Basketball / Sports

Shabazz Napier is a perfect fit in Heat's 'hybrid' system

MIAMI -- Shabazz Napier didn't pattern his basketball game after any one player in particular.

Instead, he took a little from various players, including Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Tony Parker. The variations should help Napier ease into his role as a Miami Heat point guard.

His versatility is what the Heat hope leads to a quick transition from the collegiate to professional level.

"To play multiple positions is important for us at the point guard position," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "To know how to play with the ball with a high IQ, but also to be able to play without the ball in a hybrid system that makes us efficient."

The Heat always had Napier atop their draft board despite sifting through 40 or 50 prospects, according to Spoelstra. Napier was the best fit because of experience and success. He played on two national-championship teams at UConn in four seasons.

"From the very beginning of the process, Shabazz's name was at the top of the list," Spoelstra said. "How we were going to try to figure out how to get that done, that was another story. We had 10 days to figure it out. He was the guy I watched the most film on and we felt was the best fit on many different levels."

Despite a strong endorsement from LeBron James, Napier said the two have yet to speak since the draft. In April, James called Napier the best point guard available. The support from the game's best player has already produced a positive effect.

"I was just humbled by it," Napier said. "I don't really get star-struck or anything like that. I was super humbled by it. It just made me want to work. ... I know I'm light years away from how good he is. To be as good as he is you have to work hard."

Words such as "humbled" and "learn" were frequently used during Napier's 17-minute press conference. He soaked in the experience when he arrived in South Florida for the first time but quickly realized his professional career begins Tuesday once workouts start.

"I've been playing basketball since I was 5 1/2 ," he said. "Of course, each level it gets tougher and tougher. You have to expect that. You've got to prepare yourself for those opportunities at hand. I'm not nervous at all. I'm definitely excited to get it going."

With Mario Chalmers to become a free agent, Napier could find himself in competition with Norris Cole for the starting job. Chalmers held the position the past three seasons. Napier appears ahead of schedule, already knowing his job is to play off the Heat's All-Star core.

"It's going to be games where I'm the man and it's going to be games where I'm not the man," he said. "That's how it was in college. You have to understand it's what the game asks of you that day. If that day it was my job to get 12 rebounds, so be it."

Nearly two weeks ago, Heat President Pat Riley stopped short of saying Spoelstra needed to reinvent himself as a coach.

Spoelstra said that doesn't necessarily mean overhauling his coaching methods.

"Whatever we decide to do, we're not going to retool and reinvent our entire operation here," Spoelstra said. "There's been some great success with it."

Even if Napier isn't under contract by the start of the NBA Summer League on Saturday, he said, he expects to play for the Heat's team.

"I'm going to play in the summer league but don't know" about the contract situation, he said. "Basketball is all I know. My agent knows everything else."

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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