Some might be tempted to scoff at Miami Heat rookie Shabazz Napier’s excuse for his poor NBA Summer League performance — the ball. Like many aspects of NCAA and NBA basketball, the actual ball is not the same, a lesson Napier is learning the hard way.
“[M]y biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball,” Napier told the Associated Press. “That’s one of my biggest problems and it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a basketball. But it’s different than a college basketball.”
Both NCAA and NBA basketballs measure 29.5 inches, but the materials can vary. In the NBA, regulation balls are composed of leather, while in college, the balls can be made of pebbled rubber. Napier’s problems might be compounded by him never having touched an NBA ball until the combine. He told the AP:
“The funny thing is, I never really touched an NBA ball until I left school. I told myself I never wanted to. I felt like it was superstitious, like something bad was going to happen, like I had to earn it. I never touched it and it’s definitely different. This ball is leather and the biggest thing for me now is getting comfortable with it.”
Napier’s teammate, fellow rookie Tyler Johnson, backs him up. Although Johnson had a strong showing in the Summer League, he too tells the AP that the texture of the NBA ball takes some getting used to:
“It is different, especially coming out of college. A lot of times, if the basketball gets wet, it gets slippery. Here, you get your hands wet to make it stick. It’s slippery on its own. It takes a little while to get that feel for it. It is a little bit different but you kind of forget about it after a while.”
Heat fans are hoping Napier gets used the the change sooner than later. The guard earned a sad “C-” grade from ESPN for his poor Summer League performance in July. Per Fred Katz at the network regarding a Day 7 performance:
“The man with two z’s in his name looked like he was catching some z’s throughout the game, appearing lethargic getting back on defense and while guarding in the half court. Napier wasn’t impressive on the other end, either, settling for jumpers (he was 5-for-18 on field goals) and failing to create for his teammates off the dribble just one night after his appearance at the ESPYs.”
Ouch. Hopefully Napier can get a handle on it.