Fresh off his acquisition by the Minnesota Timberwolves, let’s talk about realistic expectations for Shabazz Napier as he enters his first year as a Wolf.
Shabazz Napier has continued to develop his game in each of the five seasons played thus far in his NBA career.
While Napier’s scoring output continues to increase and suggests flashes of starting potential, it’s important to set realistic expectations on him moving forward as one of the newest members of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Napier was drafted in 2014 as the 24th overall pick. After a trade, he signed with the Miami Heat and posted 5.1 points and 2.5 assists per game as a rookie.
Then, he moved onto the other Florida squad, the Orlando Magic. While in a Magic uniform, he posted career-lows across the board. In the summer of 2016, Orlando shipped Napier to the Blazers for cash considerations.
It was as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers where Napier blossomed into the NBA point guard that scouts had predicted after a strong career as a member of the UCONN Huskies.
Backing up Damian Lillard granted Shabazz consistency in his role. Posting career-highs across the board in his second season, Napier’s per-36 averages displayed an all-around impact while on the court. Dropping 15.1 points and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes established Shabazz Napier as a reliable backup point guard.
Napier spent last season backing up another All-Star point guard in D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets. In that time, Napier tallied his best statistical season to date and showed a steady hand for the second unit in Brooklyn, which often saw various players due to injury and other factors.
Napier continues to improve and has secured his place in the NBA as a legit backup and potentially even a starting point guard. Occasionally it will take a solid five seasons for NBA players, especially point guards, to get their sea legs.
As mentioned by Ben Beecken right here at Dunking with Wolves, Napier and Jeff Teague will presumably split minutes roughly 50-50. Jeff Teague has shown signs of age and saw injuries the last couple seasons and last posting a career-low in games played. This allows Shabazz plenty of court time and opportunities.
Napier developed into a particularly gifted pick-and-roll player under the assumed tutelage of Damian Lillard. Even more impressive, it was with Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard playing roll man, or Jarret Allen and Ed Davis with Nets. That is not a knock on any of those players, it is a sign of major upside for the Wolves, seeing as none of them are All-Stars and Karl Anthony-Towns is an All-NBA talent.
For both Ryan Saunders and Wolves fans, controlled, consistent, and effective pick-and-roll with Towns and Jordan Bell is the primary expectation.
Control is the operand word for Shabazz. He is methodical in his offensive approach. He finds the seams in a defense well. He is solid as a play maker and a shot taker. However, don’t expect a whole lot from behind the arc, as Napier has never shot above 40 percent from there and last year barely managed the league average. With that said, Napier is a maestro from mid-range, shooting 47 percent last season from that spot on the floor.
For his career, he has steadily produced about a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which isn’t ideal. Timberwolves will need that efficiency to increase, hopefully getting to a 3:1 ratio at least.
And that rounds out his expected offensive production: a solid, somewhat unassuming, consistent producer.
Defensively, Shabazz Napier could be an upgrade from beloved Tyus Jones. He is a larger body with deceptive athleticism. He is high basketball IQ that translates on both ends, but specifically for defense it makes him a steal threat. He has shown an in depth ability to jump passing lines and be preemptive. Steals lead to fastbreak opportunities, an area the Wolves need to see improvement. — they were in the bottom third of the league in fastbreak points last season.
The current roster is athletic, fast, and transitionally gifted. Napier playing high-level defense and sparking transition will translate into easy points.
Another skill he brings to the table is effort. He competes with intensity, an often overlooked skill that the Timberwolves must benefit from. Effort, defense, transition scoring, and smart basketball generate wins, and they’re all things Napier adds.
In closing, Shabazz Napier offers a steady hand both offensively and defensively. Eye-test, analytics, and stats won’t jump off the page, but he will produce on a nightly basis.
Role players that knows their place and consistently bring what they can to the table is exactly the player that this team needs.
And who knows, Napier may even play himself into the starting lineup.