He’s been working out in Spain, busy competing with his countrymen in their preparations for EuroBasket 2017. But in Alex Abrines’ mind, he has more time for personal training than he ever has in his professional career.
Abrines is currently with the Spanish National Team in training camp, going against longtime professionals in each practice and in the friendly matches to help prepare the European clubs for the tournament that begins on August 31st.
Since playing in the U-18 FIBA European Championship in 2011, Abrines has always had some sort of team-related obligation in his basketball offseason. This summer, he feels he’s getting a much needed break for his body, and a chance to get to work on the individual skills he needs to improve upon.
“I know I’ve got to work a lot this summer,” Abrines said. “I’ve got like a couple months to work. That’s never [happened] in the past.”
The 24 year-old Abrines’ learning curve was quick in 2016-17, his first year in the NBA after playing for FC Barcelona for four seasons. In 68 appearances with the Thunder he averaged 6.0 points on 38.1 percent three-point shooting in 15.5 minutes per game, serving as a vital scoring threat off the bench for the vast majority of the season.
Early in the year, Abrines struggled to find his groove, but really showed what he is capable of as a contributor starting with an 18-point explosion against New Orleans on Dec. 21. He proceeded to score in double figures in four of the next five games, exhibiting his abilities as a catch-and-shoot weapon.
“It took me like a month to figure it out and get comfortable with it,” Abrines began, “but during the rest of the season, I think I did a really good job understanding the way they play, the way the coaches wanted me to play.”
Highlights: Alex Abrines at Pelicans – Dec. 21, 2016
In general, Abrines played off of Russell Westbrook, sprinting out into transition and settling behind the three-point arc, or spacing out to the corner to lay in wait for a drive-and-dish from the NBA’s 2017 MVP. As the year moved along, however, Abrines displayed flashes of the skill and multi-dimensional player he can be. A scintillating driving dunk over the outstretched arms of Tristan Thompson in a home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers was likely Abrines’ highlight play of the season.
He, and the Thunder, want more of that this upcoming season.
“I know this year I was more like just a shooter, but I know I can put the ball on the floor and help the team with penetration and getting open shots to other guys,” Abrines said. “That’s the way I like to work, and I’d like to be better at it.”
It’s quite possible that Abrines is afforded more of those opportunities to attack closeouts and get into the lane to make plays this year with the addition of Paul George to the group. The defensive gravity that George and Westbrook pull in will leave defenders further off of Abrines, giving him the chance to be not just a scorer, but a playmaker.
Abrines will be working on his ballhandling, finishing and passing this offseason, a crucial focus of most Spanish players who are often some of the most diversely skilled in the world. The most important part of his NBA development arc however, will be his defense.
Part of that is simply physical. Abrines is long and athletic at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds but is devoting a large portion of his offseason to both bulking and speeding up. It’s no easy task to do both, but it will be a requirement for Abrines to stay in front of NBA guards. At his position, that’s the surest path towards being an impact player in crunch time for the Thunder. The way the modern NBA floor is spread with shooters everywhere, having “good feet” like Abrines does, according to Head Coach Billy Donovan, is an advantage.
“You’ve got to work on that,” Abrines said of his defensive footwork. “After every practice we’ve been doing some choppy steps, like going from the low position to your man and then explosion steps, and [those are] things you’ve got to do to get better. You’ve got to do it like a hundred or a million times, so just keep improving and be faster.”
As the Spanish sharpshooter himself described at the end of last season, perimeter players in the NBA have the ability to do almost everything on the floor. Preparing for their physical abilities is one thing, but Abrines also understands that the next step as an NBA veteran is to recognize the tendencies of his opponents. The day-to-day scouting will begin in October, but Abrines is getting a head start on improving his NBA acumen this summer as well.
Highlights: Alex Abrines vs. Lakers – Feb. 24, 2017