Ask around, and the Thunder will tell you.
There are better players on the roster than Alex Abrines. He has teammates who are more talented, more tested, more accomplished.
But even as a rookie, Abrines ranked among the team’s most self-assured players.
「He has a confidence to him,」 Billy Donovan said during the season, with a hint of understatement.
Shooting slumps don’t faze Abrines. He launches his way out of them. A missed defensive assignment? He moves on to the next one. And the adjustment from basketball in his native Spain to his first season in the NBA didn’t cause much stress either.
「Just took me like two, three weeks to understand the way they play here, actually, because of the teammates I had,」 Abrines said.
The adjustment looked a little longer than that.
In the Thunder’s first 21 games, Abrines averaged 11.8 minutes and didn’t play at all seven times. He shot 25.9 percent from 3-point range and scored four points a game.
Then came a breakout night in New Orleans — 18 points, 5 of 11 3-point field goals in a win against the Pelicans that proved a sign of things to come.
That was only Abrines’ second double-digit scoring game of the season, but he’d have 15 more during the season. Over his final 45 games, he averaged a modest 6.8 points in 17.1 minutes, but he shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range in that span and in flashes showed the form the Thunder hoped for when it drafted him in 2013.
There was the string of four straight double-digit scoring games to close out December, the season-high 19 points against the Lakers that opened a string of three consecutive double-figure games.
But consistency was an issue. In February and March, Abrines had a 13-game stretch in which he shot 44 percent from 3-point range, followed by a six-game stretch in which he hit 20.6 percent.
And then there was his defense.
Abrines is a competitor at that end of the floor, a little longer and a little better at sliding his feet than he looks at first glance. Still, containing the dribble was a challenge, as it is for most rookies.
「It was pretty hard,」 Abrines said. 「The players here are much faster than in Europe, so at the beginning it was pretty hard.」
From the beginning of the season, Abrines’ strength was a discussion point. At 6-foot-6, he’s listed at a slender 190 pounds, and Donovan said right from the start he’d need to be stronger for the rigors of the NBA.
Abrines worked 「almost every day」 on his body and his defense, he said, and he grew more comfortable. He worked after practice not just on his shooting but on sliding his feet at the other end of the court. And Donovan credited him for adding strength during the season to his wiry frame.
「I know I’m still not the best defender, but I will keep trying to be the best defender I can,」 Abrines said.
As he moves into the offseason, that’s a top priority.
Abrines also intends to mix some rest with his work. He’ll play for the Spanish national team this summer but will skip NBA Summer League. The downtime might be valuable for his body. He missed three games this season with a sprained left knee, and discomfort in that same knee contributed to his limited minutes at last summer’s Olympics.
Mostly, though, Abrines intends to work on his game. He can get stronger. He can defend better. And he’s unsurprisingly confident he can make strides as a scorer, too.
「I know this year I was more like just a shooter, but I mean, I know I can put the ball on the floor and help the team with penetrations and get open shots to other guys,」 Abrines said. 「That’s the way I like to work, and I’d like to be better at it.」