However, a move into the starting lineup Feb. 26 in place of the injured Ish Smith has allowed Napier to be more himself: a point guard who not only ignites the offense but also speaks up.
“The biggest thing to me is always lead by actions, and for the first couple games, that’s what I was trying to do,” Napier said. “Now it’s just feeling more comfortable with the guys and explaining to them what I see out there.”
On Tuesday night against the New York Knicks, Napier, a 28-year-old journeyman, shot an economical 6 for 12 from the floor for 21 points while also racking up six assists. Several of those deliveries came early in the offense as Napier sent heads-up passes to Bradley Beal for quick scores.
“He is a true point guard, but he can score,” said Beal, who led the team with 39 points (11-of-25 shooting) and had three of his makes come from Napier’s passes. “He runs the team like a true point.”
Unlike ball-dominant point guards that are fashionable in today’s game, Napier averages only 58.8 touches per game, according to NBA.com statistics. In contrast, Beal averages 79.0 touches.
Though Napier doesn’t waste time in possessions, as a point guard he can’t spare his words, and he is starting to feel more comfortable in speaking up.
“I respect him in a lot of ways. He is very vocal,” Beal said. “He holds me accountable, too. He holds everybody to the same standards.”
Beal and Napier have taken different tracks in basketball. Beal was the one-and-done standout from Florida, while Napier stayed all four years and won an NCAA championship with Connecticut. Beal went on to become a franchise cornerstone with the Wizards, the only team he has played for in his eight years in the NBA, while Napier has bounced around six teams in his six-year career. Still, the two have a prior connection, meeting in AAU tournaments.
With that relationship, Napier has felt comfortable to sometimes call out his star teammate.
When the Knicks’ lead ballooned to 18 points in the third quarter and Beal sulked, Napier was the one reminding him the game wasn’t over. “Relax,” Napier told him, and the small prompting lit a brush fire as Beal scored 20 points in the quarter and the score was tied entering the fourth.
After the Wizards won, 122-115, Napier’s name came up often during interviews.
“Shabazz did a great job of leading us and getting us in sets,” Coach Scott Brooks said.
Added Beal: “We definitely are happy to have him, and it is not by accident the production that he’s putting out there.”
Recently, Napier has made the observation on how Wizards teammates spend too much time in the offense watching Beal work. He mentioned himself as a guilty party, too. However, on Tuesday night, as Beal had his scoring outburst in the third quarter, the Wizards didn’t simply stand around in awe. During the quarter, Napier collected three of his six assists and remained aggressive, making three of five shot attempts.
“Normally for me, I’m always trying to be a talker and a leader by actions. I just try to figure out where I can help out,” Napier said. “[On Tuesday] I just tried to navigate certain areas of the game where I know I have a little expertise and understood that. Credit to the guys giving me a chance to do so.”