Napier hoping to prove heart more than measures up

Napier hoping to prove heart more than measures up
June 16, 2014, 2:15 pm
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WALTHAM, Mass. — When it comes to crunching the overflowing stream data and physical statistics for potential NBA players such as vertical leap and wing span, Shabazz Napier doesn't measure up.

By everyone's account - including his own - he's not among the elite when it comes to those kind of measurables.

But what he lacks in size and athleticism, the 6-foot-1 guard has more than made up for in the past with his ability to impact games.

And he's hoping that quality shines brightly in the eyes of NBA teams, including his hometown Boston Celtics who had him in for a workout on Monday.

Napier was one of six players at the workout, but none were more acclaimed than the 23-year-old who grew up just a couple of train stops away in Roxbury, Mass.

And while he doesn't necessarily appear to be a target with either one of Boston's first round picks (No. 6 and No. 17 overall), the Celtics' brass were pleased with what they saw on Monday.

"Shabazz is so clever and shifty," said Austin Ainge, Boston's director of player personnel. "He is very hard to stay in front of. He really changes direction very well. He's quick, but he's even more shiftier than he is quick; and he makes shots."

But his shot-making at the next level is among the many concerns with him as NBA teams are unsure whether he'll be able to get those same shots off against bigger, more athletic competition than what he faced in college.

"Shabazz is not physically overwhelming," Ainge admitted. "But he has toughness, intelligence and skill, and that extra savvy. He more than makes up for it. He's a good player."

Napier has had to deal with being overlooked and looked down upon throughout his basketball career.

Rather than slow him down, the criticism only fueled him to prove himself an elite player who can not just play with the best, but emerge victorious.

Indeed, Napier's calling card throughout the workout process is to convince teams that his leadership and success in that role are worthy of being among the first point guards taken.

"That's what I'm good at," Napier said. "I vocalize when I'm on the court; give instructions to help us win games. That's one thing I do well. I've been through a lot, experienced a lot. So I understand what my team needs at certain times of the game."

The resume certainly speaks to that, with Napier beginning and ending his college career with a national championship.

And in winning it all this past spring, Napier was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Performer in the Final Four after leading the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky in the national title game.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens admitted he has been a big fan of Napier for some time now, dating back to when Napier and the Huskies knocked off Stevens' Butler Bulldogs in the national championship 53-41, in 2011.

"Obviously a big-time player," Stevens said of Napier. "No matter what, when the lights are the brightest, he's at his best."

And Stevens is well aware of the question-marks surrounding Napier as far as whether he's physically up to the challenge of playing in the NBA.

"I'm not as big on that stuff as some people are," Stevens said. "I kind of like to see the ball go in the basket and see how they compete on the floor. I don't remember what the vertical of the best players in the world are. I just see them have their way over and over again."

Stevens added, "Guys that win find ways to win, find ways to impact on their opponent. That's a big deal. So I think that's something that we all share here. That's an obvious one. But you have to realize and factor in where they are in their age and stage basketball-wise, who they had around them. But certainly the guys that have won, that's a real positive."

And Napier is indeed that kind of player, but he knows all too well that as was the case in high school and college, much will be made of his diminutive size relative to others.

"At the end of the day, I cannot worry about that," Napier said. "God made me the way that I am for a reason and I accepted it. I don't have the 40-inch vertical. I don't have the crazy wing span. I just have the heart that a lot of guys who have those attributes, don't have. You put me in front of anybody and I will compete. I was always the littlest guy, so I always competed. Those are things I really can't worry about, except for being myself. It's always a reason for something. I'm definitely happy I can lead a team."