For Shabazz Napier, this might be the right team at the right time.
Napier came to the Timberwolves as part of the complicated sign-and-trade deal that sent D’Angelo Russell to Golden State and got Kevin Durant to Brooklyn this summer. Even when he was being introduced to Twin Cities media in July, Napier said he knew this was a good landing place.
Nearly a week into his first camp with the Wolves he’s even more certain.
“Obviously there is a point guard slot needed,’’ he said Saturday. “We have Jeff [Teague], and, obviously, I just thing with my growth throughout my NBA career, I feel this is a great opportunity for me to come in and showcase what I’ve been continuing to work on.’’
If there is one thing five NBA seasons have shown Napier is that, along with ability, a player needs two things to succeed — confidence and opportunity.
As a first-round draft pick coming from a storied college career at Connecticut, Napier had a difficult start to his career that included an unproductive rookie season in Miami and a second season in Orlando spent mostly on the bench.
But two seasons in Portland working behind C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, followed by a productive season in Brooklyn, have given Napier back his confidence. And the Wolves, it appears, are about to offer the opportunity.
Salary cap constraints forced the Wolves not to match the three-year, $28 million offer sheet that Memphis gave favorite son Tyus Jones this summer, leaving the Wolves with an open slot at the backup point guard position. Napier, at 28, is the most experienced candidate on the roster.
This is a job that takes on even greater importance because Teague is coming off ankle and foot injuries at that limited him to a career-low 42 games last season.
For this year, at least, Napier hopes to fill that backup roll. He and Jones have similar career numbers, though Jones, at 23, is five years younger than Napier. Napier is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $1.88 million this year.
Jones has career averages of 5.1 points, 4.8 assists and 0.7 turnovers compared to Napier’s 6.4, 2.0 and 1.2.
With both Napier and Teague in the final years of their deals, the future of the position with the Wolves is unclear. But Napier hopes to make the most of this opportunity.
It is a comfortable situation. Napier worked out for Saunders before the 2014 draft. He played with current teammate Jake Layman and for current Wolves assistant David Vanderpool in Portland. Wolves assistant Pablo Prigioni and Napier were together in Brooklyn last season.
Napier is perhaps more scoring-oriented than Jones, and his career three-point percentage is slightly higher (35.4 vs. Jones’ 33.3). That scoring mentality should serve him well in the pick-and-roll game.
“I think he’s a guy who can shoot the ball, and he’s got an ability to find his teammates too,’’ coach Ryan Saunders said of Napier. “We want to make sure that we continue — all of our point guards — to read the defenses. We want to make sure we’re a low-turnover team, even though we’re looking to play faster.’’
Napier is confident he has what it takes.
“The NBA nowadays, the point guard is usually a scoring guard,’’ he said. “I’ve been a scoring guard my entire life. On top of that I’m a willing passer, able to pass the ball with my left and right hand, being able to see the court.’’
His experience both with the ball in his hands and playing off the ball — something he has done both in college and the pros — should fit in well with the Wolves. Particularly if Napier gets some time with Karl-Anthony Towns.
Napier is confident he can capitalize on any opportunity he’s given.
“I’ve experienced so much,’’ he said. “The top of the highs and the lowest of lows. It’s a combination of everything, but I think the biggest thing is the experience of the game.’’