Since we announced our finalists for D-League MVP back in late March, we mentioned our inability to decide whether Jalen Jones or Abdel Nader was the Red Claws stud was more deserving of the award. We held that same point of view in the following week when we looked at our finalists for Rookie of the Year.
That indecisiveness was due to both players putting up similar numbers for Maine. 6’7 forward Jalen Jones put up 21 points, 9 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 45% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Nader shined by putting up 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists per game on 45% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc.
While we were never unable to decipher which player had an advantage over the other, we’re confident to say that Nader and Jones were the best rookies in the D-League during the 2016-17 season. That’s due to them being the two biggest forces behind the Maine Red Claws maintaining a 29-21 record, good enough for them to win the Atlantic Division.
Among that duo, Abdel Nader made the most immediate impact as he just was fire from his initial moments with Maine. Nader’s fantastic start was evident due to him putting up 24.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 53% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc during the month of November. That incredible shooting allowed him to maintain an incredible 65% True Shooting Percentage.
While Nader cooled down over the remainder of the season, he still shined as a player that can help the Red Claws out through his facilitating or work as a scoring threat. During the season, there were numerous times where Nader worked as a point forward, a spot that he occasionally was able to impress. Due to his 6’8 frame, Nader was able to oversee the court and make the necessary read when he was working on the perimeter. Meanwhile, Nader could also use his athleticism and quickness as a drive-and-dish player.
Nader definitely showed flashes of being a solid facilitator, heunfortunately struggled to limit his turnovers. That inconsistency is evident from him averaging 3.5 turnovers, which forced him to maintain a lackluster .9 AST/TO ratio.
Although Nader was iffy as a facilitator, he stood as a pretty reliable scoring option for the Red Claws. This season, Nader really shined through his work as an on-ball cutter as he was able to get to the paint whenever he wanted. The Iowa State alum was able to accomplish that by just having incredible handles as he regularly showed a knack of maneuvering his way past any opponent that stood in his way. After he accomplished that, Nader showed an ability to finish at the rim with some tremendous slams.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jones shined during his rookie season by just being incredibly versatile on the offensive end. Over the course of the season, Jones shined in a variety of ways which include: post-ups, on-ball cuts, working on the offensive glass, perimeter and mid-range shooting.
In a similar way to Nader, Jones shines brightest through his work as an on-ball cutter. For a 6’7, 220 pound wing, Jones is able to shine due to the fact that he’s a fantastic ball-handler that can dive with the rock in his left and right hand. Following that initial victory, Jones was able to score around the rim with rim-rocking dunks or eye-popping layups.
Another way that Jones was able to shine inside the paint is a great all-around rebounder. On the offensive end, Jones collected a respectable 2 offensive rebounds per game which stood as one of the better averages among D-League forwards. Jones was able to put up those kind of numbers by combining a strong 240 pound frame with incredibly solid work ethic.
Of course, any basketball fan can debate if faciliating is more important than rebounding until the cows come home. However, it’s still clear that both Nader and Jones had the kind of seasons that made them worthy of being Ridiculous Upside’s co-Rookie of the Year for the 2016-17 NBA D-League season.
Last season’s winner: Will Cummings, Rio Grande Valley Vipers