The opening 45 seconds of Sunday’s Maine Red Claws game showed a lot about the project that is Abdel Nader.

On offense, Nader cut through the lane, caught a pass in traffic, twisted in the air after getting bumped and banked home a shot from close range. On defense, Nader intercepted a pass, brought the ball down the floor … and promptly turned it over.

“I just try to play through my mistakes,” Nader said, “especially because this year is such a big learning year for me.”

Nader, 23, is in an unusual position. He is one of the top prospects in the D-League but has virtually no chance of an NBA call-up. Not this season, anyway.

That’s because the Boston Celtics, after drafting him in the second round last June, arranged for him to sign with the D-League and spend the season in Maine – instead of signing an NBA contract and attending Boston’s training camp. By doing so, the Celtics protected him from being picked up by another team if he failed to make Boston’s 15-man roster, which seemed likely. They could call him up, but would have to clear space first on their roster.

Nader had more lucrative options overseas but agreed to play in the D-League with its maximum salary of $26,000.

“I’m definitely comfortable where I am,” said Nader, a 6-foot-6 forward who last March helped Iowa State reach the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. “I made this decision because I thought I would be better off in the long run. I think I still have gotten a lot out of this year. Wherever my career takes me, it will benefit me.”

Officially, Nader is known as a draft rights player. Others call the process draft-and-stash. Only four other D-League players are in similar situations: Tyrone Wallace of Salt Lake City, Daniel Hamilton and Dakari Johnson of Oklahoma City, and Satnam Singh of Texas.

Of the five, only Nader and Johnson were selected as D-League All-Stars. In 34 games, Nader has averaged 21.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.9 turnovers. The turnovers lead the league.

Abdel Nader has been one of the offensive leaders for the Red Claws this season, averaging 21.5 points per game in 34 games. His big emphasis in his rookie season – cut down on his turnovers. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“He’s got to cut that down, but he’s handling the ball a lot more than he ever did in college,” said Red Claws Coach Scott Morrison. “I think he’s improved it a little bit the last month or so, since the All-Star break, but small sample size.”

Indeed, Nader made 45 turnovers in nine January games (5.0 average) and, after extensive film study with Morrison, dropped that number to 32 in eight February games (4.0 average). In four March games, he has yet to commit more than three.

“A lot of them were careless and unforced,” Nader said. “Just being more focused so I don’t make those mistakes has already made a difference in my play.”

Morrison said Nader has improved his catch-and-shoot skills and passing off the dribble. On defense, the coach has seen improvement in both guarding the dribbler and defending the pick-and-roll.

With a wingspan of more than 7 feet, Nader can be disruptive in passing lanes and makes for a tough matchup when Maine has the ball. The Red Claws have seven games remaining to clinch a third straight Atlantic Division title. They lead second-place Delaware by 31/2 games.

Another in Nader’s draft class, forward Guerschon Yabusele of France, may soon join the Red Claws pending a physical in Boston. The 16th overall pick, Yabusele sprained his ankle in a recent playoff game in China, where his Shanghai Sharks ended their season.

“I hope he does,” Nader said. “He’s a great talent. I enjoyed playing with him in Summer League. He’s a versatile (power forward), gets to the rim, finishes well, shoots the 3, very big body and a strong rebounder. I hope I get to see a lot more of him.”

The Celtics will enter the offseason with four unrestricted free agents (Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson and James Young) and one restricted free agent (Kelly Olynyk), so Nader will have an opportunity to make the NBA team. The new collective bargaining agreement includes 16th and 17th roster spots for two-way players who would make $75,000 in the D-League and a prorated NBA minimum (expected to be about $800,000) for up to 45 days with the big club.

“We think that this year has been great for Abdel,” said Celtics director of scouting Dave Lewin. “Everybody’s seen that he has a lot of potential. If he can build on it, he’s got a great chance to be an NBA player and contribute to the Celtics in the near future.”

Each week, the D-League publishes a list of its top 25 prospects. Nader currently ranks third and has been among the top four since late January. Of the current top seven prospects, all but Nader has spent time in the NBA.

He’s noticed.

“It’s impossible not to think about that, just as a competitor and a basketball player,” Nader said. “But I try not to get too caught up in it. When we made this decision with my agent and my family, we knew what was going to happen and we were prepared for it. I still think it was a good decision. I’m glad I made it.”