Tonight’s National Championship game marks the end of another awesome and unpredictable NCAA Tournament. The tourney’s top performer has been, without question, UConn’s diminutive senior PG Shabazz Napier, who will look to complete his month-long Kemba Walker impersonation by cutting down the nets and bringing the national title back to Storrs. As terrific as Napier is on the hardwood, he is somewhat uninspiring as a pro prospect because of his perceived lack of upside. Generously listed at 6’1″ 185, even the most casual fan realizes that Shabazz will not be able to dominate in the pros the way he has as a college senior. On the other hand, small guard prospects are often the easiest to project since all of their collegiate production is a result of their superior basketball skill, not a physical advantage. In a sense, what you see is what you get, just to a lesser degree.
There is some selection bias here (I left out Jimmer Fredette, more on him later), but there is no less an obvious trend of productive college point guards being undervalued due to their height. All of Napier’s comparables greatly out-performed their draft slot and enjoyed long, successful careers as starters and/or key reserves. Derek Fisher (#17 in 1996) won five NBA Championships as a mainstay for the dynastic Lakers. Jason Terry (#10 in 2002), the only lottery pick of the group, is a 15-year vet and a former Finals hero. Jameer Nelson (#20 in 2005) was an All-Star in 2009.
A good way to compare PG prospects through stats is to look at their rebounds, steals, and blocks. These numbers tend to indicate a level of athleticism that will allow their other skills (namely scoring and passing) to translate into the NBA. Here is how the group rates out in order of “RSB40”.
*I told you I’d get back to Jimmer. Look at how poorly he rates out in these key criteria, and he doesn’t even have good passing numbers to make up for it. So why was he overvalued in the draft? Because he’s a white guy who scored a ton of points. The Larry Bird Theory is real, people.
Holy Shabazz! Even if you think his ridiculous 6.7 rebounds per 40 is a fluke and use his career average (5.0) instead, his RSB40 still comes out to a respectable 7.5, putting him just about neck-and-neck statistically with Derek Fisher. If Napier can mold himself after Fisher (solid ball handling, pesky defense, 3-pt shooting), there is a good chance he will still be playing in the NBA 10+ years from now. While I can understand a non-playoff team looking for someone with more “star potential”, I am convinced that Shabazz merits consideration in the latter half of the first round.