When Shabazz Napier was picking between teams in free agency, Kenny Atkinson’s willingness to use him off the ball is what ultimately convinced him to sign with Brooklyn, a team that’s “on the rise” in his own words.
You hear how important “system fit” is in today’s NBA. Some guys have career years because of new systems and tempos. And vice versa. Take DeMarre Carroll for example. He admitted Toronto’s isolation system made it tough for him to fit in ... then had his best season ever in Brooklyn’s more open system.
For Napier, a career year might be on the way due to his skills at playing both on and off the ball in Brooklyn’s offense.
“That’s one of the reasons why I chose here. I felt like that was part of my game, position-less basketball, going up and down, getting the ball moving fast, being able to run to the corners and have somebody else handle the ball,” Napier told reporters at his introduction.
“I don’t need to be on the ball. I proved that when I was in Portland. I think that’s the reason why Kenny [Atkinson] and I came to terms understanding this was a great fit for me.”
Indeed. Napier joins a team that shot close to 36 3-pointers per game last season. He will likely be squeezed into the offense as an interchangeable guard who plays without the ball in his hands.
Most point guards want the ball in their hands for obvious reasons. However, Napier’s best season came last season when he was off the ball. He split time in the backcourt with Damian Lillard and it worked well. The Nets liked what they saw in Napier last season, as he shot an impressive 45 percent on catch and shoot three-pointers and 37.7 percent overall.
As a matter of fact, his primary role, despite being the lead guard for the second unit, was finding space and hitting on a catch and shoot. Of his 81 three-pointers made, 53 were in catch and shoot situations, per NBA.com. 43 percent of his field goal attempts were threes – 23 percent on catch and shoot.
Here’s his shot chart form the 2017-2018 season:
You get the point.
Now, what about his role on the ball? He’s savvy with the ball and has a quick first step that can put defenses in a swivel. He got plenty of time on the court with both Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the Nets might want to model that with D’Angelo Russell and/or Spencer Dinwiddie.
“I mean, we’ve seen guys play together, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a combination of these guys playing together, like we’ve done when Jeremy (Lin) was healthy,” Sean Marks said of Napier earlier in the summer.
Entering the off-season, the Nets had a logjam at point with Lin, Russell, Dinwiddie, Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert. They got rid of Lin and Whitehead in trades and added Napier.
LeVert will get some time manning the point after some success last season, but he’ll likely play where he belongs ... as a wing. The Nets view themselves as a position-less team, sectioned off by ball handlers, wings, and bigs. Thus, Dinwiddie, Napier and LeVert will each get a chance to play in situations where they thrive – on or off the ball.
And of course, as the Nets have learned the hard way you can never have too many ball handlers. Lin missed 127 games in two seasons, while Russell missed 34 last year. Not to mention, Greivis Vasquez missed the rest of the 2016-2017 season after playing only three games.
Now, and not by accident, they should have options in case injuries become a problem with their primary point guards.
Napier has the versatility to lead the offense with or without the ball in his hands or be a dependable three-point shooter. The high-octane offense puts guys like himself in a good position to succeed.
The video below is a very small sample size of what he can do. He seems to know exactly where to be when Lillard or McCollum would create. Then, even in the third clip, he shows his quick first step which forces defenders to step in and double him in this case.
He may not have stars like Lillard or McCollum to set him up, but his responsibilities should increase on a team that nearly balances players’ minutes and maximizes potential on offense.
(“Shabazzle Dazzle” sounds like something Ian Eagle would say after a crafty move, too. But remember, it’s ours.)