Abdel Nader started the season as a fringe player.
Nader did not play much in the prior season, and he had to earn his way into the rotation. There were doubts about Nader’s ability to play defense at the NBA level; there were too many times that a player would just blaze past Nader.
Slowly but surely, Nader became more than an eleventh man on the bench. He earned Billy Donovan’s trust and became a regular rotation player for the Thunder. Nader benefitted from the players in front of him missing time, but Nader made the position his own.
In the moments where Nader was allowed to display his abilities, he performed well for the Thunder.
Nader’s improvement was not expected at all; in his first three seasons in the league, Nader did not look comfortable with the athletic level of the NBA. I expected Nader to be out of the league after this season. It was inconceivable to see Nader finding sixteen minutes a night for the Thunder, where he was positive on the court.
Nader’s growth as a basketball player has not come from sweeping changes to his game. It has been a series of marginal gains that have contributed to Abdel Nader being much improved.
Over the summer of 2019, Nader committed to re-shaping his body so that he would be leaner and faster on the court. The alkaline diet meant that Nader lost fifteen pounds in weight. The decrease in pressure has made Nader quicker on the court. Nader has been able to match attacking players when accelerating on defense.
Nader also spent a lot of time working on his jump shot during the offseason. Abdel put in a lot of time getting extra reps on his jumper; the extra work allowed Nader to make the small refinements needed to make him more efficient from behind the arc.
The focus and dedication that Nader showed by living in the gym are evident in his numbers. Nader’s three-point percentage has shot up from 32.4% to 37.1%. This improvement may seem to be little, but it is a huge deal. The increase means that Nader goes from being an inefficient option from outside to being a competent, reliable marksman.
There was chatter at the start of the season among the Thunder organization that Nader was one to watch. A lot of people, myself included, brushed these statements off as lip service. It turns out the Thunder organization was right on this front.
The marginal gains have contributed to Nader playing some of the best basketball of his career. Nader has posted career highs in exact shooting percentage (58%) and three-point percentage (37.1%).
The improvements are not limited to the offensive end, Abdel Nader has been surprisingly active on defense. Nader has been more alert on security this year, which is evident in his numbers. Nader has posted a career-high in defensive rating at 103.9.
Nader’s defensive rating puts him in good company. This figure is comparable to players such as Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley. Both players are vaunted for their abilities on defense. It is evidence that Abdel Nader has been excellent on defense this year.
These improvements have not gone unnoticed. There have been nights during the season where Nader has stood out. His play warranted a detailed film analysis to identify where the standard of play has gone up a level compared to previous seasons.
I have picked two games in which I have selected plays. I have stuck with the same rule that I applied during the Gilgeous-Alexander breakdown. The film used has come against quality opponents.
The film selected will also indicate areas where Nader can improve on his game even further. Although Abdel Nader has become much better as a player, he needs to work on scoring off the drive and creating for others.
Oklahoma City work in a transition opportunity on this possession, Nader is the person handling the ball. Nader plays just one defender, Gordon Hayward. There are no other Boston players who can play adequate defense on this play.
As Nader attacks off the drive, there are options available to him in transition. Luguentz Dort slides out to the corner three, and his movement generates an open look. Nader could choose to drop the ball off to Dennis Schroder and let Dennis go to work.
Nader is serviceable as a ball-handler, but Dennis Schroder is a more trustworthy option in terms of running through the progressions of an offense.
Abdel Nader makes the decision to attack the rim. On the drive itself, Nader shields the ball well and does not allow Gordon Hayward to snatch the ball out of his hands.
The Celtics want to generate a turnover in this situation, Boston has players high up the court who can score quickly. A turnover will allow Hayward to make an easy outlet pass to Jayson Tatum, which will result in a bucket for the Celtics.
Nader shows good intelligence in this situation. He does not allow the Celtics to force mistakes on this opportunity. Abdel Nader protects the ball until the last possible moment.
Nader’s drive is solid technically, but the dribble does not challenge the defense enough, in my opinion. Nader chooses to drive straight at the opposing team; he does not force Hayward to adjust his positioning. Nader’s dribble-drive does not make Hayward uncomfortable on defense.
Abdel Nader needs to move more as he goes towards the rim; it would be wise to use the euro-step in this situation. A euro-step allows Nader to bypass the defense for a layup.
The drive straight at Hayward has consequences. Nader releases the shot, but it is easy for Gordon Hayward to contest. Hayward sticks his arm into the air, and his hand deflects the trajectory of the ball. Nader’s shot rims out, and Boston gets a stop on defense.
Nader needs to be able to score off the drive efficiently, having this quality in his game will mean defenses have to play him honestly on the perimeter. The opposing player will not be able to sit in his jersey if they know Nader can make a play with the ball.
Nader needs to spend time over the summer working on developing a bag of tricks that he can apply off the drive. I would like to see Nader learn how to use changes of pace and misdirection to beat defenders off the dribble. Nader is a marginal athlete; he will need to have different moves to get buckets inside.
The Thunder generates an open look from the corner, which Nader knocks down with ease. Romeo Langford roams on defense and does not stick with his primary defensive assignment.
The possession starts with Chris Paul at the top of the key with the ball in his hands. The screen brought over by Steven Adams creates havoc defensively. Chris Paul uses the screen to separate from Marcus Smart and gets the space he needs to create a scoring opportunity.
Kemba Walker eagerly makes the defensive rotation onto Chris Paul. Walker’s rotation is a poor decision; the rotation leaves an easy relief pass to Dennis Schroder and creates a breakdown in Boston’s defense.
Walker does not need to make the rotation. Smart is adept at fighting through screens and chasing his man. Paul punishes the error and makes the swing pass to Schroder, who is free to attack a scrambled defense.
Boston is now rushing on defense. The Celtics are fighting to recover rather than directing the flow of the possession. Schroder presents a substantial threat from deep, and Romeo Langford rotates onto Schroder. Langford makes the right decision on defense; Schroder is an excellent bomber from deep.
However, Langford’s rotation leaves Nader wide open in one of the most efficient spots on the floor. Schroder tosses to the corner, and Nader is able to drain a three with no pressure placed upon him.
Nader does not switch off on this possession when he is sitting in the corner. It is clear from his body language and head movement that he is engaged with the action. Nader shows discipline in this situation. He maintains focus for when the ball lands in his hands.
The readiness pays dividends for Nader. He can shoot once he receives the ball. Nader does not waste precious seconds setting up his shooting form; he is prepared to shoot in an instant. The quick-release does not allow the defense any chance of recovering the possession.
The shooting form itself has not changed hugely compared to previous seasons. It is mostly the same shot, the only minor difference that I noticed is Nader seems able to get his jumper off faster this season.
His shooting motion is gentle and fluid; there are no noticeable hitches in his shot. Nader’s form is replicable and straightforward; there are not a lot of complex elements that require a lot of effort to execute correctly. The release is a little compact for my liking, but it works well for Abdel.
Nader has become a more active defender over the last year, and this example identified how he has improved.
Over the last few months, Billy Donovan has deployed Abdel Nader at the power forward position. Donovan had to adjust his rotation due to a bone bruise ruling Darius Bazley out of action. Donovan has experimented with Hamidou Diallo and Abdel Nader, both slotting into the reserve power forward position.
Coach Donovan has embraced small lineups, and the decision to run Nader at the four is no different. Oklahoma City has leaned into a super-small ball with Nader in the front-court. Floor-spacing is prioritized over physical size.
Playing up a position comes with specific challenges for Abdel Nader. On a lot of possessions, there is a size mismatch between Nader and his defensive assignment. In the example above, Nader plays Harrell. Harrell is a poor match-up for Nader due to his size and strength.
Harrell can bully Nader down low and generate natural looks by shooting over the top of the smaller player. The size difference makes it difficult for Nader to slow down Harrell. Harrell is too big and strong for Nader to contest shots effectively.
The key to beating taller players denies the entry pass completely. Harrell cannot exploit his mismatch if he does not receive the ball. In this situation, it is imperative that Nader defects the ball and forces the Clippers to run the offense through another player.
As Jackson brings the ball across the timeline, Harrell has already engaged in a wrestling match to get the front position. Nader calmly fights off the more significant player and focuses on the play; he does not get distracted by the physicality.
The attention to Jackson’s dribble means that Nader can anticipate the entry pass and position himself accordingly. Nader holds the front position against Harrell’s encroachment. Abdel Nader shows impressive strength as he refuses to cede his spot to the more reliable player.
Nader decides to knock the entry pass away from the hoop instead of catching the ball. This is a smart decision from Abdel, finding the ball is a much riskier play. Attempting to catch the ball allows Harrell the chance to reach over the top and snatch the ball away.
The deflection allows Chris Paul to grab the board and start running through the progressions of the offense. Oklahoma City gets a score in transition, and the score comes out of Nader’s effort on defense.
On this possession, Nader sneaks in behind Jayson Tatum and blocks the ball. This is not a sentence which I would have typed a year ago. This play is an example of Nader showing court awareness on defense, something which he lacked last year.
Tatum drives from the corner against Luguentz Dort. Through a series of moves, Tatum can get a deep position in the post where he can go to work.
Tatum’s post game is polished and smooth. Tatum is happy to power through defenders for finishes. Jayson Tatum is also comfortable spinning away from the defense into a fadeaway jumper. He even opts for the fader against Dort.
At the start of the possession, Nader shows a lot of discipline on defense. He maintains the right amount of distance between his primary defensive assignment and his help rotation. Nader places himself at a point that is equidistant between Hayward and Tatum.
The positioning at the elbow means that Nader is only two steps away from Hayward or Tatum. The neutral position allows Nader to make an impact regardless of the offensive action taken by Boston. Nader can step onto Hayward quickly if Tatum swings the ball to the top of the key.
Nader shows a good sense of timing on this possession. Nader does not rush the help rotation. He waits until Tatum can no longer see him before rotating. If Nader turns a second earlier, Tatum will still be able to see Hayward and make the easy relief pass.
Once Tatum turns his back, he is committed to taking the shot. Nader can make the rotation as Tatum can no longer see the rest of the floor and make plays for other players. The timing of his rotation allows Nader to get a clean block without making a high-risk play on defense.
The play made by Nader on this possession is not perfect. Nader has to play recovery defense on Smart due to no Thunder player covering Smart at the start. Nader is left to make a play and force Smart into making mistakes.
Smart is a talented ball-handler and rarely make mistakes when pressured. It is one of the reasons why Smart does not hesitate to put the ball on the floor even when Nader is sprinting out to the three-point line to cover him.
Nader does not stop Smart at the three-point line, but he sticks with the play and tracks Smart into the lane. Nader’s improved quickness comes to the fore on this possession, Abdel can match Smart stride for stride.
Marcus Smart is unable to pull away from Nader and does not get the space needed to finish at the rim. As a result of Abdel Nader’s speed, he can swat the ball away from Smart. Nader gets the necessary stop, and Oklahoma City can start running in transition.
Nader’s weight loss has been huge for his game; the weight loss has allowed Nader to move much faster. At no point during this play does it seem like Nader is struggling to keep up with Smart. His acceleration is controlled, and Nader is not straining to contest the shot.
Nader’s play has improved a lot over the last year or so, but there are areas in which he can improve. Nader’s off-ball movement could be an aspect of his game that could be worked.
At the moment, Nader plays within himself. He takes the static catch and shoots jumpers, which are natural looks for him. Static shots allow him to establish a solid base and focus on knocking down the ball.
Jumpers taken off the dribble are more complex. These looks have additional variables. A player has to ensure that they have good footwork and a shooting window to knock down the look. JJ Redick is one of the few players who have mastered moving off-ball to create open looks from deep that stretch the defense.
I believe that not all three-point looks are created equal. Three-point looks that come out of movement are much more challenging for a defense to stop than static looks. It is hard for anyone to chase a shooter across the court and contest effectively when the defender is fatigued. Movement tires a defense out.
There are a few elite marksmen in the NBA who have been able to use the threat of off-ball movement as a form of play-making. JJ Redick commands so much respect on the perimeter from the defense; he drags opposing players out of position.
This needs to be a skill that Abdel Nader brings into his game. Abdel Nader being able to curl off screens into three-point looks, would be an invaluable tool in the Thunder’s arsenal. It would also benefit Nader from an earnings standpoint.
Nader has the tools to become an elite marksman from deep. If Nader realizes his potential, there will be contending teams lining up to pay him a lot of money. A reliable scorer from outside who can defend is a rare commodity in the NBA.