2014 NBA Redraft: 29. Shabazz Napier, OKC Thunder
March Madness is a wonderful time for college basketball. Not only does it pulse with nightly heroics, but it gives incoming NBA rookies an opportunity to improve their draft stock with a strong showing.
Prior to the tournament, Shabazz Napier was on nobody’s radar. At 6’1” around 180 pounds, the perceived lack in size created enormous doubt regarding his ability to perform against the best of the best. Bleacher Report didn’t even have him going in the first round.
Throughout the season, Napier would average 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Along the way, he led the seventh-seeded UConn Huskies to the NCAA championship, winning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player trophy.
His stature began to rise, enough to warrant the 24th overall selection by the Hornets. They then immediately shipped him to the Miami Heat in an attempt to please upcoming free agent LeBron James, who had expressed a fondness for the point guard during his tournament play.
Since his tremendous run of high-level basketball, the doubters of Napier have proven to be right on the money. The diminutive floor general has struggled against the more athletically gifted players at his position. He himself lacks the traits to get by defenders and subsequently struggles to defend them at the other end.
His play certainly hasn’t been aided from playing on four different teams in the span of five seasons. Although maybe if he performed at a certain level, all that movement might not have occurred.
Napier showed some improvement in 2018-19, where he averaged a career-best 9.4 points in 17.6 minutes of action per game. For what it’s worth, that equals out to 19.4 per game per 36 minutes.
He’ll never experience a level of play quite like that memorable tournament run, but that doesn’t mean Napier will find himself out of the league. With lineups smaller than ever, he can become a dynamic spark plug off the bench. The challenge will be making up for the lack of size that’s hampered him so far in his career.