WALTHAM — The Celtics  may or may not get a chance to take Shabazz Napier in the June 26 NBA draft. But team personnel executive Austin Ainge made one thing clear his opinion Monday after Napier’s workout for the team: Napier will be playing somewhere in the NBA eventually.
“Shabazz is so clever and shifty,” Ainge said. “He is very hard to stay in front of because he really changes directions very well. He’s quick but he is even shiftier than he is quick. He’s very clever and he can make shots.
“Shabazz is not physically overwhelming, but he has toughness, intelligence and skill and that extra savvy, so he more than makes up for it. He’s going to make it is my guess. He’s a good player.”
Napier stands just 5-feet-11 and weighs 180 pounds, with a wingspan just over 6-feet-3 and a reach of 7-feet-9. But to Ainge and the Celtics , his ability to lead a winning program on the court has its own rewards in the eyes of basketball evaluators.
“It’s big. It’s big,” Ainge said. “We all can look at physical tools. But the league is full of guys that don’t fit most athletic, physical but still are successful. Shabazz certainly checks the box as to how well physically he can play.”
But those numbers certainly don’t count for everything, like winning two national championships at one of the most prestigious college basketball  programs in the country — UConn — and staying at school and playing all four years.
“You can certainly see it,” Ainge said of Napier’s pure skill. “It’s obvious watching Shabazz. Then I think it’s measured in all the other stats. He gets assists, points in the paint and his teams win. All those things can be measured.
“In a college game you learn a lot. But in this, you learn different things. We’re putting him against NBA athletes in NBA positions. That’s probably the biggest advantage for us.”
Beating John Calipari ‘s Kentucky Wildcats  in the NCAA  title game in early April certainly didn’t hurt Napier’s NBA prospects for those GMs that put a lot of stock in winning at a high level.
“Well, it is the last thing you remember seeing,” Ainge added. “We try to fight against that because you never really know how much it’s affecting [evaluation]. Shabazz being successful against top level competition on a big stage certainly says something about him that we would be remiss to ignore.
“I think he’s good at distributing the ball. He runs pick-and-rolls very well, which is a huge skill for an NBA point guard. I think he will not have to change much at all coming into the NBA.”
Does winning really carry that much weight when wondering whether or not he would fit your program?
“It’s a big difference,” Ainge said. “It’s a big difference. You can see it in everything you do on the court. The four-year guys pick things up so much quicker, they’re more polished, especially defensively. Obviously, some of the one-year guys have more physical upside. So, you’re always weighing those things.”