Shabazz Napier capped his stellar career at Connecticut with his second national title. After leading the seventh seeded Huskies to an improbable crown on Monday, Napier has been named NetScouts Basketball’s NCAA Championship Player of the Game.
The 6-foot-1 guard scored a game-high 22 points while shooting 8-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-9 from three-point range. He added six rebounds, three assists, and three steals to beat Kentucky 60-54.
“I see my guys enjoying it,” Napier told the Associated Press. “That’s the most special feeling ever.”
Napier was at the center of Connecticut’s offense throughout the season and continued his stellar play onto the biggest stage. He’s a threat to score whenever he has the ball in his hands, whether it’s knocking down the deep three, crossing over a defender to attack the rim, or utilizing a nasty step-back. The backcourt of Napier and Ryan Boatright also flustered opposing guards because of their quickness and scrappiness on the defensive end.
At the NBA level, Napier likely won’t have as much freedom within the offense as he did at Connecticut, but he can still score in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of his game is his rebounding ability, which can create easy fastbreak situations. Napier clearly has enough range on his jumper and can excel in the common pick-and-roll situations seen in the NBA.
The biggest questions Napier will face are his size and true position. Some teams may see him as more of a shooting guard, but his 6-foot-1 frame will limit him to the point guard position. Napier also faces the four-year dilemma, as he’s currently 22 years old. To put that in perspective, another top point guard prospect, Dante Exum, will be preparing for his fourth NBA season at the same age Napier will be drafted. On the flip side, however, Napier has more experience and should be ready to contribute sooner.
The bottom line is Napier wins games and has shown the ability to outperform anyone in front of him. LeBron James even tweeted during the game, “No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier.” The two-time national champion may not be the first point guard selected as James suggested, but he could certainly be drafted in the first round.
Other Game Notes
-The key stat from this year’s championship game will be in the free throw shooting column. Connecticut only attempted 10 free throws, but made all 10 attempts at the line. In comparison, Kentucky went to the charity stripe 24 times, but could only convert on 13 attempts. Most of the other key stats were fairly similar, but the missed opportunities at the free throw line might have cost the young Wildcat squad.
–Ryan Boatright has been the unsung hero of Connecticut’s championship run and had his time to shine on Monday. The 6-foot junior scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with four rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He is a lock-down defender who will see an even bigger role next season.
-Kentucky shooting guard James Young was phenomenal offensively for the Wildcats, scoring 20 points and adding seven rebounds in the championship. The southpaw has a great shooting touch from outside and can also attack the rim with his left hand. Young had the dunk of the tournament with a soaring slam over three defenders. The freshman did struggle defensively and is limited while attacking with his right hand, but it’s tough to find shooters as good as Young with a 6-foot-6 frame and plenty of athletic ability. He should be a mid-first round pick this year.
–Julius Randle was starting to get some buzz as a potential number one pick, but that will probably cool down now after his championship performance. He was limited to 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting and a 4-of-7 display from the free throw line. He did add six rebounds and four assists, however, to prove that he can still impact the game in other areas. The 6-foot-9 power forward’s biggest strengths are his quickness and explosiveness that should translate into the NBA. When he catches the ball and has space to attack off the dribble, he’s nearly impossible to guard without a help defender. Randle can sometimes struggle when that double-team comes, which showed on one particular occasion when he threw a pass a couple rows into the stands, but has improved as the season progressed. He should still be a top-five pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
–Andrew Harrison had eight points, five rebounds, five assists, and three steals while his twin brother Aaron finished with seven points, four rebounds, and two steals. They’re both bigger guards who can attack the rim, but were held in check by the smaller, quicker backcourt of Napier and Boatright. Projected as late first to early second round picks, it will be interesting to see if the twins declare for the draft or stick around for their sophomore season. The thought at this point is that they’ll be entering the draft.
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