UConn’s Napier impresses Suns with ‘now’ factor

Suns GM Ryan McDonough had this to say about UConn point guard Shabazz Napier: 'I think of the guys in the draft, he's probably one of the most ready to come in and make an impact right away.'

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PHOENIX — Whereas Monday’s pre-draft workout at US Airways Center featured buzz and potential, Tuesday’s session showcased impact and experience.

A day after hosting coveted lottery pick types like UCLA guard Zach LaVine and Duke forward Rodney Hood, the Suns took a look at a more seasoned group that included Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier and Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III.

"Yesterday’s group I think you saw the potential," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. "Today’s group we had a lot of production, guys that are proven players."

The workout featured four seniors: Napier, Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Joe Jackson (Memphis) and Ronald Roberts Jr. (St. Joseph’s), along with a pair of sophomores in Robinson and Jerami Grant of Syracuse.

The spotlight was brightest on the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Napier. With a winning pedigree that includes two national championships, including last year’s, Napier could prove an intriguing option for the Suns with one of their three first-round picks — Nos. 14, 18 and 27.

"This year he was obviously the guy (at UConn)," McDonough said. "We place a value on winning, and I think of the guys in the draft he’s probably one of the most ready to come in and make an impact right away."

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That’s a nice compliment from and NBA GM, but how it applies in Phoenix could be questioned. The Suns are already well stocked at point guard with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, along with backup Ish Smith. Is there room for an "impact right away" guy that McDonough characterized as strictly a point guard?

"We try to play position-less," McDonough said. "I think because of our system and the pace we play with there’s more of an opportunity for multiple point guards to play. With his size, I think he’s a guy that will primarily play with the ball in his hands, but he’s also a good shooter."

Last season, Napier averaged 18.0 points per game while shooting 42.9 percent overall and 40.5 percent from 3-point territory.

Napier could give the Suns flexibility to consider trading one of their starting guards in a blockbuster package, or he could have a season to develop in a reserve role while serving as injury insurance for Bledsoe and Dragic.

"Shabazz I thought overall with his speed, quickness, condition, I thought was really good for as much as we do running," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "He kept pushing the ball, which is our style. That’s what we want to see."

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Perhaps more than anything, the Suns like Napier’s experience. Four seasons in a top flight college basketball program and two national titles mean a lot, but so did Napier’s sticking around through UConn’s postseason ban.

"The four years gave me the most experience that I can say no one else has in this draft," Napier said. "I was there for the good times and the rough times, so I’ve seen a lot, dealt with a lot."

Less developed but a more likely fit for the Suns in this draft is Robinson. The son of an NBA star, Robinson also comes with a strong pedigree from a strong college program. He also comes with more question marks.

Most concerns seem centered on Robinson’s outside shooting. In college, he shot 52.5 percent but just 31.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arch.

"I think Robinson’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate," McDonough said. "He’s very young, his stroke looks good. He’s a guy when you watch him shoot, even from the NBA line, you look at his percentages and you’re a little surprised they were as low as they were.

"I think once he gets that shooting he can be a pretty complete player."

Shooting can improve with time and repetition, but Robinson, 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, comes already armed with ideal size and athleticism for a wing in the NBA.

Grant is another potential fit from an athletic standpoint at 6-foot-8 and 214 pounds, but he also comes with outside shooting concerns after only taking 20 3-pointers in two seasons. Grant, whose father Harvey and uncle Horace played in the NBA, admitted he must develop an outside shot to make it in the league.

"It definitely needs to get better," Grant said. "It’s been improving since I’ve been in college, and it improved after the season. It definitely needs to get a lot better in order to play in the NBA."

With a solid young roster that just missed the playoffs already intact, the Suns may opt for upside type players with their early picks. But Tuesday’s workout was a reminder the Suns wealth of picks gives them the option to look for more immediate impact.

"These guys have had great college careers," Hornacek said. "What we saw on tape was what we saw out here."

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