement with free agent big man Ed Davis, while Allen Crabbe was acquired from the Trail Blazers last summer. Napier checked in with both and received positive recommendations about the Nets facilities and family atmosphere.
Napier also likes what he sees in Brooklyn, calling the Nets a team “on the rise” with a system he believes fits his skills.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I chose here,” said Napier. “I felt like that was part of my game, positionless basketball, going up and down, getting the ball moving fast, being able to run to the corners and have somebody else handle the ball. I don’t need to be on the ball. I proved that when I was in Portland. I think that’s the reason why Kenny and I came to terms understanding this was a great fit for me.”
In Brooklyn he’ll be fitting into a backcourt that has two point guards in D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who combined to start 93 games last season. There’s also Caris LeVert, who stepped in to back up Dinwiddie when Russell was sidelined and showed a growing game as a playmaker, averaging 4.2 assists, third on the team behind Dinwiddie (6.0) and Russell (5.2).
“That’s something I’m going to figure out when training camp starts,” said Napier. “Right now, I’ll just continue to be who I am and come into training camp with an attitude of competing at the end of the day. Once the ball is in the air, we’re going to figure that out. I’m here to help guys. I’m not here to be a bear on anybody. I’m excited for it, and I’m excited to play with them.”
Napier is a bit of an outlier for Brooklyn in one regard. The Nets have filled their lineup with big, rangy guards under Marks and Atkinson. LeVert is 6-foot-7. Dinwiddie, Crabbe and Joe Harris are 6-6. Russell is 6-5.
Napier is 6-1, but Marks downplayed the difference.
“Look, if we could put Shabazz on a rack, stretch him out there and add a couple inches, that’d be terrific and he probably wants that, too,” said Marks. “But at the same time, he’s a heck of a talent. And to be able to add that talent into our gym and again have these guys go out there and compete, I mean, we’ve seen guys play together, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a combination of these guys playing together.”