Mar 30, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Shabazz Napier (13) shoots the ball against Michigan State Spartans guard/forward Branden Dawson (22) during the second half in the finals of the east regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics Prospect To Watch Tonight: Shabazz Napier

Mar 22, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Shabazz Napier (13) drives to the basket against Villanova Wildcats in the first half.

As much as I love Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, ans as much as I want to believe Danny Ainge when he tells us that he is going to make every attempt to resign the All-Star guard in the summer of 2015, I like to think I understand the NBA well enough to understand that there is just as good chance of Rondo leaving town as there is of him staying put.  Because of that, and because I like Phil Pressey but not enough to hand him the starting point guard job, I’ll be watching the first game of today’s Final Four double-header with my eyes on University of Connecticut point guard

Shabazz Napier

There’s a good reason why so many people want to compare Napier to his former teammate, point guard Kemba Walker – namely, the fact that UCONN is riding its young point guard as far as he will carry them.  Walker was THE reason that UCONN won a a national championship in 2011 – but lest we all forget, UCONN was a three seed in the NCAA tournament that year, so it wasn’t an absolute surprise to find them in the Final Four.

The same cannot be said for this year’s UCONN team.  Find me someone who had UCONN picked to the make it to the Sweet 16, and I’ll shake his or her hand.  Find me someone who had this team going to the Elite Eight, and I’ll buy them a beer.  Find me someone who picked them to make it this far, and I’m going to punch him in the face (if it’s a girl . . . well, I STILL might punch her in the face) because that’s a lie: NO ONE except total UCONN homers picked the team to get this far.  Especially not with tournament favorites Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo in their path.

All of which makes what Napier is doing potentially GREATER than Walker’s accomplishments.  The game plan to stop UCONN is pretty simple: shut down Shabazz Napier.  I’m going to bet Tom Izzo instructed his team to do exactly that . . . and then Napier went off and scored 25 points, grabbed 6 boards, dished the rock out for 4 assists, grabbed a steal, and managed to go 9-for-9 from the charity stripe.  Napier has scored 93 points in four tournament games so far, and that’s with every defense he has faced designed to shut him down.

His scoring is all well and good, but here’s the real reason why he should be on the Boston Celtics’ radar: like all good point guards, Napier is an extension of his coach on the floor during practices and game time.  According to UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie,

 He’s taken ownership of his team.  I can come in (a practice), and Shabazz is already doing drills, already out there with the fellows. I call him my unpaid coach because he has a coaching mentality. Him and me think the same.  He knows when to get on guys, but then he knows when to back off of guys, too. I couldn’t think of another point guard that I really give the keys to and let drive the bus.

If Danny Ainge and company think that there is any chance that Rajon Rondo won’t be wearing a Boston Celtics jersey once the 2015-2016 NBA season rolls around, they better put Shabazz Napier on their big board if he is not there already, which is why we should all enjoy watching him square off against the Florida Gators in the big dance tonight.

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