While the Brooklyn Nets’ weekend ended without a win, Shabazz Napier provided a spark off the bench that could be useful going forward.
The Brooklyn Nets looked like a team that was completely out of gas over the weekend. They entered Friday night’s contest riding the emotional high of a thrilling double overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets and it was their 10th win in 11 games. But their rematch with Charlotte featured tired legs and Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks was much of the same.
That’s why Shabazz Napier had the opportunity to play meaningful minutes off the bench. With the emergence of Rodions Kurucs and strong play from Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell, Napier has been buried on head coach Kenny Atkinson’s bench for most of December.
But like a true professional, Napier was ready when his number was called. The diminutive point guard put up 11 points in just over 11 minutes on Friday. He was 5-for-5 from the floor and the Hornets had no answer for his dribble penetration.
All of Napier’s baskets came in the second half and he scored eight of his points during a fourth-quarter run that gave the Hornets something to think about. Ultimately, Tony Parker’s 17 fourth-quarter points were far too much for Napier and the Nets to overcome. Nonetheless, Napier proved that he deserved another opportunity.
Little did we know, Friday night was simply an appetizer for an offensive explosion on Saturday. With a skeleton crew taking the floor against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, Napier shined. The UConn University product scored 32 points and dished out seven assists, both season highs.
Career Night in Milwaukee
Napier put up 32 points—tying his career high. He scored in a variety of ways, showcasing his versatility as a scorer. The point guard shot 9-for-15 from the floor, 4-for-7 from deep, and 10-for-12 from the free throw line.
Let’s take a look at his threes because he was excellent in catch-and-shoot opportunities. Normally, Napier is a guard that likes to have the ball in his hands and he prefers to attack with the dribble. This season, only 16.8 percent of his shots are coming in catch-and-shoot opportunities.
But on Saturday, Napier was finding the open spaces on the perimeter and taking advantage of the open looks he was seeing. On a team like the Nets, consistently knocking down threes will go a long way towards securing a spot in the rotation.
While Napier was deadly from beyond the arc, his bread and butter is still his ability to probe and prod the defense with the dribble. Napier used his craftiness to find his way into the soft spots of the defense. He used a variety of pull-ups and floaters to get his shot off.
Additionally, Napier used his dribble to draw fouls and kill the Bucks from the free throw line. Milwaukee couldn’t keep him from scoring so they were forced to foul the guard who plays much bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame.
Granted, most of his points came in the second half when the Bucks opened up a sizable lead. But Napier led a mini-comeback that forced Milwaukee to tense up for a split second. The career night was a colossal effort, but it wasn’t enough to change Brooklyn’s fortunes.
What Does This Mean?
First off, Napier isn’t replacing Russell or Dinwiddie in the rotation anytime soon. Even a 32-point night isn’t enough to force Atkinson to rethink his point guard rotation. Rather, Napier’s strong weekend gives Atkinson some breathing room.
Part of the reason why Napier played 33 minutes on Friday was due to the fact that the Nets are run down. They played three games in four nights and they were still coming down off of the emotional high of winning 10 out of their last 11 games. Russell and Ed Davis sat out to rest and it was pretty clear that Dinwiddie would have benefited from a night off as well. Atkinson knows he has Napier up his sleeve for a night where he needs to give one of his point guards a night off.
Of course, Napier won’t be usurping any playing time from Dinwiddie or Russell (if healthy), but he could take time away from other guys on the roster. Originally, swingman Rodions Kurucs’ emergence pushed Napier to the end of the bench.
But the Latvian rookie is bound to take his lumps at some point. All rookies do. When that happens, Napier is a nice option to have in reserve. The lineups will be a little smaller, but Napier can coexist with any of the other guards on the team.
So with all of this in mind, the question presents itself: What is Napier’s role moving forward? We know the 32-point outburst isn’t going to happen every night. Although we do know that Napier is a veteran point guard with a knack for scoring, he won’t play big minutes every night. But he’s the perfect third point guard to have on the bench.