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UConn in the NBA: Will a Move to Orlando Help Shabazz Napier?

Shabazz Napier's first year in the NBA was far from glamorous. Will the move to Orlando change his fortunes?

Shabazz Napier went between Miami and Sioux Falls throughout his rookie season.
Shabazz Napier went between Miami and Sioux Falls throughout his rookie season.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

A quick recap of Napier’s NBA career so far: there were lofty expectations for Napier’s rookie campaign before it even began. The national spotlight found Napier as he shouldered UConn on a title run and then things really heated up when LeBron James proclaimed Napier to be, "my favorite player in the draft!" Drafted 24th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and eventually dealt to the Miami Heat for Semaj Christon and P.J. Hairston, it appeared Napier was heading to an ideal situation with the world’s best players.

But then James bolted Miami for Cleveland and the results in Napier’s first year with the Heat were underwhelming at best. Twice sent down to Sioux Falls of the D-League, Napier saw action in 51 games averaging 5.1 points per game on .382 shooting with an assist-to-turnover ratio (1.56) that left plenty to be desired. Miami has been rumored as actively shopping both Napier and backup point guard Mario Chalmers this summer, with neither drawing huge interest from the other 29 teams.

However, on Sunday the Orlando Magic pulled the trigger on a deal for Napier sending the Heat a protected future second-round pick in exchange for the second-year guard. A protected second-round pick might as well be a bag of basketballs as far as Miami is concerned, considering they may never actually see the pick. That isn’t as big of an indictment on Napier as it might be on Chalmers. The Heat have been looking to shed salary and open a roster spot—so moving Napier makes sense saving the team between $4.5-5 million in luxury tax. And as Michael Saenz points out shipping Napier to the Magic also rids Miami of any lingering LeBron effects.

For Napier, the trade gives him a fresh start in year two. He sheds the undo expectations put on him by James and gets out of an organization that maybe didn’t really want him once they lost out on James last summer. The Orlando backcourt is crowded: fellow 2014 first-round pick Elfrid Payton (8.9 ppg/6.5 apg/4.3 rpg) secured the starting point guard job last season; eight-year veteran C.J. Watson signed this summer to be Payton’s primary backup; third-year pro Victor Oladipo (17.9 ppg/4.1 apg/4.2 rpg) will man the two-guard spot; fourth-year pro Evan Fournier (12 ppg) will come off the bench; and Willie Green and Tyler Harvey are gunning for the final roster spot. There are certainly a lot of pieces in place here but the Magic—who finished last in the Southeast standings a year ago—do need a third point guard and that seems to be the role Napier will fill, at least initially. Watson hasn’t played more than 63 games in the last two seasons and at 31 years old, one can see a scenario in which Napier will be thrust into more playing time behind Payton.

Napier is coming to the Magic at the same time as new head coach Scott Skiles. Ideally, Skiles will come in with no preconceived notions of Napier and let him prove on the court the type of player he can be. The former Magic point guard from 1989-1994 has a reputation as a tough coach who demands his teams play defense. Though undersized, Napier will have to show he can be feisty on the defensive end if he hopes to earn minutes under Skiles.

The aforementioned assist-to-turnover ratio was not a strong suite of the Magic’s a year ago, finishing ranked 24th in the league (1.44). If Napier can distribute the ball well and efficiently run the offense, it will only boost his stock.

Offensively, Napier shot 38% from the floor and 36 percent from beyond the arch as a rookie, not really getting anyone too excited. But despite shooting only approximately 26 percent of his shots from midrange (10 to 16 feet), Napier connected at about 45 percent from there. If he can find a way to extend his range a little bit this season beyond the three-point line and get to those pull-up areas inside the arch, the shooting potentially can get much better.