In a classic draft-and-trade move, Shabazz Napier, the all-everything guard who graduated last month as a two-time national champion as a member of the UConn men's basketball team, was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday, then was immediately traded to the Miami Heat for three draft picks. Napier, the 2014 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, is positioned to join LeBron James, generally recognized as the best basketball player in the world, as well as former UConn great Ray Allen, with the Heat. Both James and Allen are currently unrestricted free agents.
Napier, a 6-1 point guard from Roxbury, Mass., was the irrefutable leader of the 2013-14 National Champion Huskies, and also played for Connecticut in 2011, when the Huskies also won the national championship when Napier was a freshman. He was asked what he thought it would be like transitioning from one winning culture to another (Miami has won two NBA world championships in the last four years). “The first thing that jumps off is the winning attitude,” said the first-team All-American. “When you compete at that high level, you want to win every single game. On the first day you arrive, you want to work, and you want to prove that you can get back [to the championship]. Not prove to anybody, but to yourself, to your teammates.”
Earlier, James had called Napier “the best point guard in this year's draft.” Could Napier be instrumental in “King James” re-signing with the Heat?
“I don't know if I'm bringing him back, [but] I would love it,” said Napier. “Me and LeBron's relationship... he's a great guy. I've been to his camps. Me and him chatted a few times at his camps. He's just a special [player].
“My agent just told me that he Tweeted something out about me just now,” continued Napier, a Wooden Award finalist and the Most Outstanding Player in the 2014 Final Four. “It's something special to know that one of the best players in the world thinks about you and appreciates your talent. That's something that I'm so humble for.”
While Napier, who led the Huskies in scoring (18.0 points per game), rebounding (5.9) and assists (4.9) may have been the highest-profile Connecticut player in the Draft, he wasn't the only Husky selected last night. UConn forward DeAndre Daniels was taken in the second round by the Toronto Raptors with the No. 37 overall pick.
Although only one year old, last night's Draft cemented the American Athletic Conference's reputation as a “power conference.” Men's basketball teams from American were a combined 13-4 in postseason play in 2013-14, registering the best postseason winning percentage (.765) of any conference. The conference placed four teams in the NCAA tournament—Connecticut, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis—while another AAC team, SMU, made it to the NIT championship game. And let us not forget the undefeated national champion 2014 UConn women's basketball team.
His record and resume notwithstanding, several point guards were selected before Napier. That would normally leave a chip on one's shoulder, but according to Napier, there's no hard feelings...only motivation to prove the teams who let him slip to the end of the first round wrong.
“What I always learned was that whatever you put in is what you're going to get out,” he explained. “If I don't put in the work, it's not going to show. So there's always a chip on my shoulder to prove to myself that I'm the best, and to do that, I've got to work hard.
In other local news, the Boston Celtics drafted Marcus Smart, a sophomore point guard out of Oklahoma State, with the No. 5 pick overall, and James Young, a prodigious, 18-year-old, one-and-done swingman from Kentucky. Young, who won't turn 19 until August, is thought to be the youngest draft pick in Celtics' history. Interestingly, Smart was projected at No. 1 last year by many experts had he decided to come out after his freshman year.
Meanwhile, neither the New York team, the Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets, possessed a first-round pick. The Knicks were first up and with the fourth pick of the second round (No. 34 overall), Phil Jackson's first selection as New York's head honcho was Cleanthony Early, a 6-8 All-American senior forward out of Wichita State. The aging Nets, who came to the Draft held on their home court—the Barclay's Center—without a first- OR second-round pick (the NBA Draft only goes two rounds), used some of multi-billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov's cash to purchase Minnesota's second round draft choice, Markel Brown, a 6-3 senior shooting guard who was Smart's back court mate at Oklahoma State. Brown averaged 17.2 points with the Cowboys. Later, the Nets traded for the final two more picks—San Diego State point guard Xavier Thomas with No. 59, acquired from Toronto, and Baylor power forward Cory Jefferson with No. 60, acquired from the world champion San Antonio Spurs.
Nets GM Billy King later admitted that the team had considered buying into the first round, but that the cost was “too high.”
Perhaps the most intriguing team in the draft was the Philadelphia 76ers. After the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Alan Wiggins out of Kansas No. 1, and the Milwaukee Bucks snagged North Carolina's Jabari Parker at No. 2, the Sixers took the gamble many thought they would and chose 7-foot center Joel Embiid, Wiggins' teammate at Kansas, who most experts pegged at No. 1 until he had two screws inserted into his foot to fix a stress fracture. Then, with their second first-round selection (No. 12 overall), Philadelphia went for Dario Saric. The Croatian native, who will also miss the 2014-15 NBA season having just signed a three-year deal to play in Turkey. So for the time being, Saric will be playing about 5,000 miles due east from The City of Brotherly Love, where he will be training for a career in the NBA for at least the next season—and perhaps one or two years after that (although logic would seem to indicate that the Sixers are confident they can buy out Saric's contract sooner than later).
That puts the Sixers squarely in the driver's seat for the No. 1 overall pick next year, likely to be Jahlil Okafor, the wunderkind from Chicago who has committed to Duke for what will no doubt be a one-and-done season with the Blue Devils. (Editor's note: Okafur is a distant cousin to former UConn great Omeka Okafur). That scenario is reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs, who were able to draft Tim Duncan No. 1 out of Wake Forest in 1997, largely because David Robinson had missed most of the previous season. The Admiral started the campaign with a month-long back injury, then broke his foot after playing just four games, and missed the rest of the season. The Spurs finished with the third worst record in the league in 1997, but won the No. 1 pick in the lottery and selected Duncan.
The rest, as they say, is history.