By Nick Gallo | okcthunder.com
Alex Abrines had a lot on his plate this offseason. He recovered from the bumps and bruises of the 2017-18 season. He trained in Oklahoma City. He prepared himself for a season of sprinting up and down the court with Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder, with the help of Thunder assistant coach Darko Rajakovic. He hosted a camp in his hometown in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Oh, and one other thing.
“The most important thing in my life,” Abrines said.
Abrines took the leap with his longtime girlfriend Carla this summer, and the Thunder will be looking for him to do the same on the court heading into training camp and the 2018-19 campaign. In a league that relies massively on shooting and playmaking from the perimeter, Abrines holds the qualities that could make him a crucial member of the rotation. The key, however, is for those offensive gifts to be combined with a defensive integrity and versatility that fits into the Thunder’s gameplan.
At the end of last season, the organization saw the strides Abrines has already made. In the postseason series against the Utah Jazz, the Spanish guard was defending players like Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles, switching onto whoever he needed to on the perimeter to fit the defensive scheme.
“All the work we did during the season has been paying off,” Abrines said.
Being able to make strides during the regular season is impressive, and Abrines believes he can do even more during the offseason when there are no games to play. Being able to devote specific time to areas of his repertoire like defensive physicality and the ability to put the ball on the floor has been a crucial component of Abrines’ offseason. There’s an opportunity this year to compete for time in the rotation and late fourth quarter lineups, and if Señor Abrines continues on his current track, he’ll be an excellent candidate.
“You can focus on certain points of your game. (I’ll) especially keep improving on defense and then just develop my offensive game,” Abrines noted. “Not just being a shooter, trying to put the ball on the floor, playing some big roles and being able to create for my teammates.”
It was a big leap of faith for Abrines to make the move, with his then-girlfriend and now-wife by his side, to the United States in 2016. His reputation as a shooter proceeded him, and his impact offensively has been pretty consistent between the two seasons, if not from game to game. He shot nearly an identical 38 percent from the three-point line both seasons, and per-36 minutes, he’s averaging 12.5 points in his first two NBA years.
Overall, his foul and turnover numbers are trending in the right direction, and the coaching staff’s ability to keep Abrines and his shooting on the floor in crucial moments last season was quite encouraging.
Abrines knew that coming to the best league in the world and competing for one of the very best teams in that league would be a challenge. Minutes aren’t guaranteed and the stakes are high. But this summer Abrines reiterated that he wants to leave everything he has on the floor, to make the children who attend his Spanish basketball camps proud and to rise to the occasion to be the type of running mate that can thrive alongside players like Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams.
The signs are there that Abrines is coming around in some of the nuance areas of the game, and the 25-year old is still entering his prime. Looking at the roster as a whole, Abrines’ continued ascension could transform him into the perfect complement to the Thunder’s generational superstars and high caliber role players. The Thunder is on a similar trajectory, with one Larry O’Brien trophy-sized goal in mind.