The curious marriage of Shabazz Napier and the Miami Heat

Nothing helps an entity gain instant respect and acclaim than the support from someone that is universally popular and beloved. It’s why ESPN and damn near every other sports station offers jobs as analysts to ex-pro players and coaches. They are recognizable faces that the mass can relate to, if only in emotion and history. Most don’t care that Shaquille O’Neal can’t recognize that the defensive three-second rule might matter or that modern basketball allows the shooting of big men to impact a game much more – shrewd comparison, I know. So when LeBron James tweeted that he wouldn’t take a point guard beside Shabazz Napier in the draft, people listened.

Backwards hedging time: LeBron James is a million times smarter than me, especially in the world of basketball. So perhaps he is right about this whole Napier is the best point guard in the 2014 NBA Draft business.

Pat Riley feigned strength when discussing the future of the Miami Heat after the NBA Finals. He laughed and shrugged off the potential departure of the world’s best player. Something about getting a grip or whatever. But when push came to shove, he did as he was told. Riley’s actions were about drafting the guy LeBron wanted. Now LeBron James is giving a window to attract and sign enough talent so it’s not a 1-on-5 again on the biggest stage.

But this goes back to James and how his perception on Napier changes how most might feel about the 22- year old prospect, one several months older than max-player Kyrie Irving. What does Shabazz do well? What makes him the player that the world’s best would go out of his way to covet him? He won a championship with Kemba Walker as a freshman then another one as a senior and leading scorer on the UConn Huskies. A flurry of game-winners throughout the season of course led to his ability as a “proven winner” and “clutch scorer”. He’s not necessarily quick or big for a point guard, standing just 6’1” with a 6’3” wingspan. Shabazz improved into a 40.5 percent shooter at the college level but the buzz on him remains his proficiency as an intangibly talented player, whatever that means.

A small point guard without athleticism doesn’t necessarily fit the swarming defense the Miami heat are known for. Granted, their style might be shifting with their eye on talents like Pau Gasol and Marcin Gortat (before he re-signed with the Washington Wizards) and their core players getting older. Norris Cole is a similar comparison to Napier, but laterally quicker. With Napier in tow, the Heat are possibly shipping him away while adding a player that essentially does the same things.

The end of the first round doesn’t offer much NBA-ready talent and the Heat aren’t in the business of developing talent especially when LeBron wants to sign a short-term contract. But there are defensive wings that the Heat could use like Josh Huestis or K.J. McDaniels. Neither is especially flashy, but both are a better fit to their scheme. Signing Shawn Marion would only add much-needed wing depth and an able mentor.

But what LeBron James wants, he gets. The dichotomy between what players want and how feasibly accurate this might be is playing a part in how the Heat are constructing their roster. It’s not right or wrong because we have no idea at this point. On the other hand, Andre Iguodala has stated that they must keep Klay Thompson as a Golden State Warrior at all costs. Whereas the pick of Shabazz is an odd fit and obvious move to pander to LeBron, Iguodala’s similarly opinionated take is very likely wrong. Kevin Love is the much better player but in Iguodala’s situation, and most anyone else’s, the boss holds the power.

Perhaps LeBron James will make a Jason Kidd-esque leap into coaching and GMing (potentially) after his career. While Shabazz might turn out to become a rich man’s Norris Cole, a composed point guard that can spread the floor and pester opposing players, it’d have been interesting to see what the Miami Heat would have done without James’ obvious input into the selection. James is the greatest in the world. We just don’t know if that translates to the level of scouting that others in that organization are paid to do.

Andy Liu

  • BaldwinP

    I would be surprised if a change in defensive style isn’t in the works. Four years ago it was a brilliant way to leverage the athleticism of James, Wade and Bosh in their primes and surprise and overwhelm opposing offences not used to coping with all those traps, but by now it clearly just wears out the entire team and causes them to turn their defensive effort on and off like a light switch. Spoelstra was already having them trap less and imitate a Thibodeau-style defence in stretches, and I suspect that the 2014-2015 Miami Heat will go even further that way and give up on the high energy high risk high reward stuff almost entirely- no matter who they sign.
    Always surprised that young athletic teams like the Thunder or now Phoenix haven’t tried to emulate the Heat’s tactics, though. They’ve got the personnel to do it and it’s proven to be highly effective as long as the team has the stamina for it.