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Abdel Nader > Alex Abrines

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In the wake of Thunder guard Alex Abrines’ absence, Abdel Nader has played very well, putting Billy Donovan in a tight spot. Really, the decision is easy.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

OKC Thunder wing Alex Abrines has been out since December 23rd, in part due to injury, but also due to undisclosed personal reasons.

Abdel Nader has filled in his role as backup wing, and has brought loads of value off the bench.

When Abrines returns, who should Donovan give those minutes to?

The OKC Thunder put a great deal of stock in Alex Abrines, but he has largely underwhelmed this year. In his 3rd year with the team, he is averaging a career low in 3-point shooting percentage despite shooting more of them per game. Abrines was touted as a Spanish sharpshooter, but he’s looking more like Casey Affleck trying to pass as a professional basketball player.

New to the team this year is Abdel Nader, a long, strong wing acquired from the Boston Celtics.

Nader has never played big minutes for a team, but had shown flashes of production while in Boston.

Nader, after playing mostly garbage-time minutes this season, has played major minutes in the Thunder’s last 5 games, even getting a starting spot where he scored 18 points.

When Abrines returns, Nader should get his minutes. Do you want to know why? Great! That’s the point of this article.

Because Abdel Nader can score off the dribble, making defenders pay for closing out too hard or giving him a favorable matchup off switches. Abrines either can’t do that or doesn’t do that, which is sometimes the same thing.

Per Basketball-Reference, Nader is taking 42% of his shots at the rim and 40% from 3, a surprising balance of shot selection from a player looking to earn a regular roster spot. Compare that to Alex Abrines, who is taking 9% of his shots at the rim and 81% from beyond the arc.

Why is this problematic for Alex? If you’re not making (Abrines shooting 32% on 3’s) the only shot you’re taking, the defense’s job becomes incredibly easy — close out aggressively and get the rebound. NBA teams aren’t stupid. They know this stuff. If I know it, they know it.

Nader, by contrast, is shooting league average from 3 (35%), which is not a whole lot better than Abrines, but it’s enough to not leave him open on the perimeter. When defenders close out on Nader however, he has the handle, touch, and strength to finish inside, punishing them for closing out too hard.

Abrines is, sadly, looking like a one-trick pony who forgot how to do his trick.

Nader offers an inside game, a better handle, and a whole lot more confidence than Abrines, and Nader should keep getting his minutes.


Abrines cannot attack the basket off of high screen actions like this. He either doesn’t have the handle or the strength — likely both — to make plays like this work. Nader uses Noel’s screen well, making the defender pay for trying to go over, absorbs bigtime contact, and keeps his focus to finish.

Compare this to:

In this play, Abrines’ limitations are on display:

  1. Abrines is being guarded by Kyle Korver, who is not known for being a defensive demigod.
  2. Abrines had a really hard time getting around Korver, who again is not a terror on defense. Abrines is not a fast player, and if he can’t get around a guy like Korver, he has to revert to craftiness or another means, which he has never shown the ability to do.
  3. This is a really poor finish at the rim. At the last minute, instead of going up strong, Abrines fades just enough to throw everything off, and he loses all notions of touch when he puts the shot up. Korver had Abrines pretty well on this one, and being crowded in that way makes finishing difficult. But again, Abrines should never be crowded off a drive by someone who is 12 years older than them.

When defenders know you can do this:

They know they have to get in your grill to make that shot miss. Nader can make them pay.

This is excellent timing by Nader. He sees that Stephenson has dropped aggressively, and before Stephenson can correct, Nader takes off. His first dribble or two seems to be looking for a pull up shot at the elbow, but when Caldwell-Pope goes to cover the corner man, Nader makes him pay and gets the easy layup.

Compare that to:

Abrines takes a confusing wide angle to the hoop here, lacking the first step and acceleration needed to get by Thompson instead of swinging nearly halfway to the elbow. This angle of approach plus his lack of speed give Clarkson, who is coming all the way from the 3 point line, plenty of time to actually get straight in front of Abrines and alter the shot.

In transition, Nader uses a clever in-and-out dribble to make his man hesitate, and when you’re a player of even average speed, that’s enough to score. Nader gets to the rim and goes up with confidence and strength.

Compare this to:

This really shouldn’t happen. Abrines has plenty of daylight. He’s in the right position, and he gets the ball on time.

But all the little hesitation steps he took to get his timing right slowed him down, and the defender is easily there on time. Abrines seems to lack correct decision making when he’s in the process of attacking the hoop. When he can’t do this, which should be an essential part of any sharpshooter’s game, he becomes a lame duck.


Abdel Nader is a stronger, bigger, and longer Abrines. Right now, Nader is better in transition, on the perimeter, and with the ball in his hands.

He’s shooting better from the 3 point line, and he can use all his other skills to score in ways that Abrines simply cannot.

It’s a finicky combination of confidence and skill, and it’s sometimes impossible to parse the difference. But we don’t need to know the makeup of the difference to see it, and it is abundantly clear: Nader deserves Abrines’ minutes.


Do you think Nader should take Abrines’ place in the rotation?

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