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Shabazz Napier proving to be more than just a stopgap for the Wizards

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The NBA journeyman guard might have found a home in D.C.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards have employed more undersized point guards than any team in the NBA.

That’s probably true, so don’t bother fact-checking.

The old front office had 16 years to find a productive backup point guard for John Wall but, almost comically, created a revolving door of short guards.

Somehow, Tommy Sheppard, in just his first season as the team’s general manager, might have found two undersized — yet productive — backups for Wall once he returns from the achilles injury, including newly-acquired guard Shabazz Napier.

Like many backup point guards in the league, Napier has struggled to find a consistent home in the NBA. His creativity on the court captured the attention of LeBron James, who advocated for Napier in Miami, only to leave the Heat for the Cleveland Cavaliers after the Heat traded up for Napier in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Since then, Napier has played for the Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and now, the Wizards.

Washington acquired Napier from the Denver Nuggets after he was traded in a massive four-team deal by the Timberwolves, and, at the time, the trade was viewed largely as a stopgap to fill the role Isaiah Thomas played.

But since the trade, Napier’s production, particularly as a secondary scorer to Bradley Beal, has been undeniable.

In the eight games he’s played for Washington, Napier has averaged a career-high 10.8 points to go alongside 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals. At 6-foot-1, Napier is still somewhat undersized for his position, but he’s managed to make an impact on the defensive side. Washington’s opponents have seen their offensive ratings dip from 116.5 to 112.5 when Napier is on the floor, and their turnover percentage increase from 15.3 to 19.5.

Offensively, Napier has taken advantage of the green light Scott Brooks has given virtually everyone on the roster this season. On Feb. 24 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the league’s top ranked defensive team, Napier scored a season-high 27 points with 7 assists.

Given the lack of depth on the current Wizards roster, Napier has been able to showcase his offensive capabilities without worrying about losing his spot in the rotation. In fact, his strong play earned him a spot in the starting lineup, replacing Ish Smith, who Brooks seems to be more comfortable playing off the bench with the reserves.

Whether or not it’s in D.C., Napier is playing himself into another NBA contract. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after making $1.8 million this season, and his impressive play in Washington could earn him a multi-year deal — something the journeyman point guard would likely welcome after bouncing around the league this season.

A new deal could be beneficial for both parties, especially since it appears that Wall will miss the entirety of this season, and will likely be slowly integrated into the rotation once he is ready for full-contact.

Even with Ian Mahinmi’s $16 million coming off the books, Washington’s desire to re-sign Davis Bertans, who is possibly looking at a $15-20 million contract this off-season, could limit their ability to sign “known” players this off-season, making Napier an affordable option for the backup point guard spot.

With Napier’s outside shooting and ability to create for himself, Brooks will be able to tinker with guard-dominated lineups featuring Wall, Beal, and Napier, which might add to the interest in re-signing Napier.

This entire season has been somewhat experimental for Brooks and the Wizards. The likes of Bertans and Mortiz Wagner, for instance, have proven to be regular contributors after entering the season with undefined roles.

Now Napier, in a similar fashion, is showing that he can contribute and help the team win games. It remains to be seen if the relationship will be extended in the future, but Sheppard won’t stop giving players chances to show their talent — and Napier, at least so far, has done exactly that in Washington.