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Abdel Nader: Celtics Man of Mystery

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The NBAGL Rookie of the Year finally shows up in Boston

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After a year delay following being drafted in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft, Abdel Nader will make his debut for the 2017-18 Boston Celtics. While we have a better handle on who Nader is as a player, after two Summer League appearances and a year in the NBA Gatorade League, he’s still somewhat of a mystery man.

Nader was a “domestic draft and stash” player last year, as the Celtics had him spend the year with the Maine Red Claws. This followed the somewhat surprising drafting of Nader, when most analysts and scouts had him pegged as going undrafted. It has been suggested that part of the reason Boston drafted Nader was his willingness to be stashed in the NBAGL for a year.

The Celtics had a whopping eight picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, three in the first round and five in the second round. Boston stashed two of the first rounders overseas (Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic), traded two of the second rounders (Deyonta Davis and Rade Zagorac to the Memphis Grizzlies), stashed Nader in the G-League and brought three players to camp (Jaylen Brown, Ben Bentil and Demetrius Jackson). With Zizic traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the deal to acquire Kyrie Irving, and Bentil and Jackson having been waived, an original draft class of eight is down to three: Brown, Yabusele and Nader. Brown flashed considerable promise as a rookie and Yabusele had a big season in China and then showed promise in two NBAGL games late in the year. But it was Nader who had fans buzzing during the 2016 Summer League and later took home NBAGL Rookie of the Year honors.

At 6’6’’ and 230 pounds, Nader fits right in with the Celtics versatile roster. Brad Stevens doesn’t use the traditional position designations of guard, forward and center, never mind the even more specific point guard, small forward, etc. Stevens terms players as ball handlers, wings and bigs. Players who can do some of each become swings. Nader fits in solidly as a wing in Stevens’ system.

Nader started his collegiate career at Northern Illinois and transferred after having a rough first two years. The team was terrible and Nader had been suspended for the start of his sophomore season. Upon returning, he was the Huskies’ leading scorer, but his time in DeKalb was short-lived. He transferred to Iowa State and sat out a year before struggling in a bench role as a junior. By the time his senior season rolled around, Nader was a lightly-regarded prospect who didn’t have any sort of real NBA future.

On a Cyclones’ squad that featured several other NBA-caliber players, Nader had a breakout season. He started all 35 games, as ISU bowed out in the Sweet Sixteen against Virginia. Nader was the team’s third leading scorer at 12.9 points per game and thrived in the Cyclones’ somewhat position-less system. Coming off that solid season, he followed with strong showings in draft combines and workouts. Despite that, it was still a surprise when Boston selected him with the last of their eight picks, 58th overall.

Nader then burst on the scene by averaging 12.8 points per game off the bench in the 2016 Las Vegas Summer League, including an impressive 47.6 percent shooting from behind the arc. This performance had Celtics fans clamoring for Danny Ainge to sign Nader and have him come off the bench for last year’s squad. But Ainge, perhaps knowing he would have to gut the roster in the summer of 2017 to sign Gordon Hayward, kept his powder dry and followed through with the plan to keep Nader in Maine all year.

With the Red Claws, Nader was even better than he had been in college or Summer League. Starting 40 games and playing as the focal point for the first time since his Northern Illinois days, he averaged 21.3 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting from the floor. He knocked down 2.5 three-pointers a night on a 34.9 percent clip, while getting to the line over five times a game and hitting for just under 80 percent. In a basketball world where the most desirable shots, in some order, are threes, layups or free throws, Nader showed he has that part of the game down.

Even more impressive than the big scoring numbers was Nader’s all-around play. He pulled down 6.2 rebounds per game, while handing out 3.9 assists per contest. The Red Claws put the ball in his hands and let him lead the way. As is the nature of the NBAGL, Nader’s defense was average at best. Because of the somewhat revolving door of players in the G-League, it can be hard to build the cohesiveness necessary to have a high-level defense.

So, the accolades and numbers are impressive, but what sort of player do the Celtics have in Nader? And what might his role be in his NBA rookie season?

As mentioned previously, Nader is incredibly versatile. His size allows him to overpower smaller wing players, while being quick enough to get by the bigger wings. His shot, while not picture perfect, is good. He gets good lift and extension on his jumper, so he’s able to get it off even when contested. His ball handling is good for a player of his size, but he will occasionally get a little loose with the ball. Think of Jaylen Brown’s somewhat shaky handle and you get an idea of where Nader is at. His passing is solid, but there are times when he tries for the spectacular play, as opposed to the simple one.

In Stevens’ system, which requires four, if not all five, players to be able to handle and move the ball, Nader should fit in well. He was often a primary playmaker in Maine and that led to a lot of his turnover problems. He won’t be asked to do that in Boston. Because he should be able to focus on moving the ball and shooting when open, this should help slow the game down for him a bit. He won’t be taxed by doing too much and that should increase his efficiency when he plays.

And therein lies the rub: when he plays. The Celtics are currently loaded with wing players. One can reasonably assume that Hayward, Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and to some extent Terry Rozier, will all be in front of Nader on the wing depth chart. Nader is likely to be in a battle with Semi Ojeleye for minutes, although Ojeleye could be needed more as a big in a currently thin frontcourt.

Nader will turn 24 at the end of November, which isn’t exactly ideal for a developing rookie. But his age, experience in the NBAGL and versatility could have him ready to step in, if and when Boston needs depth. On a team with 11 new faces and several roles up for grabs, a big camp and preseason could go a long way towards Nader cementing his place in the rotation. As it stands, he’s likely to be deeper bench option this year, with eyes on a bigger role down the line. If nothing else, he’s shown enough promise that Ainge could add him to a trade package as someone who is more than a simple throw-in to make cap math work. And if Ainge pulls another deal where multiple players are sent out to bring in a star (we all know who Celtic fans have their hearts set on!), Nader can step in and play. Not bad for a guy who was drafted 58th overall and with the last of eight picks by one team in the same draft.