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Phoenix Suns 2021-22 player previews: Abdel Nader makes his true return

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
October 9, 2021

Technically speaking, Abdel Nader already made his return for the Phoenix Suns back in June. After missing three months of action due to knee soreness and subsequent arthroscopic knee surgery, “Doolie” found himself tossed back into the fray…in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

Nader was just as surprised as anyone to get the call from head coach Monty Williams.

“I didn’t know he was gonna do that,” Nader said with a laugh at Media Day.

Williams mentioned a game early in the season where Nader capably defended Dennis Schroder as the reason he turned to Doolie against the LA Clippers’ ball-handlers like Reggie Jackson and Paul George.

“Our staff has shown our players that if we feel like you can help us win a game, we’re gonna throw you out there on the floor,” Williams said. “At that time, we just needed another body to get out there on the floor and help us, and he and Torrey were guys off the bench that could do it.”

It wasn’t a true return to form, since Nader only played a grand total of 28 minutes spread across five appearances in the postseason. But that unexpected vote of confidence from Williams meant a lot to him.

“I don’t think I’ve had a coach in the NBA who had trust in me like that, where I could be out for five months or four months, whatever it was, and just throws me back in in the Western Conference Finals,” Nader said. “I thought that was huge that he trusted me at that level. For me going forward, it just helps my confidence now that I’m actually 100 percent healthy and coming into training camp, it just helps my confidence to excel a little bit more.”

It also revealed how much Monty and the Suns value Nader’s particular skill-set — especially this year, with Torrey Craig no longer around to fill that multi-positional wing role off the bench.


Last year, Nader only suited up in 24 regular-season games, averaging 6.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14.8 minutes per game. However, he was incredibly efficient with his touches, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from 3-point range. According to the Bball Index, he was in the 87th percentile in both true-shooting percentage (60.5 percent) and points per possession (1.06).

With Craig leaving for the Indiana Pacers in free agency, bringing back Abdel Nader with a new contract became an understated path to strengthening the depth chart. Even with Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson already manning the wings, having another guy who can capably defend multiple positions, knock down 3s and actually put some pressure on the rim off the dribble was imperative.

Nader ultimately agreed to a two-year, $4.4 million contract with a team option for the second year. It didn’t take very long for a deal to be hammered out, despite all the uncertainty he felt going into the free-agency process.

“For me it was just funky because of my injury, and I came back and played briefly in the Western Conference Finals and Finals, so I didn’t really know what was gonna happen,” he said. “I was just letting that stuff sort itself out, and once Phoenix reached out I think the first day or two in free agency, we just tried to find a way to make it work.”

That makes this a true return in more ways than one for Nader, who hasn’t played substantial, meaningful minutes since mid-March. Now that he’s back in Phoenix, with a new deal, an offseason and a full training camp under his belt, he’ll look to build on the bench impact he flashed before his injury last year.

“For me, I attack every offseason very similarly,” he said. “I try to look at my weaknesses, and one of the reasons why I got hurt was a little bit of my deceleration. Just really working on that, strengthening that aspect of it.”

Deceleration is an intriguing concept for Doolie’s game, mostly because it’s never appeared to be part of his vocabulary to this point. The beauty — and frequent source of frustration — with Nader’s game is his unrelenting ability to stick his head down, put the ball on the floor and barrel his way to the rim.

“He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that has a name that’s like a sign,” Williams said before enacting the sign, raising his arm across his body, folded at the elbow, before dropping his hand to create a downward slope. “We call him ‘Downhill Doolie’ and everybody just does this [Monty drops his arm again] when he goes to the basket. It’s kind of silly, but it’s who he is, he can get to the rack.”


According to NBA.com, Nader averaged 3.5 drives per game last year — more than all but eight players who logged fewer than 15 minutes a night like he did. The Bball Index, which grades players in every aspect of the game, paints quite the picture when it came to his driving and finishing ability, but also the tunnel vision that enveloped him nearly every time he drove the lane:

  • Adjusted drives per 75 possessions: B+
  • Overall finishing talent: B+
  • Getting to the rim rating: A-
  • Percentage of rim unassisted: A-
  • Finishing at rim rating: B-
  • Shot quality at the rim: F
  • Contact finish rate: C
  • Drive passout rate: C
  • Drive assist rate: B-

That’s a lot of data to digest, but to sum up, those grades accurately depict a guy who drives a lot and can get to the rim on his own, but doesn’t always take the best shots and often forces it rather than make the passes he’s fully capable of making.

His grades as a playmaker back that notion up even further:

  • Playmaking talent: C
  • Passing creation volume: D
  • Passing efficiency: B
  • Passing creation quality: A-

Nader was capable of creating quality looks for his teammates, especially as a driver; it just didn’t normally pan out that way because he rarely passed unless he was airborne and literally had no other option:

That same tendency to jump and pass often got him into trouble too:

The problem was too many of Nader’s full-speed drives demanded a high-impact result once the defense cut him off. If it wasn’t a jump pass or a jump turnover, it was an ill-advised shot or a charge. Seven of his 19 total turnovers last season came from offensive fouls after being a little overzealous on his forays to the rim.

There were flashes, however, of more promising court awareness, which is one key element of his game the Suns will be hoping he builds upon in 2021-22.

Nader finished his season with as many assists as turnovers, so those changes won’t come overnight. However, Phoenix doesn’t want to shackle his downhill mentality either. There are plenty of Suns capable putting the ball on the floor, but Chris Paul doesn’t have the burst to beat anyone to the rim, and to this point, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are really at their best as drivers when attacking sloppy closeouts on the 3-point line.

That leaves Devin Booker and Nader as Phoenix’s most consistent drivers who can routinely create their own looks attacking the basket.

Throw in his 43.9 percent shooting on catch-and-shoot 3s, his 50 percent shooting on corner 3s and his ability to capably defend secondary ball-handlers, slashers and even stretch-bigs in a pinch, and the only thing holding Nader back from being a high-end reserve is those drives where he puts his blinders on.

“My skill-set on the court is pretty defined in the sense where I know what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “I can do a lot of things, from shooting the ball to putting it on the floor to making decisions, so that confidence kind of secures itself just from playing.”

Now that he’s fully healthy and making his true return to the court in Phoenix, Abdel Nader will get his chance to repay the confidence his coach afforded him on one of basketball’s biggest stages.

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