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Alex Abrines will never join the Thunder

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"I would love a career like Navarro's, staying here, helping Barça win titles and being a focal point of the club."

ctsnow from Hsinchu, Taiwan

How did the Thunder get Alex Abrines?

Oklahoma had three picks going into Draft Day 2013. Two of them, #12 and #32, were from James Harden trade. The other pick was the Thunder's own late first rounder, at #29. The Thunder had traded their own second round pick for Lazar Hayward a couple of years back.

The Thunder had a serious need for a big man, with Collison and Perk getting older. So Steven Adams was a no-brainer at #12. OKC was also looking for some perimeter defense, with Sefolosha clearly having hit his ceiling as a player. So Andre Roberson was drafted, with the Thunder spending a bit of cash to move from #29 to #26.

With those two needs filled, the Thunder still weren't done. Despite the presence of numerous scorers like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka, OKC suffered from a serious lack of perimeter shooting. It's hard to find someone who can make an immediate impact in that area around the 32nd pick, though. So the Thunder took a flier on a man named Alex Abrines. Barcelona had Abrines under contract at the time, so there was no chance of him coming to the NBA in 2013. But with Jeremy Lamb developing on the bench and Derek Fisher slated to return, the Thunder wouldn't likely need Abrines until later anyway.

Before the end of Draft Day 2013, the Thunder made one last move for another shooter. OKC bought pick #40 from Portland and used it to draft Grant Jerrett, a little used project out of Arizona. Jerrett could have become a range-heavy stretch four under ideal circumstances. Jerrett would spend time with the Tulsa 66ers/Oklahoma City Blue from 2013-2015, but could never crack minutes in the Thunder's rotation. Jerrett would eventually be sent to the Jazz in the Perkins/Kanter/Novak trade, simply to make room on the roster.

Why did Abrines not join OKC on Day 1?

At the young age of 19, Alex Abrines managed to secure a regular rotation spot on FC Barcelona Basquet. Barcelona is consistently one of the top teams in Spain and Europe, housing several top international players. During Abrines' first season with Barcelona, 2012-2013, Barca managed to win third place in the Euroleague. Barcelona also managed to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in a pre-season exhibition game that year. Abrines was stellar individually, hitting open catch and shoot threes, playing smart defense, and even doing occasional work out of the pick and roll.

Despite the fact that Abrines was drafted in 2013, there were a couple things standing in the way of his transition to the NBA. The first was athleticism. Abrines simply doesn't have the lift or quickness to create many shots. Alex's ball skills and knowledge of where to be on the floor can sometimes off-set that, but it's hard to see him getting much of anything on his own in the NBA. Furthermore, Abrines really lacked consistency at that time. Again, Abrines would sometimes off-set this with ridiculously clutch shots. But 30% from three (from a shorter international distance) isn't anything to write home about.

What's happened since in OKC

Since Draft Day 2013, the Thunder have basically been able to solve all three of their major problems.

  1. Big Man. Steven Adams has panned out to be one of the league's upper-tier defensive big men, and will be extremely valuable moving forward. Adams' hand injury limited his offense last year, but that will likely improve tons next year.
  2. Perimeter Defense. Andre Roberson's long arms and rebounding ability give him a higher potential than Thabo Sefolosha ever had. Admittedly, Andre's steals aren't there, and his transition game isn't good as Thabo's. But Roberson's rebounding ability, long arms, unselfishness, and newly constructed three point shot all give him an edge.
  3. Shooting. Anthony Morrow, acquired in the 2014 off-season, has developed a super-quick release. Morrow's lack of defense is a problem, but his quickness and consistency make him miles better than Derek Fisher.

Granted, we're talking about replacing three veterans (Perk, Thabo, D-Fish) with two youngsters (Adams, Roberson) and a player just reaching his prime (Morrow). Still, I think this current team's potential is much higher than the potential of the 2012-2013 Thunder.

What's happened since in Barcelona

In 2013-14, the first season after he was drafted by Oklahoma City, Abrines improved. Alex managed to improve his three point success rate to 42%, while shooting over double the amount of shots. If a 12 percentage point increase in such a critical category wasn't enough, an increase of half an assist a game was also significant. However, there was little improvement in other statistical categories. Meanwhile, Barcelona had a rather successful season, capturing the Spanish ACB championship and placing third in the Euroleague.

The next season, 2014-15, saw Abrines hit a wall. Barcelona basically gave him the same amount of minutes and the same role. Abrines managed to become a bit smarter with the ball and get to the line a bit more, but those improvements were marginal at best. Furthermore, Abrines aggravated a previously injured knee. You see, on Abrines' Draft Express video, one of the listed concerns was the presence of "jumpers knee". That's a common problem, but it's certainly unsettling to see that Abrines had to miss a couple of weeks of games this season due to injuring that same knee.

Additionally, Abrines developed a very strong relationship with teammate Juan Carlos Navarro. That's significant here because Navarro has played 14 of his 15 professional seasons for F.C. Barcelona. The duo of Abrines and Navarro helped Barcelona to another arguably successful season. Barcelona was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Euroleague, and are still in contention for the Spanish title.

Given all of this info, it's unsurprising that Abrines pretty much sealed his fate as a European lifer. On April 10th, Abrines was quoted as saying:

"I would love a career like Navarro's, staying here, helping Barça win titles and being a focal point of the club."

On May 15th, Abrines followed up his commitment by signing a brand new contract with Barcelona. The deal is through 2019, and reportedly has a high buyout.

To recap, Alex Abrines seems to be hitting his ceiling, is a bit injury prone, signed a big contract, and is getting mentored by one of the most loyal Barcelona players ever. Abrines will never come to the NBA. As far as the Oklahoma City Thunder are concerned, Alex is nothing more than valueless trade filler.

Oh well, at least Jeremy Lamb Steven Adams worked out.