Phoenix— Up-tempo, prolific scorer, outstanding three-point shooter, national champion.
Those are just some of the traits that describe Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The 6-foot-1 point guard worked out for the Suns on Tuesday along with Cameron Bairstow, Jerami Grant, Glenn Robinson III, Joe Jackson and Ronald Roberts Jr.
Napier, one of four college seniors at today’s workout, was pleased with how the Suns went about making everyone better.
“It was cool because we just pushed it and at the end of the day that is exactly what I want,” Napier said. “I want to work out, and I want to get pushed and that’s all you can ask for.”
Pushing the ball is one of the many things that Napier does very well. Averaging 4.5 assists per game during his four years at UConn, Napier is dynamic in the open floor and has a lethal outside jump shot that made him one of college basketball’s premiere players last year.
What makes Napier different is that he comes out as a four year senior, a rarity in today’s one-and-done era. Napier has just about seen it all, from winning two national championships, to playing for a team ineligible for postseason play. The value that the point guard brings from being a winner and having the maturity of playing out his college eligibility is something the Suns think highly of.
“Having the ball as much as Shabazz (Napier) did at UConn is an invaluable experience,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “A college career nowadays is very rare where you win a national championship as a freshman and stick it out with the program when they weren’t postseason eligible last year with the suspension.
“Didn’t transfer, hung in there, stayed in school then won a national championship as a senior. As a freshman he was a complimentary player and this year he was the guy. We place a value on winning and of the guys in the draft, he is the most ready to come in and make an impact right away.”
Napier very well could make an impact right away in the NBA. Unlike fellow undersized point guard Jahii Carson, Napier has a deadly outside shot. Last season, he shot over 40 percent behind the three-point line and averaged 18 points per game. He scored in double figures in 36 of 40 games, including a career high of 34 points against Memphis and fellow workout partner from today, Joe Jackson.
Not only can he score, but he is a creator and a strong ball-handler that is also very good in the pick-and-roll game. With the Suns system of playing two point guards at once, Napier could fit in perfectly with this team.
“Because of our system and the pace that we play with there is more of an opportunity for more point guards to play,” McDonough said. “I think with his size he will primarily play with the ball in his hands, but he is a good shooter and he shot well at UConn and shot the ball well today.”
His offensive game was not always this highly raved about though. As an underclassman, Napier struggled mightily with shot selection and poor decision making. He at times would get out of control and did a poor job making others around him better. As a senior, Napier improved very much in all of those areas — perhaps credit goes to former NBA point guard and UConn head coach Kevin Ollie.
Napier views the four years in school as a blessing for his NBA future and feels like it’s a strength that he has over other draftees.
“The four years gave me the most experience that no one else has in this draft,” Napier said. “I was there for the good times and the rough times, so I have seen a lot. As a point guard, you are a general on the court and you impact if you win games or lose games.”
As far as Connecticut basketball legends go, Napier was not even the best UConn graduate in the building. That title went to former Huskies great Diana Taurasi, who was busy practicing with the Phoenix Mercury during the Suns rookie workouts.
When asked who had the better Connecticut career Napier quickly replied, “she did.”