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What should Brooklyn do with Shabazz Napier?

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night, Kenny Atkinson, seeing his point guards were exhausted in the back end of a back-to-back, turned to Shabazz Napier for more than 10 minutes and the UConn product came through, keeping the Nets in the game. He didn’t score but handed out three assists.

“I felt like our guys that were playing big minutes, they looked a little tired. I just tried to get our subs in earlier, threw Shabazz [Napier] in there. He gave us some good minutes. We needed everybody.”

The man he replaced, D’Angelo Russell agreed.

“We just know that everybody has to do their part,” Russell said. “Back to back, three in four [days], we need the whole team. Whoever’s on the floor, we need them.”

Still, you have to wonder what’s next for Napier. He got DNP-CD’s in six of the seven games before Wednesday, playing only 4:57 in the game against Atlanta.

Napier was having a good year with Brooklyn before he was sent to the bench, averaging 15.0 minutes, 7.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in 23 games. On top of that, Napier is shooting the ball well from both behind the arc ... at a 37.1 percent pace.

When on the court, Napier is a tough point guard who fits Atkinson’s offensive system quite well, even if by Kenny’s standards, he’s a bit on the short side. He is also a better-than-average defender who likes to lock down his guard and restrict space. Despite fitting in well on both ends for Brooklyn, Napier’s playing time has been dropping.

So, with Napier’s minutes down and trade season now underway, could he be involved in trade talks?

Napier signed a two-year deal with the Nets over the off-season. The second year of his deal is a team option exercisable in June. The deal is also a little front-loaded so it’s conducive to a strategy that tries to wring out every dime of cap space. He was a value signing.

But the Nets are now focused on their two young point guards, both of whom are younger than the 27-year-old Napier. D’Angelo Russell is 22; Spencer Dinwiddie 25. Dinwiddie is now the first man off the bench. Moreover, the Nets were using Caris LeVert in the playmaker role before he went down in November. He was averaging nearly four assists a game in his first 14 games.

Brooklyn, of course, recently inked Dinwiddie to a three-year extension worth $34.5 million one game after he scored 39 points off the bench to beat the Philadelphia 76ers.

Meanwhile, the Nets are essentially auditioning Russell for his next contract and he’s been playing great for the Nets during their seven-game win streak, He’s having a career year across the board. He is set to become a restricted free agent this summer giving the Nets the chance to match any contract Russell signs with another team. It may not come down to that.

With Russell and Dinwiddie both playing great basketball and being the catalyst players during the Nets win streak, Napier is the odd man out in the point guard rotation. And as anyone who’s been around the Nets in the Markinson Era knows, Atkinson likes his guards big. Ask Yogi Ferrell.

Besides Russell and Dinwiddie —and LeVert, the Nets have another playmaker developing as well with their G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets.

Theo Pinson, who the Nets signed as a two-way player after he went undrafted, is having a great G-League campaign this season. Before being brought up to play with the big club this week, the 6’7” Pinson had started all 16 games for Long Island Nets and is averaging 34.6 minutes, 18.4 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. Pinson leads his team in minutes per game, assists per game, and three point shooting —37.5 percent— this season.

It’s that last number that bodes well for Pinson. Last year, at North Carolina, he shot only 22.7 percent which hurt his draft stock. Now after hitting 42.9 percent of his shots in summer league, he’s proven he can hit the three.

So with Russell playing great, Dinwiddie not only locked up for three more seasons but in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year, LeVert coming back later this season and Pinson developing quickly, will the Nets move Napier?

Napier has proven to be the point guard the Nets expected him to be when they signed him last offseason. But due to the play of the other Nets guards, Napier is now on the short end of the stick and could have some trade value.

There’s no rumors about him being moved now, and let’s remember this: Not only has Napier played well enough, Sean Marks knows the value of having a deep bench at the point. His experiences with Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez in year one of his tenure, then with Lin and Russell last year taught him well. As did LeVert.

The Nets are currently sitting at 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 15-18, a half game out of eighth and two out of sixth. Do they make a trade to boost their playoff hopes or will they continue working with what they have now? Or maybe they continue to stock their draft cupboard. They have all their firsts going forward and the Nuggets first as well this year, but you know they’d like more. They have seconds in early year but 2025 so they’re not desperate there either.

And Napier, it seems, likes being in Brooklyn. He’s an East Coast (Boston) guy and he told Michael Grady of YES earlier in the season that he is ready to help this team reach the playoffs.

“This summer, I have put in a tremendous amount of work and I am just excited to show it off and bring this team to a playoff appearance.”