The Abdel Nader Renaissance
Abdel Nader has quietly had a career year this season in OKC. His shooting production has stabilized, his ability to draw fouls and earn free throws is a real threat, and he has improved dramatically on the defensive end. For example, he had a career high FOUR blocks against the Celtics in the Thunder’s riveting one-point win in Boston. His sense of timing, foot movement, and understanding of defensive principles is night and day different from when he first arrived in OKC. Consistency has also been achieved, as Nader is now a reliable player off the bench who can hit open threes, make free throws, and stand his own on the defensive end. Plus, he is now fully healthy (Nader had an arm injury prior to arriving in OKC, which affected his first season here).
When Nader first arrived in OKC in 2018, his resume was a mixed bag. He had won the G League Player of the Year Award as a player on a two-way contract for the Celtics, but had mixed results with the Celtics varsity squad. A decent shooter statistically, and good at driving to the rim, his offense was solid. The main concerns were on the defensive end, where he would have some trouble in certain schemes and matchups.
He was a project for the Thunder’s development culture. Given their excellent track record of helping players get their careers back on track, trading for Nader was definitely worth the gamble. Two years later, this trade has proven a stellar gamble by Sam Presti. Now Abdel’s moves are referred to in fun as a Nader Sighting, earning him the Tornado emoji among fans.
The first year of the Abdel Nader experience in OKC was like a part two of his tenure in Boston. He’d have a few nice games, then go through long stretches with little playing time. For a good shooter, the shooting was inconsistent, and the defensive end was still a struggle. The effort was always there, it was just an issue of executing his role in the team’s schemes. Add to this the fact that he was nursing that injured arm, and it was a rough first season in OKC for Nader.
Going into the current season, expectations were not high for Nader, and some wondered if he’d get cut from the roster. But, come Media Day, expectations started to change. Nerlens Noel, without hesitation, had said that Abdel Nader was the player to watch this year, the player who had improved the most over the summer. This bold assertion certainly raised eyebrows among Thunder fans and media, but has proven 100% correct. Nader put in the WORK this past summer, and has clearly improved significantly from the previous season, in all areas.
There were a few stretches where he did not play much at the beginning and middle of the season, but by the last game the Thunder had played, at Boston on March 8th, he had solidified his spot in the rotation as a reliable, key guy off the bench. When Hamidou Diallo and Terrance Ferguson missed time due to injuries and personal reasons, Nader, (along with Lu Dort) stepped up and clinched their spots in the rotation.
So much of the time in the NBA, success comes down to a player being ready–at a moment’s notice–to perform and help the team, even if he is cold off the bench. Nader was ready when his name was called, and has earned the trust of his teammates and Billy Donovan. While he won’t win the Most Improved Player Award, Nader deserves an Honorable Mention, as he has gone from a fringe bench guy to a reliable rotation player this season, having produced in some key moments as well.
You can count on Nader to be ready to help the Thunder in their playoff push, if and when this 2019-2020 season resumes. Beyond this season, Nader has certainly played himself into a contract for some team, as he’s proven himself to be a legitimate NBA player. It would certainly be nice to have Abdel Nader back in OKC during the next phase of this post-Russ, New Thunder Era.