What Shabazz Napier brings to the Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets drastically changed their roster late Tuesday night as participants in a four-team trade headlined by Clint Capela and Robert Covington. For Denver, the trade return was centered on a 2020 first-round pick received from the Houston Rockets and three players that will be joining the Nuggets from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Over the course of several articles, we will breakdown what each new member of the Nuggets brings to the table and the potential on-court fit of these new additions. Without further ado, let's focus in on what Shabazz Napier brings to Denver.
Background on Napier
Fans will most likely remember Napier from his four-year run at the University of Connecticut where he helped lead the Huskies to two national championships. Following his standout collegiate career, Napier was drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Miami Heat, but has bounced around over the past six seasons. Denver will be the sixth team that Napier will suit up for in his career.
Napier spent the most time with the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver’s division rival, with whom he was able to establish himself as a quality second-unit guard during the 2017-18 season. Following a one-year stint with the Brooklyn Nets in 2018-19, Napier was traded several times over the 2019 offseason before landing with the Timberwolves.
Capable ball-handling and shooting on offense
Napier is a score-first guard. During his final two seasons at UCONN, he averaged at least 17 points per game but under five assists per game. Napier is a solid, if slightly below-average shooter with quick handles, which he uses to find his shot as a primary option.
However, in his increased role with the Timberwolves this season (22 starts and 23.8 minutes per game, both career highs) Napier has upped his playmaking to the tune of 5.2 assists per game (7.9 per-36 minutes) and a 32.1 assist percentage (his previous high before this season was 23.1 percent).
Although Napier will never be confused with the best floor generals across the league (think Chris Paul, James Harden, LeBron James), he has shown solid court vision and the ability to make a variety of passes, from pocket passes to rolling big men to cutters around the basket:
In Denver, Napier will likely almost never be the primary ball-handler when he is on the court, as the Nuggets should have one of Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, Will Barton III or Nikola Jokić on the court alongside him. As a result, there will not be much pressure for the former Husky to initiate offense. Instead, Napier can serve as an off-ball shooter or secondary ball-handler that breaks down the defense if the initial action doesn’t work. That is a role that should fit Napier well, especially considering he is just enough of a threat from deep to make defenses honest.
Of course, if Denver is shorthanded on a given night or needs a little jolt offensively, Napier can bring that with his scoring and dribbling ability. Napier’s shot chart doesn’t fit Denver’s style of offense, but that may be a good thing for the Nuggets. 53 percent of Napier’s shot attempts have come from beyond the arc this season, while just 19 percent of his attempts have come from the mid-range, an area Denver looks to attack from.
Although he is down to 29.6 percent from downtown this season, Napier’s volume and history of being an average 3-point shooter will put pressure on the defense. The veteran guard is attempting 4.4 3-pointers in his 23.8 minutes per game this season, which translates to 6.7 attempts per-36 minutes (for reference, that represents the highest number of per-36 attempts on the Nuggets roster).
Denver has been a below-average 3-point shooting team this season when combining volume and accuracy. An increase in attempts and variance on offense from Napier when he is running with the second unit could make the Nuggets’ offense more difficult to defend.
Quick hands and hustle make up for size on defense
Napier is not a physically overwhelming guard. At 6’0” and 175 Ibs., it will not be his size that thwarts opposing offensive players. However, Napier attempts to overcome those physical limitations with quick hands and effort on defense.
As a result, Napier is averaging 1.7 steals per-36 minutes, the Timberwolves’ defense was better with him on the court this season and his steal percentages have consistently been above-average across the league.
Minnesota’s defense was 2.7 points per 100 possessions better with the 27-year-old on the court this season, mainly in part due to the opponent’s turnover percentage increasing by 2.8 percent when Napier was on the floor (good for the 94th percentile). The former 24th overall pick has posted a 1.9 steal percentage this season, good for the 76th percentile. As seen in the video below, Napier has shown an ability to disrupt pick-and-rolls or strip opposing guards in one-on-one settings:
Another interesting component of Napier’s defensive profile is the fact that his teams have consistently rebounded better on the defensive glass when he has been on the court. For a six-foot guard, Napier is an adept rebounder, averaging 3.1 per game this season and four per-36 minutes across his career. In a smaller role with the Nuggets, Napier should have even more energy to expend on the defensive end, thus disrupting opposing offenses at their points of attack.