Has Abdel Nader Been the Best Rookie in Summer League?

Has Abdel Nader been the best rookie on the Celtics summer league roster?

Very few people, if any, would have thought that the 58th player in the draft would be one of the biggest stars on the Boston Celtics summer league team. Sure, Isaiah Thomas helped us believe in the late second round picks, but with six rookies on the roster, Abdel Nader was more of a second thought than anything.

He transferred from Northern Illinois to Iowa State after his sophomore year, and never put up huge numbers. Nader was a solid role player for the Cyclones, but being selected anywhere other than around the 58th pick would have been shocking.

As a senior, he averaged 12.9 points and five rebounds per game, and shot 37.1 percent from three. Decent numbers, but not a stat line that has people predicting much more than a career overseas for him.

To top it off, Nader agreed to spend his rookie season in Maine – the Celtics D-League affiliate. Therefore, it was unknown how much playing time Nader would even see in summer league, and there wasn’t a lot of hope that he would open eyes.

With the likes of Jaylen Brown, Demetrius Jackson, Ben Bentil and Guerschon Yabusele, close to no attention was put on Nader. Everyone was excited to see how Brown would play, if Jackson and Bentil could compete for a spot in the rotation and if Yabusele was worth the hype the Celtics were creating around him. All of that is still intriguing as we head into the third and final game of the Las Vegas Summer League before the tournament starts, but Abdel Nader has been the rookie whose stolen the show.

Other than Terry Rozier, you can make the argument that Nader has been the best player on Boston. Still, despite his solid play, he isn’t seeing huge minutes off the bench.

His minutes have increased every game, but he still only saw 22 minutes last game in their loss to the Phoenix Suns. He’s not putting up huge numbers, however, Nader is doing all the dirty work, and things that aren’t counted on the stat sheet, as well as anyone in summer league.

He hustles for every loose ball, doesn’t give up on plays, sets screens and looks to see how he can help his team. Usually in summer league, second round picks or free agents are trying to put up huge numbers so they catch the eye of an NBA team. Nader has done the opposite as it’s not easy to see his impact through the stat sheet.

When looking at Nader’s numbers: 8.2 points and three rebounds per game on 48.8 percent shooting, nothing stands out. He is only averaging 13.8 minutes in five games, and defensively, he hasn’t recorded a block and only has two steals to his name. Still, somehow, he’s been the team’s most consistent rookie and has looked the most comfortable on the floor.

I think the comfortability comes from his style of play. He doesn’t try to force shots because his game doesn’t revolve around scoring. At Iowa State, he attempted just 9.6 shots per game – fourth most on the team. He’s been a very efficient scorer during summer league, and their most recent loss to the Suns was the first game he attempted more than 10 shots – 6-of-13 from the field.

Nader isn’t your typical wing player, though. He’s not a great three-point shooter, and, as a result, he wants to get to the basket as often as possible. That’s why Boston has used him as a kick-out option and then let him drive the lane. Or Nader will hustle for a loose ball with the shot clock down to five seconds, and is still quick enough to get by his defender and get a clean look at the rim.

Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

His ability to take his defender off-the-dribble was a very underrated part of his game when leaving Iowa State. While maybe not the athlete, he’s been a better finisher than Brown.

Defensively, he’s a pest. You don’t see him getting beat a lot, and he’s always contesting shots. Nader isn’t putting up gaudy numbers for us to look at after the game, but, once again, he’s a solid contributor on that end by doing all the small things that go unnoticed.

Simply put, he knows how to play basketball. He’s an extremely smart player.

As far as the other four Celtic rookies, very few have been able to even string a couple of solid performances together.

Jaylen Brown came out impressive in his first game, although, after a minor knee injury, his game has struggled. He’s shooting 3-of-19 in Vegas so far, and his impact on the glass has gone down, as well. Brown is still a freakish athlete who gives problems to opposing player’s on defense, but his offense is cringeworthy as he can’t shoot from the perimeter and has even missed a couple of wide open dunks and layups.

Demetrius Jackson has yet to see significant playing time, but that could be due to his inconsistent play and Rozier manning the point. Still, since Boston came to Vegas, Jackson is shooting 2-of-11 from the field and 0-of-5 from three. In summer league as a whole, Jackson is shooting 40 percent from three, although he comes up short on a lot of attempts and doesn’t always look comfortable shooting from the longer three-point line.

In his lone start at point guard, he looked lost. Obviously he hasn’t seen as much playing time as Rozier at the point, however, he couldn’t create opportunities for his teammates and struggled shooting. Jackson has been very underwhelming so far after coming in with a lot of hype.

Ben Bentil and Guerschon Yabusele have easily been the most impressive rookies outside of Nader. Although, Bentil has continued to see fluctuating minutes. After seeing at least 10 minutes during all three games in Utah, he has combined to play just eight minutes in Vegas. Sure, his outside shot has been shaky and his defense has struggled at times, but he’s been better on the glass than expected and he’s able to score inside.

Besides, without Bentil, the Celtics have gotten killed on the glass. Relying on Yabusele, who has been good but not great, isn’t the answer for the Celtics as even in summer league they’re undersized.

Yes, Yabusele has been a lot better than we could have imagined. There’s definitely potential there, but he’s still very raw. There are times when Yabusele looks like the best big on the Celtics roster, due to his rebounding and ability to create turnovers. Although, his three-point shot has been atrocious (18.8 percent) and he doesn’t impact the game as much as Nader does on offense when playing off-the-ball.

If you were new to basketball and were watching the Celtics in summer league, you would think Nader was the third pick in the draft. It’s not to say that he should make Boston’s roster as a rookie, but there’s a lot more potential in his game than at first glance.

The Abdel Nader era in Maine is about to begin, and it could actually be really fun.