An improbable run to the NCAA title saw Connecticut star Shabazz Napier thrust into the national spotlight, and the playmaking point guard's stock for a future as a pro consequently soared. Napier's dream run continued on Thursday, as the Charlotte Hornets selected him in the first round with the 24th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
However, Napier won't stay in Charlotte, as he's been reportedly traded to the Miami Heat (via Chad Ford of ESPN):
Sources: Shabazz Napier traded to Miami Heat— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 27, 2014
Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick and Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post provide Pat Riley's take on Napier:
Riley: "We feel very excited about him and what he can bring. Two-time champion, high motor guy, character guy."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 27, 2014
Pat Riley says the Heat have had an eye on Shabazz Napier for the last 3 years. "We liked him. We rated him high."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) June 27, 2014
LeBron James reacted to the news that Napier would be moving to Miami on his Twitter account:
My favorite player in the draft! #Napier— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 27, 2014
Many marquee talents leave college after only a year or two, but Napier's collegiate career with UConn proved that there is still value to developing and finishing all four years. ESPNU reported what Napier had to say about that at the predraft combine in Chicago:
"I'm glad I did decide to stay. Not only did I get a National Championship, I also got a degree." --Shabazz Napier pic.twitter.com/z1W4o4EVaG— ESPNU (@ESPNU) May 16, 2014
Leadership and intangibles can go a long way, and FoxSports.com's Reid Forgrave spoke to a former scout who would take Napier with the No. 1 overall pick:
Ex-NBA scout w concerns on top 3 names told me he'd take Shabazz Napier w FIRST pick. "Superstar." Knows it's a stretch but loves him.— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) May 16, 2014
That edge for Napier would have to be linked to life experience and overall maturity. Not many would have chosen Napier to go that high as part of such a deep draft class, but he definitely warranted lottery consideration after his impressive March Madness run that saw him named the Final Four's most outstanding player.
Despite measuring in at just 6'1" and 175 pounds at the combine without all that much muscle to him, Napier makes up for his lack of size with outstanding instincts, a high basketball IQ and a knack for creating his own offense.
When the ball is in his hands, there's no telling what Napier will do. Sometimes that leads to erratic decisions, but more often than not it lends itself to brilliance. His senior year averages of 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals show off his stellar all-around game.
Bleacher Report expert Ric Bucher gathered some predraft buzz in which Napier was compared to Jarrett Jack of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors standout Kyle Lowry. Both of those analogies make sense in light of Napier's skill set:
How do you feel about Shabazz Napier's draft position?
Napier is the ideal player to run a second unit in the NBA, but he's also capable of starting with the right pieces flanking him. The seasoned floor general often had to carry UConn as a scorer, so now that he'll have better offensive talent around him on Charlotte, perhaps he can become a bit better of a distributor and use his versatile threat as a scorer to set up opportunities for teammates.
Whether he develops into a long-term starter remains to be seen. With the improvement he has made through four years of college, it's difficult to tell how much additional upside Napier has to explore. What is certain is that he's a relentless competitor who will always play with a chip on his shoulder. That worked wonders in the NCAA tournament and should continue to serve him well in the NBA despite the fact that his sensational end to his college days prompted a rise in draft profile.