Shabazz Napier’s Stock Soaring As NBA Draft Nears

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Been working on a story for the Sunday Courant on Shabazz Napier’s prospects for the NBA Draft, which is less than a week away.

This much is crystal clear – his stock is rising, and his performance in the NCAA Tournament is a major reason.

“Before the tournament, I would have projected him as a mid- to late-second round pick,” one NBA personnel guy told me. “But in the tournament – holy cow … ”

Another league executive told me that after watching Napier for the first time – in the games in Madison Square Garden – he went back to his college scouts and asked, “Why aren’t we talking more about this guy?”

Perceptions changed. A source in an organization picking late in the first round told me they do not expect to find Napier still on the board.

The Celtics, who pick No. 17, brought Napier in for a high-profile workout this week. LeBron James has called via Twitter for the Heat to draft him, and if he gets to them at No. 26. At the White House, the president told Napier “there’s room for him on the Bulls,” which is the prez’s hometown team, and they pick 16th and 19th.

On Friday, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Napier has accepted an invitation to attend the Draft in the Green Room, which means he will be in New York for the various pre-draft activities. The NBA has expanded its list of invitees.

It all comes down to this: Napier is a winner, a take-charge guy on the floor, and once you get past the handful of truly elite players in a draft, the intangibles begin to matter. During the season, scouts could see that, but evaluation then is more about projecting a player’s physical skills and how they translate to the NBA. Napier, at 6-foot-1, wouldn’t have that “can’t-miss” look. But on the big stage, against the best competition, his mental toughness and other qualities become more prevalent. As Jim Calhoun said out at the golf course this week, “there’s no metric for seizing the moment.” For instance, Napier’s little shove of Ryan Boatright in the championship game caught some scouts’ eye. …

“In another circumstance, it might have been regarded as a character flaw,” an NBA scout told me. “But he did it in a good way. He did it for the right reasons.”

Seniors often slip in the draft, because of the perception they’re about as good as they’re going to get. But in Napier’s case, added experence could be a plus. He appears ready to play in the NBA right away, and a team looking for a back-up point guard that is salary-cap-friendly could see Napier as a perfect pick in the second half of the round. Miami? Oklahoma City? The Clippers?

When all is said and done next Thursday, Shabazz Napier will be smiling.

Here’s something on Napier and the Heat. And the Bulls.


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