Shabazz Napier was probably the best point guard in college basketball this year.
The senior played his best ball when it mattered most and led the UConn Huskies to the NCAA title. LeBron James watched the NCAA Tournament and said Napier should be the first point guard off the board.
NBA talent evaluators saw his tournament play… and still have him pegged as a second round draft pick.
The first two point guards off the board will be Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Australia’s Dante Exum (the order depends on who you talk to, although most have Exum a little higher). After him comes Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis in the teens. Then late in the first round/early second Louisiana Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. Then we get into the second round and a host of guys such as Deonte Burton of Nevada, Vasilije Micic of Serbia, Jahil Carson of Arizona State, and Jordan Clarkson of Missouri.
Napier, even with his two NCAA rings, is in the mix with that last mentioned group of second rounders. Maybe behind most of them.
Coaches will love Napier’s maturity, but general managers are looking for potential, the guy who will be the best point guard three years from now. By then Smart and Ennis will more mature and their more impressive physical skills give them a much hither ceiling. Napier is a senior, age 23, and he is farther along his development curve (what you see is basically what you get). Teams love Napier’s ability to create offense and his feel for the game as he does it. If he played baseball you’d call him a crafty lefty (even though he’s not a lefty), a player who gets by on creativity as much or more than athleticism. He’s a guy you can draft and play right away.
But he is not athletic for the NBA level, not explosive, and some of his crafty moves will not work against longer, faster players. Also, his decision making is not consistent.
PBT’s NBA Draft Expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld has been working on his detailed breakdown of Napier’s game. He also sent PBT these comments.
“Napier’s play through the NCAA Tournament was impressive, though it put a big spotlight on both the good and bad of his game. He has great speed and is a tremendous ballhandler, and he uses both well to either get into the lane or create space for his jumper. He has the ability to create shots when you don’t think he has a chance, and he is also a consistent perimeter shooter (though that leg kick and fadeaway drives me nuts). Napier is an excellent defender, on and off the ball, and though he may not always get a lot of steals, he disrupts the flow of the offense.
“Napier’s biggest issues are with finishing around the basket, where his lack of size and strength force him to take some pretty wild shots, and his tendency to try and force bad passes. He will often look to make the spectacular play, with mixed results.
“It was a great tournament run, but I expect his draft value remains around the early second round.”
The second round means no guaranteed contract. Because he can play now he likely makes the NBA roster of whoever drafts him, but it’s going to be a fight to stick long term for him.