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Deeper Dive: How Can Florida Handle Shabazz

by Photo of Tommy Dee

UCONN’s star guard handled Florida in their early season match up. How will the Gators counter?

Deeper Dive: How Can Florida Handle Shabazz

 

It's every bit as difficult to find a standout scoring point guard who stays four years in college as it is to find a Michael Bey movie that doesn't have explosions. And in watching Connecticut's floor general Shabazz Napier light up defenders all season in leading the Huskies into the Final Four, there's there's far more to that analogy.  

I'll admit I haven't done that much homework on Napier until this week and I'm legitimately excited when I watch his tapes. His craftiness with the ball is special and some of his passes literally make me rewind several times. His passing and his ability with the ball allows for him to orchestrate UConn's offense at different speeds, but it's his elite footwork that allows his herky-jerky style to keep defenders off balance that complements his explosive quickness perfectly. 

This is no small compliment: I see an eery similarity in footwork to that of Steve Nash who may have had the greatest puppies (Bill Raftery voice) in basketball history at the guard position. That may sound like an overstatement but I'll take ownership of it. Napier's footwork is so special that even the game's top defenders can't contain him even when that's their only assignment. 

The beauty of Napier's game translates to the stat sheet as well. He is a heavy usage player with a high assist rate (27% and 31%, respectfully) but he doesn't need to force shots to make to get his 18 points per game. Moreover, he doesn't need to be the star of the show, it comes naturally within the offense. Of his three highest volume shot games this season, two resulted in losses and he's taken 20+ shots just once this season resulting in 34 points. That tells me that he's not a "me first" type of player.  

To be fair, his decision making needs to improve, but his craftiness with his hands and feet make him an incredibly interesting prospect at the NBA level. Logic would dictate that if he can continue to push the Huskies forward he'll gain Kemba Walker-type momentum as the draft inches closer and as he heads towards workouts. First thing's first though... a Final Four matchup with number one seed Florida.

Quoteworthy

"Napier can get a little reckless with over-dribbling and shot selection, but UCONN relies so much on him for offense. Personally, I'm more concerned with the physical transition for napier than the mental one. Still think he's an NBA player. He needs that floater game and ability to score around foul line before traffic. But as a point guard it will be fun too see him around better players at the next level." - Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report

Their First Meeting December 2, 2013

In their win against Florida in Stores in December, Napier was incredible. He had 26 points on just 15 attempts making 5 three pointers...  

...and if Florida wants to try and slow him down they better do a better job protecting the three point line. Here Napier reads the screen and gets Young on a switch easily finding his spot in the hop and shooting over him going left.

Not to be outdone Napier uses the screen going right found his spot in rhythm and knocked down another. If the Gators want to try and slow down Shabazz they'll need to be much better in pick and roll by being more disruptive to his shooting rhythm. 

That's easier said than done. Here Napier receives the pass and thought about shooting off the catch but it was defended well. Not to be deterred, Napier perfectly uses a jab step to get into rhythm and to get the shot off quickly. That's also very difficult to guard.

Even when Florida defended the screen well forcing Napier to pass, he was able to get an easy basket here. He only had 2 assists for the game to go along with 3 turnovers, but stopping easy buckets is critical in big games.

Game Plan

So how do you game plan for Shabazz Napier if you're Billy Donvan? It's hard to know for sure so I posed the question to my good friend Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com to get an idea of he was thinking and it starts with Scottie Wilbekin:

"As Dan Patrick has said about a number of players, when it comes to Shabazz Napier, it’s not about stopping him but rather finding some way to try and contain him. Florida head coach Billy Donovan will hand that tall task to Scottie Wilbekin, arguably the best on-ball defender in college basketball, who had a relative amount of success in their first meeting. Napier scored 26 points back on Dec. 2, 2013 but there are a number of things to factor into that performance. Coming off a five-game suspension, Wilbekin was still very rusty, playing in just his third game of the season. 

After being on the court for 35 of the game’s first 37 minutes (because Gators back-up PG Kasey Hill was out with a high-ankle sprain), Wilbekin sprained his own ankle with 3:01 to play. Napier scored six of his 26 points in the final 34 seconds with Wilbekin off the court. However, prior to those final 34 seconds, Napier was still incredibly impressive with 20 points on 4-of-6 shooting from long-range. Florida’s three-point defense, save for some open looks against Dayton in the Elite Eight, has improved dramatically over the latter half of the season. 

The Gators switch defenses so often and so well that predicting how Donovan will get his team to guard Napier is foolish without having an intimate knowledge of his game plan. So expect a mix of man and zone, perhaps even a triangle-and-two, and of course Florida’s patented press will try to get the ball out of his hands as well. In the end though, it will primarily be Wilbekin’s job to shut down Napier to the best of his ability while still maintaining some energy to continue his clutch offensive play for Florida.

Some Suggestions

Here is how I would potentially attack Napier based on what I've seen:

Force him into tough shots early: Easier said than done but here the Gators use ICE to stifle the pick and roll pushing Napier to the sideline and using that as another defender. The result is an off balance shot from a bad angle. If they can get Napier to commit to tough shots early it may be able to throw off his rhythm for the rest of the game.

Attack him defensively: One of Napier's biggest weaknesses is his on-ball defense. Here the Gators use dribble drive to attack him for an easy basket. I don't think Napier will want to foul early so he'll let aggressive drives to the hole go forcing his bigs to have to help. If I'm Coach Donovan I'm attacking him with the ball from the opening tip.

Whatever Donavan decides the Gators have their hands full with one of the college game's top orchestrators. I'll be fascinated with how this all plays out tomorrow night.  

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