As of December 31, 2017, the Portland Trail Blazers were sitting at 18-17, still trying to find their identity as a team. One thing they were not searching for was a backup point guard to spell All-NBA phenom Damian Lillard. Shabazz Napier had solidified himself, not only as a solid rotation player, but the best reserve point guard the Blazers fielded since the turn of the millennium. Napier had finished December averaging 13.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He shot just under 50% from the field to that point and 45% from three on 206 attempts. On top of that, the Blazers most successful three-man lineup for the entire season came when Napier shared the floor with Lillard and fellow guard CJ McCollum. The Blazers were set in the backcourt— or so it seemed.
After a subpar January, Napier’s production fell off a cliff. Most notably, he was unable to hit shots. From February on, he shot 34.5% from the field and 32% from three. Then Napier received two DNP CDs in the Blazers four game playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Entering the summer, there was doubt that Portland would retain their back up point guard— a restricted free agent. Then Portland went a different direction, locking up Seth Curry, effectively ending Napier’s tenure with the Blazers. Napier signed with the Nets for less than 2 million dollars guaranteed and a team option. The Blazers signed Curry for 2.75 million plus a player option.
Was this the right move for Portland?
Both guards are unspectacular in stature and athleticism. Napier has superior quickness and foot speed to Curry while Curry is a couple inches taller. Both guards are scorers first and are usually as effective as their ability to put the ball in the basket. Neither has been a high level distributor in the past. In Curry’s last season played, he averaged 4.8 assists per 100 possessions. Last year, Napier averaged 4.9. For reference, Greg Monroe’s assist per 100 possessions last year, in over a thousand minutes played, was 5.4.
It’s worth noting that Curry was almost exclusively used at the shooting guard spot in Dallas. Napier played most of his minutes at point but had his primary ball handling duties split when he was on the floor with Evan Turner, Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum— which was most of the time.
Defensively, the two players have different styles. Seth is slightly taller, not as quick, but is fundamentally solid. Napier is a gambler. He concedes positions in an attempt to use his quickness to get a steal. Sometimes it’s a read, often times it’s a last-ditch effort when he is already at a disadvantage before the pass is made. In Portland’s “no three’s” defensive scheme, both styles of defense have seen success. Curry’s size does give some switch-ability which Napier lacks.
Playing guard on the Blazers means a lot of time spent off the ball. The off-ball comparison between Curry and Napier is not much of a comparison. Any way you cut it, Curry is a class above Napier in almost every shooting category available. That ability alone makes him the better complement of the two when Dame and/or CJ is on the court. It also makes him a better fit with Evan Turner in the second unit. If Curry’s career 43.5% three point shooting carries over to this season, it’s safe to say there will not be any DNP CDs on his game log, regardless of matchup.
The biggest concern about Seth Curry comes with health. Curry carved out a consistent role for himself during 2016-17 season with the Dallas Mavericks but then suffered a stress fracture in his tibia the following October. The injury cost him all of the 2017-18 season. So far in preseason, the injury doesn’t seem to have set him back.
Inconsistency was the biggest concern with Napier. The drop-off in production of that magnitude is relatively uncommon, but it’s far from the full story. Sometimes so-so players play above their skill level for stretches. Very good players also go through funks. Lingering , undisclosed injuries can also play their part in a sudden change of productivity. Last season, Napier finished the year with 1535 minutes played. The previous two years prior, he combined for 1112 minutes. Perhaps he got a little burnt out.
So many factors can alter a player’s season. Predicting the future off of a single year gets dicey. The best way to understand who a player actually is, is to watch him in practice every day. The Blazers got that opportunity and decided to go another direction.
With only a small sample size of consistent playing time, it is harder to say for certain if Portland made the right choice. Based off the information that we have at hand, it sure looks like Curry is the better option for what Portland is looking for.
What do you think? Are you for Curry or do you wish Portland had Shabazz back? Let us know!