With John Wall due to return from injury and Ish Smith still under contract next season with the Washington Wizards, is there a place on this team for Shabazz Napier?
When the Washington Wizards made the deadline deal that sent Jordan McRae to Denver for Shabazz Napier, I think most people in the Wizards fandom, including myself, believed he would just be a stopgap. Isaiah Thomas was clearly not working out and with John Wall still out, the Wizards needed a backup for Ish Smith.
Smith has been playing some of the best basketball of his career this season. So it was assumed that Napier would come in to give Smith a breather and eat up minutes for the remainder of the year and then most likely walk.
But then something interesting happened. Upon trading for him, Napier has played great for the Wizards during this last stretch of the year and has provided needed value. He has worked his way into the starting lineup and is averaging 10.5 points and 4.0 assists on 43 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three via Basketball-Reference.
So with his string of good play, is it realistic to think that Napier could be back for the 2020-2021 season?
Yes, it is, and here are a few reasons why.
1. Insurance Policy
As we all know, in the John Wall era, the most glaring hole that the Washington Wizards have had is the bench play, more specifically at backup point guard. Although some may have thought his contract was a bit pricey at the time he was signed ($6 million a year for him?!), Ish Smith has come in and seriously exceeded expectations thus far.
The Wizards think they may have found their guy to be Wall’s backup, but why not become rich at the position, especially knowing the perils of being point-guard poor? Shabazz Napier has shown he can be thrust into any role and contribute.
With Wall coming off one of the toughest injuries in sports, why not have a couple of different options as insurance? On any given night when Wall needs a breather, the Wizards could feed the hot hand depending on who is been playing better between Napier and Smith.
Both of these guys have shown they can be trusted and would be adequate options off the bench. With their track record for poor pg play outside of Wall, having as many options as possible for the Wizards would be a net positive. Especially with both coming at a reasonable price.
2. Defensive Purposes
Now before you blow a gasket, I know that Shabazz Napier is not some lockdown defender. However, he brings more to the table than most on this poor defensive team. Even though he stands at just 6’1, Napier brings a physicality to the court that the Wizards do not see much of this season before he arrived.
Ish Smith does not bring much to the table defensively, so having a backup guard who can bring any sort of spark will be useful.
The Wizards defense has been historically horrendous all season so any type of spark would be a helpful, and ay bright spot retained. The return of John Wall will boost the team’s defense next season but having a guy like Napier coming off the bench would help the Wizards that much more on the defensive end.
Napier is a scrappy player who does not shy away from a challenge. If the Wizards can get some defensive help at other positions this offseason, too, Napier would fit right in with the second unit.
3. Trade Bait
Now, this is another idea that kind of comes from the crowded backcourt. There are a few different ways that this can be played.
Off the bat, if the Wizards like Napier enough, they could take Ish Smith to the trade block this summer. Ish is having a great year this year and teams will always be in the market for a backup guard. Smith has shown that he can run a fast-paced offense and almost never turns the ball over.
Despite averaging over 26 minutes per game as one of the team’s top ballhandlers, Smith is averaging just 1.3 turnovers per game this season, per Basketball-Reference.
The pace and ball security are both huge in today’s NBA, especially at the point guard position. Those skills will always be sought after.
If the Wizards aren’t ready to get rid of Smith just yet, they can bring Napier back and see how the season plays out with both behind Wall. Based on their play early in the season, the Wizards can reevaluate their roles at the trade deadlines.
This is another interesting option as teams get a tad more desperate at the deadline, and could be willing to overpay for a “missing piece.”
I am not saying that the return on either of these guys would be anything crazy, however, if the Wizards have the confidence in one of them, they may feel comfortable moving the other.
Could one of these guys land the Wizards a few 2nd round picks? Or maybe a big man or a wing who may fill a hole at the trade deadline?
Wondering what Napier could fetch at next year’s deadline could be looking a bit too far ahead, but Shabazz Napier has played very well for the Wizards thus far in his short stint. At the very least, he’s given the front office a lot to think about as we approach free agency. And he’s made Ish Smith’s seat a whole lot hotter.
Although it’ll be open bidding on Napier when he hits free agency, he’s currently making $1.8 million for the 2019-20 season and he’s never earned more than $2.4 million in any of his six NBA seasons. He should be affordable if the Wizards choose to keep him.
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