I like Shabazz Napier from UConn.
No. I love Napier.
Napier has had one of the more remarkable rides in the NCAA than I can remember.
First off, he's a top player in the nation who is a senior and been high-profile all his career. That in of itself as rare considering the first time we saw Napier he was coming off the bench as a freshman on the Kemba Walker led national championship team.
Napier is on the Wooden Award Watch list and also on the USBWA Watch List today.
Napier is one of the leading guys for the awards, something that was hard to see as a freshman.
Napier's stats from his freshman and sophomore year, when he was a hit or miss player who was out of control is remarkable. It took all of last season for Napier to change his reputation as an out of control player. This year? He's been one of the best players in the country.
Napier's steadily improved every year of his career and the rest of the nation is catching on just in time. Napier's game used to be one people hated. He took bad shots, at inopportune times and was headstrong. That worked great when Walker was here to bail them out. It worked terribly his sophomore year -- Jim Calhoun's last when -- when a UConn team loaded with Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith (leading nation in rebounding now at UNLV), Napier and Ryan Boatright (and others) flamed out in the 8/9 game (perhaps the most disappointing team of Calhoun's tenure at UConn).
Napier's a different player now.
His feet are always set, he uses his footwork, dribble and quickness to free up his shooting hand. He's a high-risk, but great passer and has an ability to deliver game-winning shots.
UConn is as dependent on Napier as anyone in the nation, as his 30 points in a loss to Louisville, and then 27 against Temple showed again this week.
So, who is his main competition for Player of the Year?
There is some, and in this year of "great freshmen" it could very well be some upperclassmen winning it. CBS Sports has a good working list putting Napier third behind Creighton's Doug McDermott and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and ahead of Duke's frosh Jabari Parker:
3. Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)McDermott is a scoring powerhouse this season for Creighton, which has higher visibility now that it is in the Big East.
Why he's here: Napier's spectacular play is the main reason why the Huskies have won four of their past five games and climbed back into the Top 25 (and one). He got 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Tuesday's win over Temple and is now averaging 17.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists on the season.
Doug McDermott Stat Summary:
Marcus Smart Stat Summary:
That's Napier as a scorer. He's also a facilitator and has one triple-double this season and nearly pulled off two more. The Huskeis are a Top 25 caliber team that has its top player leading them in everything.
The only thing Napier isn't doing is shooting up the NBA Draft charts.
He's a 6-foot-1 senior, with playmaking skills, shoots a high percentage from all over the floor and can rebound at the guard spot as well as run a team.
But, Napier's stock, despite and NBA game in many respects, has him barely in the first round on NBADraft.net and in the mid-second round on Draftexpress.com. Napier is the eighth PG taken in NBAdraft.net and a late second round pick at Draftexpress.com.
Here's a draft breakdown of Napier which highlights his strength and weaknesses.
The one question about Napier is explosiveness at his 6-foot-1 size. Can he get his own shot off in the NBA with his quickness and craftiness?
The NBA does have smaller guards, with Jameer Nelson (though stronger) and Jose Juan-Barea (not quite the playmaker that Napier is) being players similar in size and makeup. Napier has better playmaking skills than Nelson and is better-skilled than Barea, who was undrafted out of BU. Phil Pressy is a rookie with the Celtics and was an UDFA, and Napier shoots in much better than the former Missouri guard who struggles. To me, Napier is Pressey with more of an offensive game with similar point guard skills and just a little bigger.
Is there room in the NBA in a playmaking guard with a flair for the dramatic? I don't know, but Napier doesn't rely on his athleticism to play and while not a leaper, he is by no means unathletic.
That's Napier come draft time, but in the meantime, there is roughly 15-20 games left in his UConn career. It began as a freshman where he played key minutes in winning a national championship.
He now has over 1,500 career points and 500 assists and figures to be leading contender for All-American and Player of the Year honors.
It took awhile, but Napier is just starting to get his due.