How William Navarro can find success at the 3 spot for NorthPort Batang Pier

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William Navarro is picking up the pieces and is bent on recalibrating the trajectory of his young and promising career.

Over a month removed from an aborted stint in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), Navarro has bought in on the prospect of finding short-term success with the NorthPort Batang Pier, who agreed to a two-conference deal with the 25-year-old forward earlier this week.

For Navarro, the contract represents a step forward -- an acceptance of matters beyond his control, and a willingness to pave a new path toward a different future.

"I've moved on completely," Navarro told ESPN on Thursday, a day after making his PBA debut. "There's no reason for me to think about it anymore, na sayang 'yung chance. Same with life lang 'yan eh - something doesn't go your way, wala ka nang magagawa. Tapos na. You move on."

Navarro was set to play for the Seoul Samsung Thunders in the KBL, but he failed to secure clearance from FIBA because of a previously existing contract with Gilas Pilipinas as a full-time player. NorthPort also owned Navarro's rights, as the franchise drafted the former Ateneo standout with the second pick in the special round of the 46th Season Draft before loaning him to the national team pool.

Now a fully-fledged Batang Pier -- until the end of the 2022-23 season, at least -- Navarro has zoned in on a goal that should improve his future prospects for long-term job security.

"Yung goal ko talaga is to play as a 3," he said. "Even sa Gilas, 3 naman talaga 'yung position ko eh. Gusto ko lang ma-prove rin na dito sa Philippines, dito sa PBA that I can play as a 3. Kaya naman talaga eh. I won't force myself naman if I can't, 'di ba?"

Navarro split his minutes at the 3 and 4 positions against the San Miguel Beermen during his first pro game. He posted 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting, two rebounds, an assist, a steal, and two 3-pointers in 24 minutes off the bench -- the most by any NorthPort player who did not start against the Beermen.

Results aside -- NorthPort trailed by as many as 25 in the 104-86 loss -- it a solid individual outing considering he had not played competitive basketball in over three months, or since the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta.

"Syempre 'yung worry ko is baka wala ako sa condition and wala 'yung feel for the game. So it was also a test to myself to see where I am at this point," Navarro said.

"I feel like I did OK. Pretty good for my first game. First game ko 'yun since July, so medyo OK 'yung result. Sigh of relief din na maganda 'yung pinakita ko. Pero talo eh, so hindi completely satisfied."

Navarro is expected to see more time as a small forward, but the success and the opportunities he will get in that position depends on the leap that he makes as a perimeter shot creator.

Shooting has not exactly been a strong point for Navarro, who shot 19.4% from deep in his final UAAP year and has often thrived on opportunities in transition and in cutting off the ball. In eight games for Gilas this year, the Navarro scored a whopping 1.36 points per possession in the open floor and 1.29 PPP on cuts while hitting a poor 6-for-22 clip (27.2%) on all his jumpers, per InStat.

Curiously, that has not deterred NorthPort from allowing him to shoot jumpers in his debut. Navarro made 2-of-6 triples and went a decent 4-for-9 on all his jumpers, which mostly came from catch-and-shoot opportunities and when popping out of the pick and roll.

Consistency is still a problem with Navarro's jumpers, but the issue isn't rooted in his touch. Free throws are a good indication of shooting ability, and as a 78% shooter from the free-throw line over his last 28 games with Ateneo and Gilas, he's doing just fine in that aspect. Rather, it's Navarro's shooting base that's been more of the issue.

In his first game with NorthPort, though, Navarro appears to have shown more stability with his shot base. It's not perfect, but there's less lower body rotation, and his feet flare out less when he rises up for a shot.

A more reliable jumper is an important wrinkle during Navarro's NorthPort stint. Only one other team has gotten a bigger share of their offense on catch-and-shoot chances and on pick and pops as compared to the Batang Pier. They are a squad that doesn't rely on cuts and transition opportunities as much as most teams in the league, per InStat. This is a byproduct or a consequence -- depending on your point of view -- of a spread pick and roll offense with Robert Bolick getting the lion's share of the usage.

Fortunately, Navarro's impact doesn't end at scoring. He's never been wired one-dimensionally like that, anyway. While he never got the opportunity to showcase other facets of his game in his first outing, Navarro retains a lot of value as a heady tertiary passer with good processing and floor vision. He is also an elite, versatile stopper who blows up plays as a help defender and secondary rim protector.

For Navarro, these are all strengths that he wants to brandish at the 3 spot -- not at the 4, a role where tall and lengthy players like him in the PBA have frequently been boxed into over the years.

"Marami akong advantages. I'm tall and I'm long, and I can also defend guards, so lumalaki 'yung lineups. Traditionally kasi kapag malaki ka, big ka na sa PBA. Gusto kong baguhin 'yun," he said.

Being able to do just that would allow Navarro's stock to propel and recover, which means he would be able to pursue a long-term deal locally or continue to seek opportunities internationally. But locked under a deal that will keep him in the PBA until March or April next year, Navarro says he's staying in the present.

"After my contract with NorthPort ends, I'm keeping my options open. But for now, my full focus is with NorthPort," Navarro commented. "I just have to adjust more to the system. Nasa stage ako ngayon where I have to adapt and help my team succeed."