Pyramid Papi. Dulie. The Tor-Nader. Darth Nader.
Whatever nickname you use to describe Phoenix Suns’ wing Abdel Nader, it is good to have him back and healthy. He possesses length on defense and aggressiveness on offense, both attributes that will assist the Suns as they look to bring home their first championship in franchise history.
When the Suns sent Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Jr., and Ty Jerome (plus picks) to the Oklahoma City Thunder, they received Paul and Nader in return. The third-year player from Iowa State added wing depth and, although many considered him to be a throw away in the CP3 trade, he made an impact on the team.
Early in the season there was a continual narrative for Phoenix: they could not get to the line. As the team was navigating their identity and trying to learn how to execute their offense with the new pieces, despite being one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league, they had a hard time drawing fouls and getting to the stripe.
Through their first 10 games of the season, Phoenix ranked 2nd in the NBA with a 82.5 FT%. Yet they were next to worst in the league in free throw attempts at 18.3 per game.
Enter Abdel Nader, who debuted with the Suns on January 11. He may have only played 3:17 minutes in that one, but his willingness to attack the basket was apparent. He went 2-of-2 from the line in the game. As his season continued, so did his hustle and determination to make an impact around the rim.
On January 28 he scored a season high 16 points against the Golden State Warriors, adding 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He would play in a total of 24 games for the Suns in the 2020-21 NBA season, scoring 6.7 points. His 1.5 free throw attempts per game is 6th best on the team.
He last played on March 21 against the Los Angeles Lakers, after which he was out for 20 games with right knee soreness. Unfortunately his regular season was over due to the injury as Kellan Olsen reported that he would be out indefinitely with arthroscopic knee surgery.
We thought we had seen the last of Abdel Nader.
Imagine our surprise when Shams Charania let us know that he would be cleared to play prior to Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals!
Suns forward Abdel Nader has been fully cleared from his April knee procedure and is expected to be available Saturday for Game 4 vs. Clippers, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Nader averaged 6.7 points and 41.9 percent from 3-point range this season.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 25, 2021
Not only was Abdel Nader cleared to return to play for the Suns, but in a move that many found surprising, head coach Monty Williams chose to insert him into the rotation immediately. With 22 seconds left in the first quarter, Nader walked onto the court for the first time in 97 days.
And he did what he always does. He attacked.
“I just think we need what he brings to the table,” Monty Williams said after Game 4. “It’s a tough spot for him to be in. I thought the drive he had on (Clippers forward Luke) Kennard from the corner, that’s who he is. That’s a tough first game to come back in, but I like the fact that he can guard, he can rebound, he’s a big body, he moves his feet. And we think he’s going to be able to help us moving forward.”
The minutes he took were those of Torrey Craig, a player many of the Valley faithful have grown to love. Remember who Craig replaced in the rotation, however. Sir Nader.
He ended the night playing 5:22 minutes, scoring 0 points, and grabbing 2 rebounds. To go from not playing for 3 months to getting minutes during the Western Conference Finals? That must be quite the challenge.
Based on what Monty said after the game, it appears that we have not seen the last of Nader. Nor should we. He is another piece that allows the Suns to be deep and flexible, both of which are important qualities to have for a team looking to win it all in 2021.