Apr 7, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Shabazz Napier waves to the crowd after cutting down a piece of the net following the championship game of the Final Four in the 2014 NCAA Mens Division I Championship tournament against the Kentucky Wildcats at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Draft: Shabazz Napier's experience would fit with Suns

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.”

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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.”

  • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

    Just a note 4everis2long, Napier is already 22 years old and measured 5′-11″ without shoes at the predraft combine. Just like that one guy said that Capela “looked” like a future NBA star, I quickly think of Shabazz Muhammad when I hear Napier’s name. That is just one Shabazz too many for me.

    Whereas the other PG he will likely be drafted right before or after, Elfrid Payton, a defensive PG that stands 6′-2.5″ without shoes and conjurs up comparisons with Rajon Rondo. For me, Gary “The Glove” Payton comes to mind when I hear Elfrid Payton’s name.

    In the spirit of fairness some believe Napier can be as productive as the Spurs Patty Mills who is very similar in size and length. Of course it took Popovich to help launch Mill’s career.

    So for me it comes down to another little PG who can score or one that is taller and longer, more athletic with far more developed defensive fundamentals. Hornacek can always teach Payton how to shoot the ball. Not only that Payton has a 6′-8″ wingspan compared with 6′-3″ for Napier.

    • 4everis2long

      EBJM, Thanks for the insight. I love a point guard who can create, is a deadly shooter and enjoys defending. He reminds me a little of Steph Curry but is a better defender. However I cannot knock Payton because I have not seen him play. As DBreezy mentioned on the Capella article, rumor has it Payton held his own against M. Smart at a Sacramento workout, which certainly places a feather in his cap.

      Obviously I have no idea what McD is thinking but if he is inclined to think Bledsoe will remain a Sun for an infinite period of time, I do not know if he wants another defensive minded point guard as opposed to a shooting point guard. Then again if the Suns are thinking twice about matching a potential max deal for Bled, then Payton might have the most appeal.

      Bottom line is the Suns really have a pleasant problem, so many ballers, three first round draft picks and a good GM making the call.

  • czolotor

    I agree with Earl. Payton is an excellent prospect. The only thing he lacks is a jump shot. I do, however, admire Napier’s leadership abilities. He has a good jump shot and is ready to contribute to an NBA team now. However, I still would go with upside and that is Elfrid Payton.

  • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

    I’ve read that Alex Oriakhi is back in Phoenix working out for Hornacek and will play in Vegas for the Suns summer league team.