A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Revisiting Shabazz Napier in the 2014 draft

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Shabazz Napier in my opinion has been one of the most impressive rookies this preseason. His averages of 12.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 20.3 minutes, extrapolate to a robust 22.5 points, 5.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per 36 minutes. Although his FG% is only 41.2%, by scoring from 3 and the FT line his TS% is a solid .586.

I wanted to revisit why Shabazz Napier fell to the Heat at 24 and why I liked him more than that before the draft, ranking him 8th on my mixed model board, which took into account other factors than my traditional talent grades (where he rated 6th), such as conventional draft ranking, college production (PER by age) and analytics performance.

The reasons Napier fell

Napier had several traits that hurt players draft stock. Despite being in the spotlight as a national championship winner, Napier being a senior who turned 23 in July still played against him. Seniors are typically considered lower upside prospects who have less room to develop. While Napier’s production was good enough to lead UConn to the title, it wasn’t as elite as some seniors in the past. He had a 26.0 PER as a senior, while my “benchmark” I wanted to see seniors clear in my PER/age adjusted model was 28.0.

Napier’s physical tools also largely played against him. According to draftexpress.com’s combine database, the average 1st round project PG prospect at the combine measures an average of 6’1.02 in shoes, 185 pounds, 6’5.2 wingspan and 8’0.8 standing reach. Napier measured 6’1 in shoes, 175 pounds, 6’3.25 wingspan and 7’9 standing reach. Thus Napier is legitimately undersized for a point. Despite solid defensive results in college, his lateral quickness in the NBA also projected to be mediocre at best. So a lot of Napier’s doubters looked at him as a player who would struggle to finish at the basket or defend at the NBA level.

Physically he was also considered just an average athlete. When added to his size concerns, Napier was not rated as a slashing prospect in the pros, more likely to throw up jump shots as a spark-plug off the bench.

With growing number of teams looking at analytics to draft players, Napier also did not perform well here. Age is very important to analytics ratings, thus Napier’s senior status made it hard for him to perform well in those ratings.

Therefore for all these reasons he gets drafted 24th where most drafted PGs are targeted to be backups, not future starters.

However, there are some things Napier had going for him in my system that made him rate as a top 10 prospect:

An elite, not good shooting prospect?

One of my pet tricks in the draft is to not only look at 3P% when evaluating shooters, but FT% to back it up as a sign of the player’s mechanics, along with to a lesser extent volume of 3pt attempts.

Here was the 3P% of Napier compared to Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas last year in college, considered the two most elite shooting prospects in the class:


McDermott: 44.9%

Stauskas: 44.2%

Napier: 40.5%

McDermott and Stauskas outperform Napier here. But here is their the FT% and 3PA per 40 minutes:


Napier: 87.0% (6.8 FTA/40)

McDermott: 86.4% (7.0 FTA/40)

Stauskas: 82.4% (5.7 FTA/40)

3PA per game:

McDermott: 6.1 (7.2 per 40)

Napier: 6.0 (6.1 per 40)

Stauskas: 5.8 (6.5 per 40)

What made Napier’s shooting line so rare his last year in college, wasn’t just hitting 40% from 3 on a high volume of attempts, but a stellar 87% from the FT line. It’s rare for a college production to be aces in both categories. McDermott had the most complete shooting numbers of the 3, but a case can be made Napier’s 3P%/FT% combination is as impressive as Nik Stauskas’ was.

When it comes to shooting it’s important for a player to not just hit a higher % of spot up shots, but to be able to shoot off the dribble, thus creating jump-shots instead of having them created for him. Creating jump-shots off the dribble is an area where Napier thrives. Of the above 3 shooters, McDermott appears to be the likely concerning candidate in this area without the noted handles that Napier and Stauskas have. Thus by having seemingly more off the dribble skills than McDermott and a higher FT% than Stauskas, a case can be made Napier was no worse an overall shooting prospect than either.

Going against this is the admitted fact that Napier’s jumpshot just looks strange aesthetically compared to a classic shooter like McDermott or Stauskas. However I believe the abnormal part of it is when he lands, as uniquely he lands on one foot. It’s possible this doesn’t affect the rest of his shot compared to others. As players like Kevin Martin has proved, if it goes in it goes in.

If Napier becomes not just a good but elite shooter in the NBA off the dribble and/or spot up, clearly it goes a long way to establishing him as a legitimate starter or all-star.

A slasher with ballhandling, not athleticism

Napier may be an average athlete, but he was clearly one of the best ballhandling prospects in the class with all sorts of nifty tricks up his sleeve to get by players, with perfect control. Ballhandling and athleticism have a similar end game offensively for guards in the NBA. If Player A uses his blazing first step to get by an opponent and player B uses his ballhandling skills to get around him, an equal amount of value penetrating past the defense may have been gained by each trait. It’s for this reason that the list of best penetrating guards in the league contains non-elite athletes like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and James Harden, instead of just athleticism-driven players like Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe.

When I judge how perimeter player penetrate, I use a visually-driven technique rating how well they “get behind” the defenses when they drive to the rim. Napier performed fairly great in this method, using his ball handling to drive right into the heart of the defense. In preseason so far, Napier’s high free throw attempts rate (5.3 attempts per game in 20.3 minutes, or 9.4 per 36 minutes) may be a result of this more able than expected penetration. Napier’s size may remain a weakness when finishing at the rim and defending, but his ballhandling helps cover up for some of what he loses as just an average athlete.

Or to step back and look at it from a big picture perspective, if Napier was an elite shooting prospect and an elite ballhandling prospect, then his overall skill level including both shooting and ballhandling, is a fearsome combination that only comes along every so often in the draft for a guard. In the draft elite physical tools for a position gets all the press, but elite skill level for a position may get a player just as far.

Napier was not a perfect prospect because of his size, no better than reasonable college production for his senior, mediocre analytics production. However I believe all the tools are there to be an above average starter at his position, with a relatively rare offensive combination of shooting ability, the ball handling skills to drive to the paint and the craftiness and heart to put it all together.

Written by jr.

October 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

One Response

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  1. Do you have any video examples of how you grade your ‘Physical Motion’ category for some of the PGs in the 2014 draft? Looking back through your talent rankings, this is where I have the most consistent disagreements with you – I saw Napier as being much closer to Tyler Ennis whereas I had guys like Jordan Clarkson, Elfrid Payton, Deonte Burton, and Semaj Christon ranked as being above average or higher while you had them ranked average or worse. Because of that, I’m curious to see where some of the differences come from.


    October 21, 2014 at 5:41 am

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