BOSTON -- As the Celtics prepared for their most recent summer league stint, Abdel Nader often found himself matched up against Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum in practices.
And once the games started, the 6-foot-6 Nader would usually guard the opposing team’s best wing player, even if it meant facing a smaller and presumably quicker, craftier player such as point guard Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in the NBA draft.
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Nader, the Gatorade League rookie of the year as well as an All-Star this past season with the Maine Red Claws, sees this as part of his overall growth and development into being a player that in time, the Celtics can feel confident enough to turn to.
Training camp will indeed be a proving ground of sorts for Nader, 23, who signed a four-year, $6 million contract that’s fully guaranteed for just the first season.
Nader knows what he has to do in order to impress the coaches.
“They know I can shoot; I can handle, do a lot of things with the ball,” Nader told CSNNE.com. “But my role next year, I need to be a 3-and-D guy. Hit wide open 3’s and defend at a high level. I’ve taken that really personal.”
In talking with scouts this past season and at the G-League All-Star game in February about Nader, they all agreed that his defense has to improve if he wants to stick in the NBA.
“There’s a lot about his game you like,” one scout told CSNNE.com.
Former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse coaches the Toronto Raptors' G-League team, the Raptors 905.
Stackhouse, named the G-League coach of the year last season, had a chance to coach Nader at the G-League All-Star Weekend.
“Very polished offensive guy,” Stackhouse said. “He has to, for the role he’s going to have to assume at the next level, he’s got to become a little better defensively, more focused and locked in on that end. He has the ability to do it. I just think offense comes so natural for him you can negate the defense sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit to that, know what I’m saying?
Stackhouse added, “So when I see guys like that, I can easily identify what he needs to do to kind of solidify himself as that guy. Because really, he has no weaknesses. He can shoot the ball from the outside, he can post. He can make plays; has an aggressive nature. Those are all attributes that can help any NBA team.”
Still, the Celtics aren’t like most NBA teams when you look at how their roster is constructed.
Just a couple years ago, Boston was painfully thin at the wing position.
Not so much.
In fact, it has become the team’s deepest, most talented position.
New Celtic Gordon Hayward leads the way, followed by Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum. The Celtics have Nader as well as fellow rookie Semi Ojeleye.
Nader, the first foreign-born player (Alexandria, Egypt) to win rookie of the year in the former D-League, believes becoming a better defender is just part of the transformation his game must undergo if he is to become a contributor this season to the Celtics.
“I matured a lot,” he said of his time in the G-League. “That’s one of the biggest things, mentally and physically. Just my knowledge of the game has grown. That’s helped me get better.”
It certainly has caught the eye of the Celtics coaching staff who are pleased with the growth in his game from where it was a year ago.
“He’s big, he’s physical, he’s athletic,” said Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen who was the head coach of Boston’s summer league squad in Salt Lake City. “He’s fast. He attacks the basket; he shoots the 3. You can tell, the game has slowed down in his head. When you play the game fast but mentally slow, it allows you to be effective.”
But even with a much-improved game from a year ago, it will be difficult for the former second-round pick (58th overall by Boston in 2016 out of Iowa State) to carve out steady minutes for a roster that’s loaded with talent that can play multiple positions on the floor and have the benefit of experience.
“It’s nothing new. I’ve always had to prove myself, since before I can remember,” he said. “I was never a highly recruited player. I was never called the best player in the gym or something like that, the most talented guy. It’s nothing new to me.
Nader added, “I’m going to keep my head down and keep plowing away.”
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