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Abdel Nader’s debut with Celtics a significant step

Abdel Nader (righrt) scored 10 points in the Celtics’ 94-82 preseason win over Charlotte Monday at TD Garden. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

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WALTHAM — What is stunning about Abdel Nader making his NBA debut Monday against the Charlotte Hornets in the Celtics’ preseason opener is that he might have been the fourth-best NBA prospect on his Iowa State team as a senior.

That Cyclones team featured draft picks Georges Niang and Monte Morris, as well as guard Deonte Burton. Even the most astute draft experts didn’t project Nader to be selected in the 2016 draft, let alone win the NBADL Rookie of the Year.

The Celtics missed in the draft on James Young (training camp invite for the Milwaukee Bucks) and R.J. Hunter (out of the NBA), and two more heralded second-rounders drafted ahead of Nader (Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil) are out of the organization.

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So Nader’s NBA debut was significant for him. It was a coronation of hard work and defying the odds. Nader played his first two college seasons at Northern Illinois, garnering little attention. The team lost a combined 51 games over two seasons, hen Nader transferred to Iowa State.

The Celtics essentially drafted Nader because they wanted to fill their NBADL Maine roster. But Nader turned himself into an NBA prospect.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Nader said. “Definitely a bunch of fun. From the moment I stepped on the floor, even just watching Kyrie [Irving], Gordon [Hayward] play, it’s a lifelong dream come true. I’ll keep working and hopefully get to that point.”

It came to a point where Nader became so impressive the Celtics had to lock him up to a contract. He averaged 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists during his first season with the Red Claws while Young and Jordan Mickey failed to make an impression with the Celtics. Nader kept grinding in the G-League, knowing there was no chance he would get an opportunity to play with the Celtics last season.

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But the Celtics signed him to a NBA deal during the summer and allowed Mickey, Young and Jackson to pursue other opportunities.

“He’s done a really good job,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I think the biggest thing is just continuing to learn our system defensively and offensively. They did a lot of [defensive] switching last year in Maine by design. So he learned a few other things that we do here and then he’s been really good in the switching stuff that we do.

“Offensively he’s never had a problem putting the ball in the basket.”

Nader entered Monday’s game in the second half and the swingman scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, playing at a frantic pace.

“He was ready to go,” Stevens said. “It’s fun. We said it yesterday, no matter where you are on the depth chart as of today, your time will come. I trust that when he gets in the game he’s going to be able to do the things he does best. He’s gotten way better off pick-and-rolls, so there’s a lot of guys that ultimately will have their number called and need to impact us.”

Nader is trying to take his ascension in stride but he can’t help but reflect on his journey.

“This has been a realization in proving to myself that I can play with these guys, I’m on the same level with them and it’s nice to have that confidence now,” he said. “I wasn’t on any [draft boards]. [I tell people] don’t worry about what’s on a sheet of paper, don’t worry about what anybody tells you.

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“ Everybody told me I would never play in the NBA. The only [people] who probably truly believed in me my whole life is my high school coach and my mom. It’s about believing in yourself.”

Twins acquitted

Marcus and Markieff Morris were acquitted by a jury in Phoenix in their aggravated assault trial on Tuesday.

The twins were accused of helping three other people beat 36-year-old Erik Hood in January 2015 outside a high school basketball game in Phoenix.

A good loss

Marcus Smart debuted his improved jump shot and chiseled physique during Monday’s win. He converted three of his seven 3-point attempts in the 94-82 win and said the improvement from his weight loss was substantial.

“It felt amazing; it felt good to be able to chase guys and be right there,” Smart said. “I think that surprised them with how quick and explosive I was. I still got a ways to go but I’m heading in the right direction.”

As has been his pattern, Smart stayed after practice to take jump shots. He said his energy and stamina were higher.

“This time last year I would have been a little bit tired,” he said. “I probably would have been out the gym by now but I feel amazing.”

On his jump shot, Smart said: “I’m using more of my legs than my upper-body strength. It’s actually more of a jump shot than me forcing it up there. Losing that weight allows me to do that more consistently throughout the game.”

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