Senior UConn point guard Shabazz Napier does it all. Through the first four games of the season, he leads the team in minutes-played (32.5), points (13.5), rebounds (9.5) and assists (7.8). He has hit 16-19 free throws, leading the team in both free throws made and free throws attempted. Napier has surprised everyone on the boards, skying for 10 offensive rebounds; the next Husky offensive rebounding leader has four. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 31-10 is extremely impressive and is indicative of his decision-making ability. His team lead of six steals also proves that he is a two-way player. He is, in my eyes, the best point guard in college basketball.
The Charlestown, Massachusetts native has made his mark on the program since his arrival. Huskies coaching legend Jim Calhoun saw his promise, and Napier appeared in all 41 games during the 2010-2011 NCAA Championship season. He averaged 7.3 points, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals in 23.8 minutes off the bench.
As a sophomore, he continued to improve. Appearing in 34 games in what became Calhoun’s final season, Napier averaged 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. As he took on a greater role, he progressed just as his mentor and role model, Calhoun, expected him to. As Calhoun retired, many thought Napier would declare for the NBA Draft or even transfer, but he stayed and it just might have been the best decision he’s made.
Napier was selected as a co-captain his junior year, the first season with former UConn Husky and NBA ultility-man, Kevin Ollie, at the helm. With an NCAA-sanctioned postseason ban, the season could have been lost from the very beginning. But under Napier’s leadership, there would be no lack of effort and no giving up. The team went 20-10, benefiting from Napier’s 17.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game. For his on-court production, he was named to the All-Big East First Team. It was yet another year of progression.
He has brought all of his experience into this season, and is thriving.
Some of you may be wondering if I’m nuts for placing Napier as the best point guard in all of college basketball. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan State’s Keith Appling and Memphis’ Joe Jackson are all perceived to be of the best in the land. But, let me explain why Napier tops them all.
Smart, who will likely be a top-5 NBA pick, has averaged 12.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists so far this season. His 9-9 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t very impressive. Competing against Mississippi Valley State, Utah Valley and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Smart should have recorded monster games to stuff the stat line. Napier leads him in all categories, playing against better opponents.
Craft, known as one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball, has recorded 11.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. His 20-10 assist-to-turnover ratio is respectable. However, three of his teammates are ahead of him in scoring, and he is not asked to do as much as Napier is in the UConn offense. At 0-for-3 on the season from long-range, he is not an option at the end of the game to make a big shot from the outside. Napier is.
Appling’s averages are similar. He has put up 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per contest. However, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are the two most important players on the court for the Spartans. Napier is the most important player for the Huskies on a very talented UConn team.
Finally, Jackson and the Memphis Tigers have only played one game this season, and he scored 16 points to go with three rebounds and seven assists. There is not enough work here to evaluate him.
Napier has been and will be the most well-rounded point guard for his team this season. While the others that I mentioned will have plenty of opportunities to improve, Napier makes the UConn offense go and is the most important player on the court for the #19 Huskies. This is why he is the best true point guard in the country.