Monday, April 1, 2013

M.V.P. Award: Shabazz Napier

It really is amazing the contrast of the past two seasons have been for Napier.  Last season his leadership, offensive game, perimeter defense and over all maturity were all called into questions.  There was an obvious rift in the team between Lamb and Napier which might have also lead into the transfer of Roscoe Smith.  The infighting led to a team that floundered and Napier took the brunt of that blame since he was the point guard.  That all turned around with his play throughout this season.  Everyone knew that UConn’s season would coincide with how Napier was playing and for much of the season it he was stellar.  He improved in just about every aspect of his game from his defense, offense, and ability to make his teammates better, easily earning him the Most Valuable Player Award.

His offense last year was mainly three pointers, one out of every 2 shots, with a majority of them early in the shot clock, too deep, or contested.  While he did take a few of those types of shots this year, they were few and far between. He improved his field goal percentage this year from deep and from the field and cut his turnovers down by 27.  He did a lot more attacking of the gaps and when he did shoot the basketball, the shots were in rhythm.   There were still times when he tried not to press too hard early in games and culminated with UConn’s slow starts, but he made an emphasis to try to get others going before he looked for his own offense.

His defense was much improved, especially around the perimeter.  It was vital for him to not get in foul trouble because the team was so dependant on him being out on the court, so his intensity was toned down in the first half of ball games or when he had three fouls early in the second half.  He still found ways to get steals and fuel the break where UConn was at their most dangerous.  An amazing stat for Napier is that he had the exact amount of steals 56 in this year and last.  He also fought much harder on the pick and roll defense and wasn’t going under the screen as often as he was in previous years.

Napier is a tough nosed kid that has shown this program a ton of loyalty and deserves to be up there with the echelon of UConn stars, no matter how his career ends at Storrs.  He will be heading into a talent laden team with a ton of experience.  Their front court should be much improved and the conference will still have a lot of ranked teams in it to make it competitive.  If he can improve his shot quality, develop a killer mid-ranged pull-up jumper, and continue to get to the line then there is no reason why he shouldn’t lead this team to a possible conference championship and a NCAA tournament berth.

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