The last time Shabazz Napier had played an organized game of basketball, he was a key member of the Connecticut team that had just won a national championship. On Saturday, and now a rookie member of the Miami Heat, the result was much less satisfactory.
Napier’s first performance in the NBA’s summer league in Orlando was disappointing, as he finished the game with 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting. He also had eight turnovers in an 85-77 loss to the Boston Celtics squad.
But if that kind of outing was supposed to demoralize Napier, you’d have a hard time telling that based on is reactions after game. As he told reporters on Saturday (via ESPN.com):
“I definitely needed this one to understand the game much better. It’s a big adjustment. I’m unable to do a lot of things I was on the college level. I’ve got to find the adjustments on how to do those things. I’ve still got the college game coming in. We’re learning on the fly, and we’re going to make big mistakes. This is a different game.”
Instead, Napier seemed to show the kind of poise and maturity that Heat president Pat Riley prefers in his draft choices. While Riley is notoriously hesitant to put a lot of confidence in rookies, if he’s forced to by circumstance – as he is this offseason – he’d rather it be with a more experienced player. And Napier, a four-year player at Connecticut, fits the bill.
One particular stretch in Saturday’s game may have been the encouragement Riley and the Heat front office needed. After starting the game missing his first 10 shots, Napier led a run that kept his team competitive as seen by these highlights:
Catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Dribbling with confidence. Finishing strong at the rim and finding an open teammate.
There’s room for growth, of that there’s no doubt. But again, Napier’s maturity and his self-awareness was in evidence when discussing his Saturday evening plans; watching a lot of game film and getting ready for his next game.
“I can come in here and not be prepared, or I can come in here and be prepared. And I like being prepared for everything.”
In a summer that is crucial for the Miami Heat, one that could result in retooling for another run at the title or rebuilding with a core that might not include James, at least Napier seems ready for the next step.