Bleacher Report currently has Connecticut Huskies point guard Shabazz Napier (6'1'', 180 pounds) projected to be taken No. 30 overall in the 2014 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs (subject to change).
The 22-year-old from Roxbury, Mass., averaged 18.1 points, 4.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game this season. During the NCAA tournament, he's posting 23.3 points, 4.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds per contest.
His dynamic playmaking and senior leadership have propelled UConn past St. Joe's, Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State. As a result, his No. 7 seed Huskies are in the Final Four, and he's making a great audition for the NBA.
As his college career winds down, it's time to gauge how his talents translate to the Association.
Strengths: Shot-Creating and Shot-Making
Napier's greatest skill asset is his ability to get buckets, one way or another.
He's not the type of player who will rise up and finish above the rim, but he finds all sorts of alternative ways to break down defenses.
It's extremely difficult for opponents to stay in front of him, as he can use hesitations or step-backs to break them down north to south, or nasty crossovers to separate east to west. Florida head coach Billy Donovan was already upended by Napier earlier this season, so he knows how potent he is:
Billy on Napier "he is a great scorer, he can do it by himself, he doesn't need a lot of screening."— Kevin Brockway (@gatorhoops) March 31, 2014
Once he creates space for himself, he's a dangerous shot-maker from all angles. Napier shot 40 percent from three in each of his past two seasons at UConn, and he's not afraid to pull the trigger from NBA range. Inside the arc, he's also a competent creator, hitting a respectable 38 percent of his two-point jump shots (per Hoop-math.com).
When he gets rolling, it's tough for anybody to stop him.
What enhances Napier's skills at this juncture of his career is his supreme confidence and ability to lead a squad in tight situations. With a fearlessness that doesn't care who his defender is, and an assuredness that knows his shot is going in, he's able to make the most of any scenario.
It's that kind of fearlessness and nose for the ball that also allows him to lead the Huskies with 5.9 boards per night.
In a draft littered with youngsters who are still figuring themselves out, the Huskies have a guard who knows exactly what his role is—and exactly how he's going to beat you.
He doesn't dish a boatload of assists every night, but facilitating is certainly one of his strong suits moving forward to the NBA. Napier's shown the ability to drive into the teeth of the opposition and set up his comrades.
Shabazz Napier has become an all-around player. UConn's junior PG can score or facilitate. Doesn't have to shoot the ball to have an impact.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 15, 2013
In the Association, he'll be a little more of a table-setter and teammate-oriented creator than he's been in college.
Weaknesses: Athleticism and Playmaking Efficiency
While Napier is 6'1", which is not an ideal height for an NBA player, it's definitely not his biggest weakness as a prospect. Many players have excelled despite diminutive stature, and he'll likely be one of them.
His most concerning deficiencies moving forward are his athleticism and point guard efficiency.
The athleticism issue is one that will affect him on both ends of the floor. Napier is quick with the ball, and he can get past his man off the bounce, but he doesn't have that next-level vertical burst that most point guards have.
Draft Express video analyst Mike Schmitz noted that Napier "isn't an explosive athlete," and that he "won't make tons of plays at the rim" as a pro. Without the ability to bounce up and attack the second level of defenders, he won't be nearly as much of a scoring threat in the NBA. The competition is bigger, faster, stronger—and more vertically gifted—than the athletes in college.
As a defender, he won't be a slouch if he applies himself 100 percent and improves his footwork. However, there's only so much he can do to slow down the lightning-fast guards that rule the league. He's already had some trouble in the college ranks, despite flashes and stretches of successful defense.
The weakness that might affect his playing time the most if he doesn't clean it up is his shaky playmaking efficiency.
Even as a senior, Napier's assist-to-turnover ratio (1.75) isn't sparkling, as he's dishing 4.9 assists to 2.8 turnovers. Per 40 minutes of playing time, he's coughing the rock up 3.3 times. His high rate of giveaways hurt UConn's chances of winning in late-season losses against Southern Methodist (five turnovers) and Louisville (six turnovers).
Many of the turnovers are a result of him being a bit overzealous on drives or making ill-advised decisions when initiating the offense. When he gets into scoring mode, he's prone to launching some questionable shots. Here's an example of a forced shot from earlier this season, fittingly against the Florida team he's facing in the Final Four.
He often settles for jumpers when a drive or pass would be much better, and that's a side effect of his confidence. According to Hoop-math.com, 73.4 percent of Napier's field-goal attempts were jump shots.
In order to maximize his role at the next level and earn meaningful playing time, he'll need to be more situationally aware. It's going to require a more unselfish approach on a possession-by-possession basis, as he must constantly strive to find his team the absolute best possible shot.
Ideal NBA Role
Napier is the man of the hour in the college basketball world, but we must be careful not to get carried away with NBA expectations.
If he was a notch more explosive or a couple inches taller, his overall value would be significantly higher. It takes tremendous athleticism or ample size to consistently compete as a starting point guard in the Association.
NBA Scout on Shabazz Napier: "I'd trust him with the ball more than a lot of backup point guards in the league right now."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 29, 2014
Although Napier is a long shot to start or play huge minutes, he's just the type of guy NBA coaches would love to bring off the bench.
He'll be much more than a caretaker of the offense, as he'll keep opponents on their toes with aggressive playmaking. That may lead to some mistakes, but it's something the team will have to live with, especially if the upside is maintaining energy while the starting quarterback rests.
If Napier saw 20 minutes per game, he could put up eight-plus points and three-plus assists per night.
NCAA tourney momentum won't be enough to catapult Napier into the lottery, especially not with a draft this deep. His upside isn't as high as the ultra-athletic underclassmen in this crop, even if their teams have already bowed out.
However, Napier's postseason productivity may buoy him into the first round, which is an impressive feat in itself. He may not go any higher than the mid-20s but in my book, he should be the highest senior drafted in 2014.
In a worst-case scenario, I still see him getting drafted, even if it's in the mid-to-late second round.
There's too much to like from a shot-making and competitiveness standpoint, and NBA executives know he would be a positive addition to any team.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR