The New Orleans Pelicans selected three times in the first round in this year’s NBA Draft. With the 17th overall pick, they went with Nickeil Alexander-Walker out of Virginia Tech. Let’s take a deeper look at him.
It might be a little too soon to make such a declaration, but here goes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has the potential to be the steal of the draft. He’s versatile on the offensive end, he utilizes his near freakish length to its fullest with his activity defensively, and he possesses a high basketball I.Q. The New Orleans Pelicans are in the process of building something special and Alexander-Walker could be an instrumental piece in their construction.
With a more expanded role in Virginia Tech’s offense in his sophomore year, Alexander-Walker thrived. His playmaking abilities progressed, as illustrated by his assist numbers jumping from 1.5 a game as a freshman, to 4.0 this past season. In fact, he actually finished 5th in the ACC in assist percentage (24.6)—a significant difference to the season prior (7.7).
It wasn’t just his playmaking that bettered, his scoring production went from 10.7 points per game to 16.2 between his two collegiate seasons. Perimeter shooting is a strong suit, he shot 38.3 percent on 1.7 three-point field goals per game for his career. He’s also shifty, using a variety of misdirections and hesitation moves to keep the opposition guessing.
Likewise, he moves well without the basketball, can find the open man either spotted up or cutting towards the hoop and attacks the hoop strong with his 6’5, 205-pound frame (went to the line 4.2 times a game, where he shot 77.8 percent last season). His offensive dynamic is impressive, but there’s much more to his game.
Alexander-Walker, the cousin of rookie sensation, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has similar physical traits to his family member that should make him a disruptor on the defensive end. He’s got a 6’9.5 inch wingspan and that combined with his in-game instincts makes him a defensive nightmare.
He finished 5th in the ACC with 1.9 steals per game and compiled a steal percentage of 3.4, which was good for 6th in the league in 2018/19. He’s a little on the leaner side, just like his cousin, and will need a couple of weight room sessions to effectively body up with the more physical guards in the NBA—but that’s not a genuine concern at this point.
The fact that the New Orleans Pelicans have a combination of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, and now Alexander-Walker to throw at the oppositions perimeter players is enough to make any fan of the franchise salivating at the mouth. His activity will result in transitional opportunities, where this team is really going to be exciting to watch.
His game isn’t polished, he does have issues with ball security that needs addressing. Though he is a smart player, an anomaly in his game is that he can be a little reckless with the basketball—which resulted in 2.9 turnovers per game last season. Gentry will ask of him to play either guard positions within this rotation, so when he’s asked to create and orchestrate the offense, limiting wasted possessions is vital.
Under the guidance of Jrue Holiday, he could develop into a special two-way player. He provides them with perimeter shooting ( a desperate need), a strong defensive identity, and can either create for himself or others. He’s got a lot of the necessities for today’s NBA, expect his game to translate well.