Shabazz Napier finally found success with the Portland Trail Blazers this season after stops with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic in his early NBA years. The point guard is averaging career highs in points (8.8 per game), 3-point percentage (38.3 percent) and steals (1.1 per game) in the most minutes of his career (20.8 per game).
Napier rose from benchwarmer to one of the key reserves in Portland’s offense this season. Given this step up in play, Zach Lowe of ESPN honored Napier as a “Luke Walton All-Star,” a recurring list that highlights players who have surprisingly stepped up during the season:
Playing alongside at least one of Lillard and McCollum means Napier gets to prey on the opponent’s weakest defender. But it also shoehorns him in a tricky role -- a combo guard in a point guard’s body who doesn’t get the ultra-green light of a classic bench gunner.
He has made it work, including in three-guard looks with both McCollum and Lillard that have blitzed opponents by almost 25 points per 100 possessions -- the fifth-fattest mark among more than 1,400 trios that have logged at least 250 minutes, per NBA.com. (The top four all play for the Rockets.)
Terry Stotts tried that group when he was grasping at straws to jolt Portland from a midseason slump. It worked, and he’ll need it more with Maurice Harkless injured. “Shabazz gave us life when we needed it,” Stotts says.
Lowe also highlights the copious amount of work Napier put in this offseason with known trainer Paul Fabritz — workouts included running sand dunes, and Napier actually got quite good at it. You can read the rest of Lowe’s list and his section on Napier here.