Breaking down Shabazz Napier’s role with the Minnesota Timberwolves

BROOKLYN, NY - FEBRUARY 4: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Brooklyn Nets. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - FEBRUARY 4: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Brooklyn Nets. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Shabazz Napier
BROOKLYN, NY – DECEMBER 3: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Brooklyn Nets. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images). /

1. Shabazz Napier’s strengths are terrific fits for the Wolves offense

Coming into the offseason, the Wolves needed to address three key areas on offense: 3-point shooting, scoring off the bench, and pieces that fit in typical motion offense actions.

While many may not realize it, Napier is a perfect fit for these problem areas based on what he can do on the floor.

By the numbers, Napier’s core skills include his spot-up shooting ability, isolation scoring moves and instincts, and his on-ball defense.

Let’s start on offense.

Spot-Up Shooting

This past season, Shabazz averaged 1.12 points per possession that ended in him taking a spot-up jump shot, while maintaining an effective field goal percentage of 55.6 percent. eFG measures field goal percentage when 3-pointers are 1.5 times more valuable than 2-pointers.

He scored on 41.8 percent of his spot-up opportunities, which was good for the 80.8th percentile league-wide last season.

Napier, 27, also has excellent shooting form for a small guard, which will allow him to remain a productive shooter into his 30s. Despite a low pass here from Dinwiddie, Napier is able to quickly raise up before Tyus Jones arrives because he gets square to the basket fluidly without any extra-curricular movement on his shot.

In his lone season in Brooklyn, the two-time National Champion displayed an ability to accurately fire off quick shots from deep. He shot 34.3 percent from behind the arc when he held the ball for less than two seconds before releasing the ball, per

When given more time to catch passes and set his feet for 3s, Napier was even more effective. His 37.0 percent clip when touching the ball for two to six seconds is an excellent summation of his ability to knock down shots when left open downtown.

Moreover, his shot selection is terrific in large part because he shoots significant amount of open 3s; 21.1 percent of all his field goal attempts were on catch and shoot 3s.

While his sectioned shot chart on the right isn’t anything that will blow you away, it’s important that Shabazz stayed away from long 2s, and focused on attacking the rim and shooting 3s. 52.4 percent of his shot attempts were 3s, so there’s no wonder why Rosas believed he could be an asset in the Wolves’ new offense.

His play is conducive to more free-flowing offense and thankfully, he’s not a ball-stopper like incumbent Wolves Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague.

Isolation Scoring

Napier’s second-best offensive skill is his ability to score in isolation. With a wide variety of tricks up his sleeve, Shabazz will provide value as a versatile offensive weapon next season.

The journeyman point guard converted on 42.9 percent of his isolation attempts, which placed him in the 72nd percentile among all qualifying NBA players. Even more impressively, Napier turned it over on just 2.4 percent of his isolations last season.

My two favorite aspects of isolation attack are his step-back 3-point jumper and knack for drawing contact, especially once he gets by defenders.

He’s another clip from the Wolves’ visit to Brooklyn, in which Napier finishes a tough and-one.

Getting to the free throw line is pivotal for the 6-foot-1 guard, who is a career 81.2 percent shooter from the charity stripe. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 5.1 free throw attempts, which compares more favorably than Jeff Teague’s 4.4 attempts from the charity stripe in the same time frame.

Teague is seen as a guy that can get downhill, draw contact, and finish at the rim, so this you gives a taste of how Napier holds own in the same department.

As a slippery, offensively-minded guard, the former Husky is adept at using his shoulders to get underneath defenders that he beats, which he does with Tyus in the above clip.

Once he gets a defender on his back, Napier is difficult to stop because of his finishing and acrobatic abilities as a smaller player.

Here, Shabazz gets by Austin Rivers and utilizes an awkward tempo on the drive to prevent him from blocking the shot and drawing a foul in the process.

Dating back to his days playing for Jim Calhoun, Napier has always been a guy that can convert on tough finishes over and around larger defenders, and through adverse contact in the paint.

Look for Napier to capitalize on over-rotations and poor closeouts next season.

A potent step-back three is a huge asset for any player in the NBA. The tough move has enabled James Harden’s offensive reckoning on the league with the Rockets and helped undersized players like D-Wade, CP3, and Lou Williams become lethal offensive players.

The step-back that Napier possesses isn’t on the same level as any of those players, but it does feature tremendous footwork, great balance, and quick release.

Despite good defense from Trey Burke here, Napier is able to knock this shot down because he creates enough space to elevate for a jumper.

In this clip, Napier uses a screen from Ed Davis to create the initial operating room he needs, but his step-back makes it impossible for Raul Neto to get back in position and contest the shot. That’s a high IQ play that will certainly be available while Karl-Anthony Towns, Noah Vonleh, and Gorgui Dieng are on the floor.

On-Ball Defense

In his last two seasons, Napier has turned in defensive ratings of 104.3 and 103.6, respectively, which are elite numbers for a backup guard. His rating of 104.3 was good for eighth among all backup guards in the league.

For context, Jeff Teague has registered defensive ratings of 113.1 and 110.0 during his time in Minnesota, both of which are below average. Former Wolves backup Tyus Jones (it still feels weird typing that) turned in a defensive rating of 103.2, which ranked just ahead of Shabazz.

Danny Green is widely seen as one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA and his defensive rating last season was the exact same as Napier’s (104.3).

I love how low Napier gets in his stance, has active hands, and remains balanced at all times. He’s unafraid of getting in the opposing player’s grill, making his presence felt, and playing annoying, pesky defense.

Another player with similar traits is second-year two-guard Josh Okogie. Like Okogie, Napier has displayed his ability to play terrific defense while guarding James Harden, one of the best offensive players of this century.

Between his shooting, scoring ability, and defensive talents, Shabazz Napier will bring a lot to this Minnesota Timberwolves team in the 2019-20 season. Couple that with his familiarity with Vanterpool and Prigioni, and you’ve got a key rotational piece that will provide to younger players both on and off the floor.

Oh, and he’s being paid just $1.88 million next season.