In a Trail Blazers’ season filled with ups and downs, the latest ascent has been propelled by an unlikely source: point guard Shabazz Napier.
With dead-eye shooting, nearly mistake-free ball management, and pesky defense, Napier has in the last week evolved from spot duty to bonafide rotation player quicker than you can say “Shabazzle Dazzle.”
The surprise is not in his ability – teammates like Damian Lillard have called him a “handful” in practice – the surprise rather, is in his ability to carve out a niche in what was an already crowded backcourt.
With a two-time All-Star (Lillard), a future All-Star (McCollum) and an $18 million play-maker (Turner), Napier faced the most formidable of roadblocks with the Blazers.
But Napier this week said he has leaned on a quote by his mom, instilled in him from his youth: “The easiest thing to do in life,” his mother told him “is to quit.’’
This fall, knowing he faced a roster loaded with obstacles and after missing all of training camp with a hamstring injury, Napier worked.
And now, his coach is finding he can’t quit Napier.
It was the fourth straight game Napier has played 15 or more minutes, and against the Magic his playing time created one of the most intriguing lineups of the season – Lillard, McCollum and Napier at the same time.
From a defensive standpoint, it seems unlikely Stotts will feel comfortable playing the three point guards together for long stretches. And with Napier forging his way into the conversation, the rotation now sits at a robust 10, with injured starter Al-Farouq Aminu scheduled to return by the end of the month.
So what happens next?
Does the three-point-guard lineup become a thing?
Does Napier eventually go back to spot duty that has defined his first three NBA seasons?
Or does he fade into the considerable shadow cast by Lillard and McCollum?
It will be one reason to tune in Friday when the Blazers play in Sacramento in their quest for three consecutive wins.
And it will be one more reason for Napier to remember his mom’s quote. After all, as Napier says: “I’ve never been a quitter.’’