Basketball / Sports

Heat rookie Shabazz Napier in different situation since draft

The link began before Shabazz Napier even entered the NBA.

It was April when he was first associated with LeBron James. It started with James being fascinated by his play during the NCAA Tournament. It continued when the Heat traded for Napier on draft night, with some thinking it was a ploy to keep James in Miami.

Their bond has changed since James decided to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Napier is solely focused on improving as a player instead of hanging onto to any praise from James.

"It was great to hear," Napier said of James' kind words. "It was humbling, but right now I'm just focused on trying to get better with the summer league."

Napier is doing his best to detach himself from James, who tweeted about him while he was leading UConn to the national title. While it was Twitter that first tied them together, Napier created some minor news when it was learned he unfollowed the former Heat star.

Napier has since said he doesn't use his own Twitter account.

But after the Heat's loss against the Los Angeles Clippers Monday at Thomas & Mack Center, he seemed disinterested in discussing anything related to James. His attention was strictly on basketball.

"I don't really fall into it," Napier said when asked his reaction of James' departure. "I'm just trying to get better myself."

Napier would much rather concentrate on how his situation has changed since being drafted. Before James left, he was originally expected to serve as the backup to guard Norris Cole. All signs pointed toward Mario Chalmers, the starter the past three seasons, leaving via free agency.

That became no longer the case once James exited.

Chalmers was re-signed and is expected to remain the starter. That leaves Napier as the third point guard on the roster. He said there is nothing wrong with competition.

"I'm happy we've got some teammates, we've got some good players," Napier said. "I'm looking forward to playing with those guys."

The only concern for Napier is improving. He has struggled with his shot throughout the summer league. He made just 2 of 8 from the field against the Clippers.

"It's not 1/8a concern3/8," Napier said. "That's one of the biggest things right now. Shooting-wise, I shoot the ball well but right now I'm not."

As always, Napier has been his biggest critic. It's been that way throughout his career. He often finds the negatives in his performances, win or lose.

"I'm never satisfied," Napier said. "Even though I was on a high, I was never satisfied with who I was and my game play. Every time I have a bad game, even if it's a good game and we lose, I always find ways to criticize myself. I do it in the right manner. I don't beat myself up but I just got to figure out what I need to do better, what I need to learn."

Part of it is just Napier adjusting to playing at a different level. Things have started to somewhat slow down, allowing him to play less passive.

"I feel good," Napier said. "I've just got to be more aggressive. I'm not as aggressive as I need to be. That's not who I am. I am going to get it sooner or later."

The positive is Napier feels he has improved after each game. He views that as a "stepping stone" to becoming a consistent contributor.

"It's basketball," Napier said. "In a few beginnings of games, I was just thinking too much. It's basketball at the end of the day. I just got to continue to progress each and every game ... That will be the key. The goal is just to continue to be consistent."

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

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