No. 2: Shabazz Napier
Shabazz Napier remains an intriguing case study to keep eyes on. Given the injuries to Markelle Fultz of the Orlando Magic and the Cavaliers and Rockets’ potential statuses with the hardship exception, the six-year veteran could become a hot commodity over the next few weeks.
In admiration of his time with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Napier could be another hand-in-glove fit for the Blazers, should they lose some depth at the guard position.
Their bench depth could bolster itself if Anfernee Simons continues his momentum and becomes a trustworthy play beyond mostly garbage time.
Of his 83 total minutes in 2020-21, 59 of them have come in double-digit games. And Keljin Blevins could have potential as he gets more feel for the professional game, and extra tutelage from his cousin. The Blazers have also shown versatility, sometimes having forwards play the pseudo-floor-general role.
But what if they can’t?
Napier knows the intricacies of Stotts’ system. That brief, six-game stretch in December likely comes to mind for some, when Napier took advantage of added playing time with Lillard’s hamstring injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 steals on 51-42-75 percentage splits over the slate. He’s consistent, steady, and has obvious camaraderie with this group.
Outside of his time with the Portland Trail Blazers, Napier had, in some aspects, the best year of his career in 2019-20, making his prolonged free agency all the more perplexing.
He wasn’t quite as productive for the Wizards in the bubble, but he hit the long ball at a career-high clip, is an aggressor in the passing lanes, and wasn’t an awful defender despite being undersized in every situation except for maybe riding rollercoasters?
The point is, he’s capable of stepping in as a capable player if need be. Other teams are likely to be vying for his services too with the pandemic rearing its ugly head in the NBA. But if the Portland Trail Blazers have a chance to get an insurance policy, why not take a chance on one they’ve already seen before?