In a year where the Celtics failed to make the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, the biggest basketball story in New England was a kid from Roxbury stealing the show in the NCAA tournament.
Shabazz Napier led UConn to their fourth National championship, becoming the first #7 seed to ever win the title. Along the way he led the Huskies to four upset wins, saving his best for crunch time.
And now, his draft stock is soaring. When the tournament began Napier was considered a second round pick, and didn't even make the top-60 in draft express' mock draft. He was being underrated because of his size (6'0), age (the NBA always underrates seniors) and tweener status (is he really a PG? Is he too small to play the 2?). But his magical tournament run changed all that, and now Napier is projected to go anywhere from the middle to the end of the first round. He's now the #26 ranked played on Draft Express, jumping nearly 40 spots since March.
And it's not surprising to find out that Napier would absolutely love to stay in New England for the next chapter of his basketball career. Basketball Insiders' Jessica Camerato caught up with Shabazz, and asked him what it would be like to play for Boston.
“It’d be crazy. It’d be really, really ironic,” Napier said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “I’m from Boston and I grew up a Boston fan. To wear white and green, that’d be insane. There’s a lot of history, a lot of tradition there, a lot of pressure. But I’m good with pressure. I’m not too worried about that.”
“When you’re from Boston, you’ve got to go with the Celtics,” Napier said. “But whoever’s team picks me, I’m going to change that. That’s just how it goes. I’m a Boston kid, home of the championship Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots. When you grow up in Boston, that’s the team you root for.”
Napier referred to the notion of playing for the Celtics as “ironic” more than once. A bigger irony is that even as he developed into a standout athlete, he didn’t consider becoming a member of the team as a real possibility.
“I never thought about it,” Napier said. “Of course your aspiration as a kid is knocking down the game-winning shot for your team, and I probably had a lot of game-winning shots for the Boston Celtics. You definitely have aspirations, but I never really thought about it would come to real life.”
So it's clear that Napier would be excited to be in Boston, but should Celtics fans be excited if the team picks him? Obviously it would be with their second pick (17th overall), but even that would be considered a bit of a stretch if you trust the player rankings. But Danny Ainge has never been afraid to reach for a player that he really wants. Napier has drawn some comparisons to Kemba Walker, the other 6'1" do-it-all guard to lead UConn to a title this decade. Walker eventually went 9th overall in 2011, but he was a year younger and had an even more magical run than Napier. But Walker has developed into a really good NBA player, averaging 18 points and 6 assists per game over the last two seasons for Charlotte. If Napier could match that production he would be a steal at #17.
The Celtics certainly have bigger needs than point guard, but at this stage of the rebuild I'd expect (and hope) Ainge would target the best player available rather than try and fill a hole on the roster. After all, the Celtics are not really overflowing with talent anywhere, with the possible exception of power forward. So if Napier is the best guy on the Cs board when it's time to pick, I don't think Danny is going to worry about adding another point guard to the roster.
At the end of the day, Napier is just another name to keep an eye on. But he's a Boston kid with a ton of heart, so if his name is called by the Celtics in June, it will be a little more special than your average draft pick.
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Michael Dyer 5/16/2014 04:45:00 PM Tweet Edit