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 – JANUARY 29: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Brooklyn Nets. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images). /

3. Expect Ryan Saunders to call Napier’s name early and often

Napier has an opportunity to play big minutes for the Wolves this season, especially once Jeff Teague gets traded around the February trade deadline.

His best fit on the Wolves might be as a ball-handling backup point guard, but Shabazz is also a very effective complementary off-ball guard.

Over the last two seasons, Napier has seen himself as part of the most productive on-court duo in both Portland with Damian Lillard and in Brooklyn with D’Angelo Russell. In both cases, he played the off-ball guard spot and contributed extremely well.

As a two-guard, Napier was able to create space for himself with great footwork, like you see here:

He does an incredible job of taking a few hard steps to the rim, which makes Melo notify the help that Napier is coming. Instead of cutting to the rim, he realizes that Melo is cheating to the middle and he flies back out to the corner for a great look from the corner.

Much like Jake Layman, he has a very good understanding of space on offense, especially when he’s the two-guard on the floor.

Here, Theo Pinson is running the show and puts it on the deck going to the rim. Napier’s defender is drawn to Pinson’s drive because he thinks the ball is going to Faried on the roll. Shabazz realizes this and fills in the open space at the top of the key for a wide-open 3-pointer.

His ability to read the floor and find open spots on the floor will work very well playing alongside Wolves’ rookie Jarrett Culver or if Ryan Saunders decides to have Andrew Wiggins handle the ball more this year.

I don’t anticipate Napier to be flying around off-ball screens for shots, as he shot an eFG of just 35.0 percent coming off screens last season.

Overall, the spot-up shooting and high-level defense Napier provides will fit in this lineup whether he’s running the show or not.

As a point guard, he will provide a multitude of looks on offense. In the pick and roll. I hope Napier gets ample reps running the pick and pop with KAT, because he has the tools to score at all three levels in the screen game.

If KAT pops, or is slow to roll, Napier can get clean looks at floaters like he does here.

I’m most weary of Napier shooting after tightly curling around screens, but he has shown he can knock down tough shots with defenders breathing down his neck.

However, I do love that Shabazz has the confidence in his shooting and balance to rise up and take these types of shots. As long as he saves the more contested shots off high-ball screens for heat checks, I will be all-in on seeing more of this from him.

But even in simple roll situations, Napier knows how to make the right read. It’s all a matter of executing. Napier turns to the floater game again here after realizing the weak side wing defender stayed attached to his man.

With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson rolling hard to the rim and his defender staying home, it leaves the floater as the best option, which Napier executes to perfection.

Outside of spot-up and pick-and-roll options, Napier could be turned to in handoff actions as well. He averaged 0.97 points per handoff action, shot an effective field goal percentage of 48.1 percent, turned it over just 6.3 percent of the time, and scored on 40.6 percent of his touches, which was good for the 62nd percentile among all players in the league.

I fully expect Napier to provide a steady hand in the backcourt next season as both a scorer and a playmaker that will take care of the ball, which will result in him gaining Coach Saunders’ trust early on. Given he already has the full support of Minnesota OC Pablo Prigioni, Napier should have an easy time fitting into the offense next season.

On the other end of the floor, I see no reason why Shabazz wouldn’t thrive as he has in the previous two seasons. He’s a terrific individual defender and has plenty of experience playing off-ball defense in Vanterpool’s system, which can help the Wolves throw a plethora of lineup combinations on the floor next season.

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STAT PROJECTION: 12.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 45.4 FG%, 35.3 3PT%, 86.8 FT%, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks in 22.0 minutes per game.