NEW ORLEANS — When Abdel Nader was growing up in Skokie, he didn’t just dream of playing in the NBA. He insisted he would.
“If you asked my mom, I’ve been telling her I was going to play in the NBA since I was 2 years old,” Nader said. “You might think it’s funny, but I’m serious — from the beginning. I just knew.
“The first time I really started watching real NBA basketball was when Michael Jordan was on the Wizards in the early 2000s, and even though it was late in his career, he was still doing some unbelievable things. That’s really where I fell in love with it. From there, I’m telling you, I just kind of locked in.”
The odds were against a kid who was born in Egypt, grew up on the North Shore and played at Niles North making it to the NBA, but the 6-8 Nader is one step away and seems to be getting closer every day. A second-round draft pick by the Celtics out of Iowa State — where he played for Fred Hoiberg — Nader scored 16 points to help the East win the D-League All-Star Game 105-100 on Saturday at the Smoothie King Center.
And he hasn’t lost any bit of the gumption he had since he was 2. He knows now more than ever he can play in the NBA.
“There was never a doubt in my mind,” said Nader, who wore jersey No. 23 at Niles North and in two seasons at Northern Illinois. “I’m the kind of guy where I’ll bet on myself any day of the week. I think I’ve done that now, especially agreeing to play in the D-League [after getting cut by the Celtics in training camp] — it was kind of a balls-y move. I think it’s paying off.”
The Celtics (37-20) are not in dire need of help from the minors — winning 11 of their last 13 games going into the all-star break. But at some point, Nader hopes to force the issue and get his shot by continuing to play well and improve. He is averaging 22.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Maine Red Claws.
“No guarantees have been made, but I think I’m knocking on the door. I’m right there,” Nader said. “Kind of ready to kick it down any minute now. Just have to keep working and taking it day-by-day.”
Nader, who transferred to Iowa State after two productive but problematic seasons at NIU, credits Hoiberg for putting him on an NBA path. “He really taught me how to think the game,” Nader said. “That really changed my career — that’s why I have ultimate respect for him. He is a great basketball mind. And he’s very professional. I love the guy. We’re still very close. We stay in contact. I think he’s going to turn it around [with the Bulls].”
Though it was only an all-star game, Nader’s comfort level at a near-NBA level was obvious Saturday — running the floor, hitting threes, driving to the basket and taking advantage of scoring opportunities while rarely if ever forcing anything. Nader made 7-of-14 shots, including 2-of-5 three-pointers, with four rebounds and two assists in the game.
“I just told him [after the game], I think he has the aggressiveness, the shooting ability, the ability to pass the ball [at an NBA level],” said East all-star team coach Jerry Stackhouse, the former two-time NBA all-star. “He can do a lot of things that translate well to being an NBA player. It’s about him focusing a little more on the defensive end, which he’s capable of doing, and I think it’ll happen for him.”
Nader doesn’t doubt that for a minute.
“The way I look at it, they tie their shoes just like I do,” he said. “I think my offensive game is completely NBA ready. I just need to tone up some things defensively and I’ve had a big improvement in that. That’s one of the things the D-League has helped me with. For the most part, I think I’m ready to go.”