Abdel Nader has a newfound appreciation for the point guard position. After playing a good chunk of the season as the Maine Red Claws’ primary ball handler, he understands just how tough the position can be.
Prior to this season, Nader hadn’t played much at point guard during high school and in college at Iowa State. He was featured mostly up until this point at shooting guard or small forward, but took on the challenge this season of running his team’s offense.
It was a challenge that has helped shape his game even more and added more versatility to the Red Claws’ lineup. While Nader was tasked with being his team’s floor general, he was perhaps most excited to share that his handle with the basketball is much improved now.
“I kind of got a nice handle now,” Nader told Basketball Insiders. “You got to see me. That was another experience that really helped me learn the game. My whole life, I’ve been a two-three. When you’re playing point guard, you really look at the game a different way: how to get my teammates going, where I want to find them and where I want my bigs to catch the ball in the post. That’s really where I excelled.”
Minutes opened up for Nader at point guard when the Boston Celtics opted to call up Demetrius Jackson. The Celtics shuttled Jackson back and forth between the NBA and D-League quite a few times this season, so Nader’s time at point guard varied. It gave him a better understanding of the position and what comes from it.
“At the end of the day, they make the decisions,” Nader said. “When things are going great, everybody loves them. But when things are going bad, it’s all of their fault. It’s definitely tough.”
Nader’s first season in the D-League went about as good as it can for any player. He was named the 2016-17 D-League Rookie of the Year after averaging 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and one steal per game while shooting 35 percent from three-point range. He was also named to the All D-League Second Team and the All-Rookie Team after finishing eighth in the league in scoring.
For Nader, it was gratifying to receive praise from his friends and family after being recognized for all of his hard work.
“I had a bunch of people hitting me up, like family and friends,” Nader said. “It was a good feeling, you know? I put in the work so I’m confident in my ability. I knew I would do well in the D-League. It’s just good to be acknowledged.”
Nader is in a bit of a unique situation within the Boston Celtics organization. He was drafted by the Celtics with the 58th overall pick last year, but agreed to play this season in the D-League under the watch of the Celtics in order to gain experience.
Most players in the D-League are considered to be free agents and can be signed by NBA teams at any given time. In Nader’s case, the Celtics still hold his rights and are the only team that can sign him at this time.
It seems likely that by this point, Nader would have earned a call-up to the NBA by another team given his strong play thus far. During this season alone, there were 38 players from the D-League that earned a total of 51 call-ups. Many of those players were eventually signed to multiyear deals in the NBA.
Nader doesn’t want to think about not earning a call-up this season. He understands each player is in a different situation and is committed to the process. He saw his year in the D-League as one that will help prepare him for next season.
“When I sat down with the front office of Boston and my agent, we decided this was the best situation for me after getting drafted,” Nader said. “When someone drafts you, even if it’s for a stash pick, it’s a good thing. It shows that an NBA team believes in you and they’re willing to invest in you as long as you’re willing to invest in them.
“It’s a great feeling to know that Boston has my back. They’ve supported me through this whole D-League stint. I’m very grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me. Nothing but good things have come from it.”
The Red Claws’ season wrapped up last week after they were eliminated by the Raptors 905 in the Eastern Conference Finals of the D-League playoffs. In five games in the playoffs, Nader averaged 19.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.
All season long, Nader showed the sort of production that he brings to the floor each night. He has exceptional athleticism for his 6-foot-6 frame and flourishes on both ends of the floor. He has displayed excellent court vision at times and has made a number of highlight-reel dunks.
Now, Nader will turn his attention to the offseason. He’s going to begin training in Chicago and will likely head up to Boston in June. Shortly after that, Nader and other players will prepare for the NBA Summer League.
It was last year during the Summer League that Nader began to turn heads. In five Summer League games in Las Vegas, Nader averaged 12.8 points per game while shooting 47.6 percent from three-point range. Many even believed Nader outperformed fellow Celtics rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil.
“I’m always working,” Nader said. “I’m not too worried about [staying ready]. [This offseason] is big. You always got to stay in the gym because if you’re not, someone else is. That person might be competing against me for a roster spot one day. I want to be as best prepared as I can.”
Throughout the season in the D-League, Nader said players like Quinn Cook, Edy Tavares, Anthony Brown and Axel Toupane were all among those that impressed him the most. Each of those players have experience in the NBA.
Nader is hoping he can add his name to that list sooner than later.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN