Shabazz Napier Forcing Way into Miami Heat Point Guard Conversation

Shabazz Napier once seemed like another reason for LeBron James to remain with the Miami Heat.

No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier,” King James tweeted in April.

Team president Pat Riley denied that James actively had anything to do with the organization’s decision to acquire Napier (by trade on draft night), telling reporters, “The point is, if LeBron and I have the same taste in talent, so be it.”

The 23-year-old’s addition didn’t ultimately persuade James to stick around, but it may nevertheless have an immediate impact on a club in desperate need of some playmaking.

Riley got Napier just weeks after starting point guard Mario Chalmers flopped in the Finals, averaging 4.4 points and 33.3 percent shooting in five games against the San Antonio Spurs. Miami ultimately elected to keep Chalmers—a free agent this summer—but it’s become no secret this team needs improved play from its floor general.

Chalmers and reserve point guard Norris Cole have had solid, if uneven, preseasons. 

Napier has been the story instead, making an increasingly strong case for heavy minutes in Miami’s rotation this season—perhaps starting from day one.

The Connecticut product has averaged 16.8 points through his last four preseason contests, a marked improvement over the nine combined points he scored in the first two games.

As the Miami Herald‘s Joseph Goodman recently noted, “With each passing preseason game, Heat rookie point guard Shabazz Napier is providing more and more proof that LeBron James’ skills as an evaluator of talent might be better than previously thought.”

Something seems to be clicking for the 24th overall pick.

After a woefully inefficient performance during NBA Summer League play, Napier is now demonstrating a steadier shot while adding some passing, defense and a knack for getting to the free-throw line (where he made 12 of 14 attempts in a preseason meeting with the Spurs).

Napier chalked up the rough Summer League debut to the basketball.

“I just want to continue to get better at everything,” Napier told reporters in August. “But my biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball. That’s one of my biggest problems and it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a basketball. But it’s different than a college basketball.”

Sounds plausible enough. 

“The funny thing is, I never really touched an NBA ball until I left school,” he added. “I told myself I never wanted to. I felt like it was superstitious, like something bad was going to happen, like I had to earn it. I never touched it and it’s definitely different. This ball is leather and the biggest thing for me now is getting comfortable with it.”

It just one of the learning curves for the young pro. While a small sample size of preseason work may inspire optimism, head coach Erik Spoelstra hasn’t been convinced of much—even after Napier’s 25-point outburst against San Antonio.

“He just needs to keep working,” Spoelstra told reporters this week. “That’s the only message I’ve given him. We have seen a residual from all the time he has put in, but we’re not drawing any conclusions at this point.”

It’s a conservative approach made possible by Chalmers and Cole, both of whom are already familiar with Spoelstra’s system.

There’s not yet any guarantee Napier cracks the rotation, much less the starting lineup. But four seasons at UConn and a national championship may have prepared him to seize a moment like this and compete for minutes at a position of renewed importance in Miami.

Without James’ leadership on the floor, the Heat’s platoon of point guards will be responsible for running the offense.

“We’re going to be reliant on those guys to handle the ball a lot more for us,” forward Chris Bosh explained to media this week. “Before, we had the luxury of having LeBron be that big point guard and get us into our sets, and [Cole and Chalmers] could kind of take it off a little bit and get in the corner and make plays.

“But now they’re going to have to be the ones calling the plays, getting everyone set, making that extra pass and making the game easier for everybody else.”

Napier has shown flashes of those playmaking instincts during the preseason, tallying seven assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers and twice recording four dimes. That’s the kind of poise and production that could make playing time at the 1 spot a three-man race.

Chalmers is going into his seventh season with the club, coming off of a largely successful campaign in which he averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 assists in 29.8 minutes per game. He made a career-high 45.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, solidifying his status as a reliable role player and earning himself a new contract worth two years and $8.3 million.

He started in all 73 of his games a season ago and remains the favorite to retain that status in 2014-15.

Cole averaged a career-high 24.6 minutes per contest last season (his third), but he’s done little to secure a more prominent role. The 26-year-old adds some energy and a change of pace, but problems with efficiency have persisted to the tune of 41.4 percent shooting a season ago.

So there’s a real opportunity for Napier to prove himself an upgrade over Cole, perhaps even a rival for Chalmers’ starting minutes.

If not now, then soon.

Belief in Napier’s ability isn’t simply a matter of reading preseason tea leaves. There’s a reason James and others have praised his upside.

As the South Florida Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman recently put it, “There is something about Napier when it comes to having the ‘it’ factor.”

“I know it’s cliche, but the kid is a winner and carries himself on the court as someone who is comfortable no matter the pressure or surroundings,” Winderman wrote. “I’m not sure he will be a classically consistent scorer, but he has shown time and again the ability to step up to the moment, with his late 3-pointer against the Warriors another of those moments, albeit an exhibition moment.”

Sooner or later, those kind of intangibles could force Spoelstra to make some decisions about his rotation.

“He’s a heady player,” Spoelstra told reporters this month. “He’s playing with more confidence now, playing off his instincts more than he was this summer. I think it was overwhelming this summer. To his credit, he put in a lot of time after that. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. That’s all we need of him.”

With that hard work and a little opportunity, Miami may get exactly what it needs. In a season that will be defined by what it could have been, Shabazz Napier is one reason to imagine all it still could be.

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Timberwolves Injury Update: Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad expected to practice sometime this week

The Minnesota Timberwolves have split their first two games of the preseason coming off a 40-42 record last season. At 26th in the league in points allowed last season, the Timberwolves need to improve on their defense to compete in the division and conference. On the injury front, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad are expected to practice this week, but it’s uncertain whether or not either will play on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks. TonyTheTiger via Wikimedia CommonsI reported on October 6 that Martin would miss the first preseason game against the Indiana Pacers with an abductor strain. Kent Youngblood, sports writer at StarTribune.com, tweeted the following on Martin and Muhammad.Flip Saunders said he expects both Martin and Shabazz to be able to practice at some point this week, Muhammad as early as Sunday.— Kent Youngblood (@BloodStrib) October 11, 2014Muhammad played 25 minutes in the preseason opener, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in 25 minutes. …

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Shabazz Napier having trouble adjusting to ball the NBA uses

Shabazz Napier did not look sharp in his professional debut during the NBA summer league. The former UConn star, who led his team to an improbable national championship back in April, shot 28-for-102 from the field and turned the ball over 38 times. Napier had eight turnovers in his first summer league game, which is […]

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Realistic Expectations for Shabazz Napier’s Rookie Season with Miami Heat

The most talented of the Miami Heat’s point guards, Shabazz Napier, will have to wait his turn before embracing the starting role. Incumbents Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are more settled leading the offense and, based on his Summer League play, Napier doesn’t seem ready to take that on.

A lot more than his bank account balance has changed for Napier since he was drafted to the NBA. When he was traded to the Miami Heat after being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Napier thought he would be playing with admirer LeBron James.

Napier was supposed to be part of a youth movement that would convince James to stay in Miami. Per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinelthis is what Napier had to say after the draft:

He’s one of the best players in the world.  So if me going there helps him come back, it just betters our chances of being a complete team. But at the end of the day, my job is to get to improve and work on my game so when it comes to the stage where it’s my first game, I’m ready to compete, and I’m prepared.

Miami’s situation changed when James left for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In an effort to maintain a competitive team, Pat Riley re-signed the core of those champion squads, including Chalmers.

Now the Heat have all three point guards, providing plenty of depth but also real parity from first- to third-string. From a scoring standpoint, they all deserve a shot at the starting job. But without James, who facilitated so much of Miami’s offense the past four years, the point guard will be relied on more to initiate offense. That is where Chalmers, and to a lesser degree Cole, have the advantage over Napier.

Indeed, Chalmers struggled with just that in the Finals and didn’t do enough scoring to make up for it. Cole has come a long way in his development as a scorer in three seasons but is more of a dynamic scorer and tough defender in the mold of Patrick Beverley than a facilitator.

But if Chalmers and Cole’s ability to lead the offense is inconsistent, Napier’s is nonexistent based on what we saw in Summer League.

In 10 games in Orlando and Las Vegas, Napier showed a penchant for shooting more so than facilitating. He put up 107 shots during Summer League, converting on just 37 (34.6 percent) of them, and went 11-of-48 from the three-point line (22.9 percent). Though he did deliver some highlight passes, he struggled to find teammates consistently, finishing Summer League with 39 assists and 43 turnovers.

That averages out to 9.8 points (on 3.7-of-10.7 shooting), 3.9 assists and 4.3 turnovers per game. His shot selection was wild, and he didn’t seem in control, or often conscious, of where his teammates were in a half-court offense.

Many will write this off, saying Summer League doesn’t matter, but ESPN’s Kevin Pelton did a study on how Summer League play translates to the regular season that says otherwise.

According to Pelton (subscription required), rookie Summer League performance is a strong indication of their regular-season performance.

How a rookie plays in Summer League has a .463 correlation, which is nearly as predictive as their college statistics (.468). That’s a high correlation when you compare it to veterans who previously played in the league.

Veteran players who were in the league the previous season have an even smaller correlation of .101 between 2012 summer performance (as measured by my per-minute win percentage rating) and 2012-13. Once we account for how well these players were projected to play in 2012-13, their summer-league stats have zero predictive value.

This doesn’t mean Napier is a bust. Summer League performance is still far from a definitive indication of real success (remember when Hasheem Thabeet had a 21-point, 14-rebound, six-block game in 2010?).

However, Pelton’s numbers and Napier’s struggles indicate that the 23-year-old will need some time to get used to the speed and complexity of the NBA game.

Further applying Pelton’s study, Napier’s college stats should indicate how he will translate to the NBA, too. He will likely cut down on his turnovers (averaged 2.4 per game at UConn) and will be a stealing machine (1.8 steals per game in college, 2.1 in Summer League).

His advanced stats last season at UConn resemble the comparable Isaiah Thomas’ 2013-14 season.

Name TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% WS
Shabazz Napier .591 .517 9.7 30.8 3.2 15.8 27.5 7.9
Isaiah Thomas .574 .510 4.7 32.2 1.9 14.3 26.3 7.7

Both players are in the J.R. Smith range of effective field-goal percentage, and their point guard stats (assist percentage, turnover rate, usage and win shares) are nearly identical. 

From a scoring standpoint, Thomas and Napier are similarly dynamic. Both score most of their points from mid-range and near the rim and shoot three-pointers at an above-average rate. Most similarly, they both prefer going left.

However, Napier won’t likely enjoy the same success that Thomas did his rookie season with the Kings.

Thomas earned the starting point guard spot over Jimmer Fredette, who didn’t provide the same level of competition that Chalmers and Cole are sure to. While Thomas got starters minutes, Napier will likely get something nearer to 10-15 minutes per game.

For now, Napier figures to come off the bench as a flash-in-the-pan scorer whom Heat coach Erik Spoelstra can turn to should he have a hot hand.

Heat fans should curb their expectations, especially those who wanted the team to spend for Thomas, Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe. Napier won’t fill that void, but he has the talent to reach that level, and he’s on a rookie contract (five years, $6.2 million; just $1.2 and $1.3 million his first two seasons).

If Thomas does reach his potential, he will be a far better investment than any free agent the Heat could have signed.

 

Statistics via basketball-reference.com, contract information via shamsports.com. Follow Wes Goldberg on Twitter @wcgoldberg.

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Everything You Need to Know About Miami Heat Rookie Shabazz Napier

The Miami Heat haven’t exactly put a premium on the NBA draft throughout Pat Riley’s reign as team president. 

In the past seven drafts, the Heat have made just three first-round picks: Michael Beasley (2008), Norris Cole (2012) and Arnett Moultrie (2013, traded on draft night).

So it certainly says a lot about Shabazz Napier that the Heat were willing to trade for his rights at the end of the first round on 2014 draft night with the Charlotte Hornets.

We’re going to take an in-depth look at Napier—from his background to his skills to his potential role on this team—and learn everything we need to know about this prospect that Riley and Co. are so enamored with.

 

Background

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Napier excelled at Charlestown High School and Lawrence Academy before committing to the University of Connecticut in 2010.

Napier has one of the more impressive collegiate pedigrees of any player from this year’s draft. He was a four-year contributor at Connecticut and a member of two championship teams.

While always a well-regarded player, Napier truly burst on the national scene during his senior season in 2013-14.

Napier averaged 18.0 points (42.9 percent shooting from the floor and 40.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc), 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game during the regular season. 

Napier was the star of the 2014 NCAA tournament, putting the Huskies on his back en route to a title. He averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the six games. He dropped 22 points in the tourney’s final contest against Kentucky.

Napier left UConn with a list of honors that include the Bob Cousy Award (2014), NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (2014) and first-team All American (2014).

He also finished top-five in school history in the following categories: points (fourth), assists (third), steals (second), three-pointers made (second), games played (first) and free throws made (first).

 

Skills

Napier is a versatile talent.

He possesses outstanding handles and uses them to create his own shot and get to the basket. 

He’s also developed into an effective spot-up shooter, posting a 55.1 effective field-goal percentage in spot-up situations in 2013-14, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). While the Heat won’t let it fly like they have in years past with LeBron James creating open looks for others, Napier’s shooting ability will still have plenty of value in coach Erik Spoelstra’s small-ball system.

Considering Napier is undersized at 6’1″, the fact that he averaged 5.9 rebounds per game is a testament to how hard he plays. Napier’s ability on the glass was on par with then-Florida Gator Patric Young (6.2 rebounds per game in 2013-14).

Napier’s assist numbers (4.9 per game) aren’t anything to get too excited about, and the point guard qualified as a shoot-first guard in college. 

However, as long he understands that he’s no longer the star, which requires him to be a more willing passer at the next level, Napier can develop into a solid floor general due to his handles and driving skills. Napier should rack up a fair amount of assists in Miami as a result of drive-and-kick situations.

Due to his lack of size and lateral quickness, Napier isn’t going to be a great defender at the next level. However, the great effort he puts forth should help him remain capable on that end.

 

Team Role

Napier will enter training camp battling with Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole for starting point guard duties.

However, due to Napier’s status as a rookie combined with Chalmers and Cole’s experience in Spoelstra’s system, the former Connecticut star is extremely unlikely to emerge from camp a starter.

But that doesn’t mean Napier is poised to be a benchwarmer next season. While the Heat don’t typically like to rely on young players, Napier is a 23-year-old who contributed for four years in college. If he can play, Spo will give him a shot.  

Furthermore, the Heat lack guards. That fact may result in Chalmers being shifted to shooting guard at times, which obviously could result in more run for Napier. 

Still, without Cole being traded, it’s hard to imagine Napier making a huge splash on the scene in Year 1. But he will be given an opportunity to fight for rotational minutes on a top team in the Eastern Conference, and as a late first-round pick, one really can’t ask for much more than that. 

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Pat Riley Gets His and LeBron James’ Favorite Draft Pick in Shabazz Napier

MIAMI — Pat Riley has won accolades, admirers and hundreds of games during his more than four decades as an NBA player, coach or executive but—as the league and society have evolved—he has lost some stuff, too.

Little has changed the game for him quite like the loss of control. 

Riley used to rail about the “peripheral opponents” that competitors needed to block out to be their very best, and no other NBA figure mastered media manipulation quite like he did. No one kept the seal on information so tight, in order to keep every possible plan of action on course. But the peripheral opponents multiply much too quickly in the modern media age, taking the form of rumors, sources, tweets and blogs that tip off competitors to his intentions in a way that subjects them to sabotage.

“It’s very difficult when everybody knows that you’re zeroing in on somebody,” the weary Heat president said just after 1 a.m. Friday morning. 

It’s very difficult when everyone knows—largely due to a pre-draft ESPN report—that you’re targeting the most recent NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, as well as the object of LeBron James‘ affection, and you’re doing so while selecting in the No. 26 slot in the first round. It’s very difficult when teams are aware you see Shabazz Napier as a perfect fit for your system due to his competitiveness, big-game experience, pick-and-roll prowess and shooting touch—especially when you have limited assets to acquire all of those attributes. 

“You can’t keep anything (inside) anymore,” Riley said.

We used to be able to work guys out and nobody ever knew about it. Go visit guys and nobody ever knew about it. I mean, I was under two olive trees in an SUV with blacked out windows, trying to get in the facility. It’s just sort of funny, it’s humorous, but it’s where we are in today’s world that you just can’t keep things quiet and private and try to get some work done and do your due diligence without all of a sudden it getting out—and that could hurt us in this process. So that’s just the way it is.

It is, and it will only get worse, but that made it all the more impressive, and significant, that Riley got his man anyway, by trading up two slots with Charlotte and tossing in a couple of second-round picks. He can’t change the times, but apparently he can still adapt to them, and even if James didn’t directly influence him to draft Napier, surely James took note of Riley’s guts and skill in maneuvering to add a player. And surely, that can’t hurt as James considers whether Riley will be capable of doing the same again in the veteran market, when free agency opens. 

Thursday evening, the draft didn’t fall as Riley expected (“a little bit out of whack,” he said), so he knew he couldn’t wait. He and his Heat helpers (Adam Simon, Chet Kammerer and others) worked the phones, feeling “like you’re on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange,” and feeling energized and a little queasy at the same time as he encountered what he jokingly called “extortion.”

“We wanted this player,” Riley said. “I fell more in love with him the closer we got to the pick, and I didn’t want to get left at the altar.”

So he did what he has typically done.

“Even if you have a bad hand, just go all-in and take it,” Riley said.

That’s what he did, giving up two assets, albeit modest ones, to grab Napier before someone else did. 

Why did he want Napier so badly?

Some will certainly trace it back to James’ tweet during the Final Four, the one in which the four-time MVP gushed about the UConn point guard.

Now James is a free agent, first having declared that the Heat needed to upgrade at every position and then opting out of his contract—before teammates Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade—in anticipation of Riley filling some of the Heat’s holes. 

Riley insisted, however, that James didn’t call him “or make a point to me about anything,” and that, in fact, James never has. 

“The point is, if LeBron and I have the same taste in talent, so be it,” Riley said.

If their interests align in this case, all the better for the Heat. Napier certainly fits the profile of a Riley player in terms of maturity, intelligence and durability (playing an NCAA-high 1,404 minutes last season).

“Winner,” Riley said. “He’s a winner. I think he’s a winner and he’s talented and he’s skilled. You have to watch him play the game, and you see there’s a competitive level that we all liked.” 

He also would appear to fit the Heat’s current offensive structure, declaring on a conference call with reporters that he is “super comfortable” playing off the ball. That is a necessity for Heat point guards, as Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole both know. So is shooting ability, and Napier made 40.5 percent of his three-point attempts as a senior, albeit from the shorter stripe.

Riley was able to acquire Napier without giving up Cole, the only veteran on the roster who doesn’t have the power to opt out, and he said that Napier and Cole would compete. Where does that leave Mario Chalmers?

“Mario’s a free agent, so we got to deal with that,” Riley said. Thus, the entrance of one NCAA Tournament hero may expedite the departure of another.

There’s also still a chance that Miami goes hard after Toronto‘s Kyle Lowry, with Cole’s contract one of the casualties. Cole and Chalmers have played nine NBA seasons between them, and while Napier’s four years at UConn can’t quite compare, at least he’ll come in more prepared than the average rookie. 

“I want to win now,” Riley said. “And we all want to win now. We’re in the present moment. The more maturity that you get, experience you can get, the better off you are. It happened one time when we turned down a four-year player and took a very, very young player. And so you remember those things.”

He was likely referencing 2004, when he took Dorell Wright over Jameer Nelson, and then sent Wright to the end of the bench when he traded for Shaquille O’Neal and accelerated the championship chase. This time, there’s no need to make a major trade to contend for the title. He just needs to retain James, Bosh and Wade, ideally at lower average salaries, so he can add another piece. 

Not everything is under his control.

But as he just showed LeBron James again, that alone won’t necessarily stop him.

 

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Miami Heat trade for Shabazz Napier

The Miami Heat traded the No. 26 pick and an unspecified second-round selection to the Charlotte Bobacats for Shabazz Napier, who was drafted No. 24 overall, reports Yahoo Sports’ Adrain Wojnarowski. Miami will send Charlotte the 26th pick and a second rounder for Shabazz Napier, league source tells Yahoo. — Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 27, 2014 LeBron James, who will exercise his early termination option and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was happy with the trade. My favorite player in the draft! #Napier — LeBron James (@KingJames) June 27, 2014 Napier (6-0, 175) averaged 18 points, 4.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds as the starting point guard on Connecticut’s national championship team. The post Miami Heat trade for Shabazz Napier appeared first on Sports Glory.

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Shabazz Napier’s Pro Player Comparison

Jonathan Wasserman is our NBA draft expert who spent all season watching NCAA basketball, scouting international players and following all the predraft workouts. It is now time to tell NBA fans who each NBA prospect compares to from the professional ranks.

Wasserman broke down UConn’s Shabazz Napier’s weaknesses and strengths.

Which player do you think Napier is most comparable to?

 

 

 

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Shabazz Napier Injury: Updates on UConn Star’s Leg

As he has done all season, Shabazz Napier was pacing the UConn Huskies offense in the round of 32 against the Villanova Wildcats with 20 points, four rebounds and two steals.

But with the Huskies battling their way slowly ahead of the Wildcats, Napier had to leave the court after suffering what appeared to be a minor leg injury, as Dave Borges of the New Haven Register reports:

Brendan Purty  of The Star-Ledger gave more details from the sidelines on Napier’s injury:

Dana O’Neil of ESPN gave her own account of the trainers working on Napier throughout the game:

Following that tweet, O’Neil gave one more observation regarding the UConn star:

Shortly after that timeout, Napier got up under his own power, walked over to the scorer’s table and checked into the game. He then made his return felt as he went up for a huge drive and bucket to help the Huskies pull away.

That play also drew a reaction from Purty:

After the game Hartford Courant reporter Dom Amore had an update on Napier:

Napier has averaged 17.6 points, six rebounds and five assists on the season for UConn. But in the NCAA tournament, he has averaged over 20 points as the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16 with a win over Villanova.

With Napier returning to the court and finishing out the game for the Huskies, it would appear he is healthy enough to continue on during the tournament. But as more information comes through about the UConn star, it will be added to this story.

 

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter.

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Shabazz Napier leads UConn in 77-65 win over Villanova

Napier powers through injury to key Huskies’ upset over Wildcats.

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