Shabazz Napier finished out his impressive four-year career at UConn in spectacular fashion, winning his second NCAA championship over the preseason favorite Kentucky Wildcats. The point guard’s impeccable shooting and must-win mentality propelled the seventh-seeded Huskies to four consecutive upsets en route to their title matchup in Texas. Although generally considered a second-round pick prior to the Big Dance, his outstanding tourney performance now has Napier being discussed as a potential first-rounder.
During his senior season, Napier averaged 18.0 points on 42.9% shooting while dishing out 4.9 assists per contest. His ability to shift gears and move quickly with the ball allowed him to find ways around defenders in college, even without explosive athleticism. Napier’s biggest asset during his time in the NCAA was his top-notch scoring ability from all over the floor; he drained 46.5% of shots beyond the arc throughout his most recent tournament play and was noted for several clutch shots that ended up being the deciding factor in games.
A player profile from Jacob Stallard of NBADraft.net notes how Napier was criticized during his freshman and sophomore seasons for so-so shot selection and a penchant for taking contested jumpers rather than finding open teammates. He was able to improve his decision making abilities during his last two years and become a better distributor. He’ll likely need to further develop this portion of his game since he won’t be able to drive to the basket quite so easily once he reaches the NBA, and finding the open man is perhaps the most valuable skill an undersized point guard can possess.
His defense proved to be adequate in college, where he was able to nab 1.8 steals per game over the course of his four-year career. There are obvious concerns that his diminutive 6’1″ height and 6’2″ wingspan will limit his ability to defend at the next level, and it’s tough to argue that his small stature and less-than-stellar speed won’t make it difficult to guard bigger, more athletic NBA competition on a nightly basis. Still, shorter players, like Chris Paul, have been able to find ways to excel on defense despite height disadvantages. Napier will need to work to figure out how to succeed on defense without great size if he wants to see major minutes.
Seniors have been selected less frequently than collegians from any other class, as Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors recently detailed, likely due in large part to the perception that their potential for development is limited. Napier is actually older than plenty of NBA players, including the likes of All-Stars such as Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis, but Napier’s age and experience in this season’s tournament could actually stand to benefit his stock for teams seeking a player who can contribute minutes in his first year. The latest mock draft from Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress sees Napier being taken 28th overall, while NBADraft.net‘s newest mock has Napier going 12th.
It’s an understatement to say there’s disparity regarding Napier’s projected draft stock. There are reports that say he’s still a second-round pick, while his tournament play has over-inflated his draft projection in some circles. Still others peg him as a true first-rounder capable of making an impact wherever he goes. The team that selects him will land a player with terrific scoring instincts and a knack for excelling in big time situations, but they’ll also need to recognize the limitations his age and physical tools will have on his overall game.