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Shabazz Napier returns to Nets practice, to play Wednesday in Cleveland

Shabazz Napier has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, but is slated to begin his inaugural Nets’ season next time out. The UConn alum spoke to reporters Tuesday and Kenny Atkinson provided some insight on how Napier will be utilized.

Brooklyn Nets Media Day Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Shabazz Napier is set to make his Nets’ debut on Wednesday after returning to team practice on Monday.

The general feeling is that Napier isn’t expected to eat a ton of minutes vs. the Cavaliers, but he’s expected to have an interesting spot on a team that continues to grow more and more position-less.

Because of that, Napier is likely to see time with Nets line-ups that include a combination of other ball-handlers: Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and D’Angelo Russell.

“It makes it that much more difficult for the defensive team, just in the sense of, you have to guard us off the ball,” the (listed) 6’1” Napier said. “Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris, D’Lo (Russell), you have to guard them off the ball because they can make shots. It opens up the court for whoever is handling the ball at the time.”

Kenny Atkinson says that the addition of Napier, as well as the return of (new dad) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, should put the Nets in unprecedented and a bit unknown territory.

“With Rondae and Shabazz back, we’re going to throw in some line-ups no one’s seen before, not even myself,” he joked. “We’re going to have to feel that and work it out as guys come back from injury – that will be another thing to keep an eye on.”

Atkinson adds that we should not expect a ton of minutes for Napier out of the gate when he takes the floor against the LeBron-less Cleveland.

“First, get him some minutes, get him some rhythm,” Atkinson says of what he wants to establish with Napier now in the fold. “He looked good in practice yesterday, so that’s a good sign. Don’t expect big minutes from him, but we’ll build him up. I think he’ll be that spark plug. I think he gives us something defensively. He creates turnovers, he’s a ball pressure guy, he gets into guys, he’s fast, and offensively he can give you a punch. He can come off (the bench) and give you 10 points in 10 minutes.”

Napier also wins. He finished his UConn career with NCAA championships and has made the NBA playoffs the last two years.

Asked what are some observations he’s made watching the Nets while sidelined, Napier immediately pointed out turnovers, where the Nets average an ugly 19.7 per game, while also crediting LeVert and Jarrett Allen for their performances through three games.

“The biggest thing that stands out is we turn over the ball a lot and that’s what hurts us,” said Napier, who will be assigned at least some of the ball-handling duties moving forward. “But I think the good thing is we can control that. I think Caris LeVert’s been playing really well. I think if we continue to play alongside of him, continue to play alongside Jarrett Allen – as well as he’s been playing defensively – continue to push the ball and push the pace, I think we’ll be good. I’ve been enjoying watching them play. It’s been exciting to see them do well.”

Napier later added that he’s anxious for a comeback, stating that while he understands the process, he still couldn’t wait much longer to reach full health and step on the court.

“(I’ve been) very anxious, but at the same time I understand the process,” he said. “I understand that sometimes when you get injured, you’ve got to take your time. It’s your body telling you to slow down and re-evaluate and do the little things again. I’ve been anxious, but I understand that part of the deal, unfortunately.”