Alex Abrines is the x-factor nobody saw coming

Alex Abrines, OKC Thunder (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
Alex Abrines, OKC Thunder (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Leave it to Alex Abrines to be the understated hero from the OKC Thunder’s Game One victory over the Utah Jazz on Sunday.

Paul George went berserk. Carmelo Anthony finished with a combined six blocks/steals. Yet all I keep thinking about from last night’s OKC Thunder victory is Alex Abrines.

Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit. But in truth, Abrines’ 11 points was vital to last night’s victory. The story from the game was how Oklahoma City was hot as a team. Sure, George was unconscious from three-point range, but the rest of his teammates combined to shoot 6-18 from deep. The Spaniard Sniper accounted for 3 of those makes (on only 5 attempts), meaning Abrines was the only other Thunder play to shoot over 30% from deep on multiple attempts.

We all knew the 24-year old could shoot. What we weren’t sure of was how his defense would hold up in the Playoffs. That’s where the true intrigue of last night’s game stems.

Abrines had his typical cheap fouls, but he didn’t stick out on that end like he has most of his career. The second-year player put up the highest +/- of any Thundermen, starter or second-unit, finishing with a +14 in 21 minutes. He even played more 7 minutes than known bench star Jerami Grant – needless to say, Alex Abrines played one of the better games of his career.

What this means moving forward

This is when it gets tricky. Abrines played incredibly well down the stretch (including 27 huge minutes against Houston), improving on both ends of the court. He isn’t getting pushed around on the defensive end anymore, nor does he lack confidence in his esteemed jumper.

That’s all great. But we can’t deny that his performance came against a weak Utah second unit. If the OKC Thunder are to make it to the next round Abrines would be defending against Eric Gordon or Luc Mbah a Moute, not Royce O’Neal and Dante Exum. He’d be defending a heavy pick-and-roll system that would put him into mismatches constantly. The final regular season game against Houston may have shown us that he’s capable of holding up, but the verdict is still out.

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And that’s why Abrines (and not Jerami Grant) is the biggest x-factor off the Thunder bench.

X-factors are the players who can either immensely help or hurt a team on any given night. Their play can swing one of many ways, hence why they are deemed with such a term. We essentially know what we’re getting from Grant on a nightly basis. We don’t know what the Spaniard Sniper is going to conjure up night-to-night.

The key with Abrines is simply being an average defender. His mere presence on the floor forces teams to take an extra step or two out, giving Russell Westbrook that much more space to work with. He can feasibly step in and replace Corey Brewer for minutes at a time, something we couldn’t be confident in going into the Playoffs.

Alex Abrines was a silent revelation last night. His 21 minutes tell us that Billy Donovan has confidence in the Spaniard moving forward. Although it’s been difficult to trust Donovan this season, we have to after Donovan’s last few games.