The rise of Shabazz Napier for the Portland Trail Blazers may end up bittersweet. He’s gone from first-round burn-out to fringe starter in Portland. For that same reason the former University of Connecticut point guard could be playing himself into a sizeable contract next season—one the Blazers might not be able to match given their current payroll.
If the Blazers believe they won’t be able to retain Napier, the NBA Trade Deadline provides an out, offering potential to sell high. The deadline also provides an opportunity to pick up the next Napier: an under-the-radar, young point guard acquired for cheap. The Orlando Magic traded Napier himself for only “cash considerations” following his second underwhelming season in the league. Might the next candidate be right around the corner?
Let’s take a look at three PGs who might fit the bill:
Joe Young, Indiana Pacers
Joe Young, a former Oregon Duck, sticks out as a strong Napier parallel. The third-year guard is averaging 4.2 points on 9.0 minutes per game this season, on par with what Napier registered the season prior to coming to Portland (3.7 points in 10.9 minutes per game). Young (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) and Napier (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) are also strikingly similar physically.
There is little question about Young’s ability to put the ball in the basket, as he failed to score in double digits in just two games last season. He can do it in a variety of ways and has great potential as a microwave scorer off the bench at the next level.
Sound familiar? It gets better:
Young is multi-dimensional scorer, able to make shots consistently and prolifically both in catch and shoot situations (41.9%) and off the dribble (43.9%) ... He’s comfortable in spot-up situations, taking a dribble or two before his jumper or coming off screens. He has great form on his shot, always seeming to be on balance, and his quick release allows him to get his shot attempts off despite his smaller size.
Young has failed to catch on with the Pacers, never getting the chance to grow into a bigger role. George Hill and Ty Lawson were ahead of him his rookie year in 2015-16; Jeff Teague and Aaron Brooks jumped ahead of him in 2016-17; and Darren Collison and Cory Joseph rank ahead of him this season.
It’s possible the Pacers don’t believe in Young, not seeing enough talent to warrant minutes. Napier only played 9.7 minutes per game his first season in Portland. But a sputtering offense allowed him a chance and he’s produced. Maybe Young just needs the same. His team option for 2018-19 makes him a fantastic buy-low opportunity.
Besides, who doesn’t want a player who sleeps on the team’s practice floor and makes 500 shots every time he wakes up?
Slept on the floor last night after we landed from that great team win in Memphis!! Woke up twice and got 500 made shots up each time I woke up!! My bed was nice and cozy!!! U gotta stay ready at this level..#Grind pic.twitter.com/FBCZM6nbGY— Joe Young (@JoeyBuckets3) November 16, 2017
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors
Delon Wright, brother of former Blazer Dorell Wright, came to the Raptors in a situation similar to Napier’s in Portland: sitting behind two All-Star-quality guards in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Wright appeared in just 27 games his rookie year, averaging 3.8 points in 8.5 minutes per game.
In Summer League following his rookie year, Wright dislocated his right shoulder, requiring surgery. He returned for 27 more games, all after the All-Star break, and upped his minutes (16.5) and points (5.6) per game over that stretch.
Wright put in 14 points in two games over the first month of this season, adding 13 in a third, but then dislocated his right shoulder again, missing games from Nov. 17 to Dec. 13. He’s still enjoying career highs with 9.0 points on 21.5 minutes per game.
Wright isn’t a free agent until 2019, giving the Blazers another season to evaluate him while adjusting their roster to gauge need. A Napier-for-Wright swap may make sense as the former looks prepared for a big role with a contender, while the latter slots in as a piece for a team building for the future while still trying to compete.
Raul Neto, Utah Jazz
Raul Neto, out of Brazil, is at the end of a three-year contract with the Jazz. He played 18.5 minutes per game his rookie season, but Utah’s guard rotation has crowded him out since.
When Dante Exum returned from injury and George Hill joined the team in 2016-17, Neto averaged only 8.7 minutes per game. 2017-18 brought Ricky Rubio and the rise of Donovan Mitchell, limiting him to 4.9 points in 13.3 minutes. A concussion and knee injury have sidelined him since Dec. 9.
Even with his injuries, the Jazz decided to guarantee the rest of Neto’s 2017-18 season, which provides hope he’ll return sooner rather than later.
Neto is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. He is a career 39.1 percent three-point shooter.
DraftExpress had this to say of Neto before the 2013 draft:
Athletically, Neto is a class above most European guards, showing terrific speed in the open floor and a very quick first step. This, combined with his aggressive nature, allows him to create his own shot exceedingly well...
Even if the Blazers didn’t make a move for him at the deadline, Utah certainly could pass on re-signing him this offseason. Portland may be in the market for a backup, and can snatch him up on the low given his injuries and lack of a minutes leading to less-than-stellar stats.