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.
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