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Shabazz Napier Needs to Conjure Up His UConn Magic in Orlando

If last season was the first chance you had to watch Shabazz Napier, your opinion of him probably doesn’t extend too far.

The Miami Heat essentially dumped him to Orlando on Sunday, cutting ties with him after a disappointing rookie season where he was more or less…terrible. It was a shockingly fast fall from grace from the former UConn star.

Napier was a stalwart at Connecticut, winning national titles in both his freshman and senior seasons, playing a key role on both teams.

He inherited whatever magic Kemba Walker left behind when he left for the draft, and in 2014, ignited an undermanned, under-talented UConn team to a national title over Kentucky as a 7 seed. The Huskies were the lowest seed to win since 1985, and Napier was practically solely responsible for the victory.

He averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists with nasty shooting numbers from the three (40.5 percent) and the line (87 percent). He was cocky, abrasive, and confident, playing with a swagger and hitch in his step that made him unstoppable and deadly with the game on the line.

His game winners are sure to live in UConn infamy:

He beat people with speed, athleticism, and handles that made him a one-on-one mismatch at the college level.

His play made him a fan favorite, with his biggest fan being none other than The King himself, LeBron James:

When Miami traded up to select him with the 24th pick in last year’s draft, Napier was poised to join a veteran Heat squad prepping for another title, with their best player handpicking him to help run the offense.

When James bolted for Cleveland, Napier was stuck on a team that was no longer a viable contender with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missing 58 games combined and no longer invested in him.

Napier went from playing alongside LeBron to playing alongside Mario Chalmers, almost exclusively. Chalmers has never thrived on the offensive end playmaking or scoring, and his shooting took an even bigger hit last season, as he shot only 29.4 percent from deep.

Even though Napier played almost all his minutes at point guard, he was basically forced into a combo guard role next to Chalmers, leading a ghost shift second unit that included James Ennis, Udonis Haslem, and Josh McRoberts as his second most frequent lineup.

Napier wasn’t given many chances to succeed on a team he really had no business playing on, but his play didn’t help the cause.

According to NBA.com, Napier shot 40.9 percent at the rim, well below the league average of 54.9 percent, and he only attempted 44 shots at the rim in 51 games. His 15.4 usage rate was also the eighth lowest among point guards. Those numbers are especially troubling since Napier is a plus athlete with good handles and speed, and his ability to carry a team on his back offensively was something NBA teams hoped would translate.

He only averaged 10.3 points per 40 minutes shooting 38.2 percent from the field, basically showing no semblance of his lightening offense from a year ago. The most he scored all season was 18 points, against the Knicks of all teams, which is what he averaged his senior season at UConn.

His shooting numbers weren’t terrible, but at 36.4 percent from three and 78.6 percent from the line, he was far from the sharpshooter he was at college. Perhaps he could benefit from getting more time playing off ball or playing next to someone in the backcourt not named Mario Chalmers for once.

His efficiency as a playermaker also needs work, as his 17.5 turnover ratio was tied with Reggie Evans as the fourth worst in the league, with only Samuel Dalembert, Dewayne Dedmon, and Kendrick Perkins worse than him—that’s ugly any way you spin it.

Luckily, a lot of Napier’s struggles can be attested to the rookie season grind. His splits show that he played much better with at least two days rest, which makes sense since he was adjusting to the NBA schedule.

Napier Splits

It wasn’t all bad for Napier either. He’s just 6’1” but has quick hands, is a plus-athlete, and shows effort on the defensive end. His 0.8 steals in 19.8 minutes per game were solid, and should improve once he gets more experience, and he finished 18th among point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus.

Because of his ineffective offensive game, he still finished with a -1.4 Net Rating, per NBA.com.

Napier will have time to develop as the third point guard behind Elfrid Payton and C.J. Watson in Orlando. The Magic don’t have a whole lot invested in Napier either, but there was no risk for them taking him on in the trade, and they should be able to find some minutes for him at shooting guard as well.

A year into his NBA career, Shabazz Napier is looking like the next great college player to bust out in the NBA.  I’m not ready to stick a fork in him yet; he was a bad fit in Miami and a lot of his struggles were common in rookies, but at 24, Napier will have to conjure up his UConn playing days soon.

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