New Orleans Pelicans: Where the Pels youngsters stand into the all-star break

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(Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports) /
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New Orleans Pelicans, Nickeil Alexander-Walker
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New Orleans Pelicans: Nickeil Alexander-Walker has a lot to prove

The New Orleans Pelicans are stacked with young talent, so I’ve decided to only consider players that were born in 1998 or later. That disqualifies Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, for instance, even though both are just 23-years-old. I also won’t mention Zion Willamson since, well, he is already an all-star.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker is the youngster that has played the most minutes for Stan Van Gundy. So far this season, he has logged 495 minutes and is averaging about eight points per game.

Alexander-Walker has struggled to find consistency in his second year in the league. He has been in and out of Van Gundy’s rotation. At times, he looks like the sparkplug that the Pelicans bench needs.

When Alexander-Walker is at his best, he looks like a combo guard that can create for himself and others in the pick-and-roll, hunt his own shot, and use his length to make defensive plays. When he’s at his worst, the former Virginia Tech recruit resembles an inefficient chucker whose shot selection vastly needs to improve.

The truth about Alexander-Walker is probably somewhere in between. It is difficult to expect a lot from a second-year player who has a relatively short leash, but at the same time, there are nights where you catch yourself thinking that the Canadian guard hasn’t made much progress since being drafted in 2019.

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Too often, the speed of the NBA game still overwhelms Alexander-Walker. In terms of creation, he isn’t turning the ball over as much, but he is also facilitating less. The numbers indicate that he has improved his efficiency scoring, but that doesn’t really add up to when you watch Alexander-Walker. His scoring numbers from everywhere are still far below league average and he doesn’t create many easy looks for himself.

Alexander-Walker has largely been out of the rotation in February after playing plenty of minutes in January. He had a career high 37 points against the Los Angeles Clippers after which I wrote that his game was a snug fit next to some of the Pelicans’ stars and that this was the type of progress New Orleans was longing to see from Alexander-Walker.

But since that game, Alexander-Walker only scored about six points per night and his three-point shooting cratered to 26 percent. He saw some run against the Miami Heat earlier this week because of JJ Redick’s unavailability and looked spry. Despite going 4-of-14 from the field, Alexander-Walker injected the Pelicans with some much needed energy.

The Pelicans have a team option on Alexander-Walker coming up in 2022. By this time next year, he will already be 23-years-old and, although it’s unreasonable to expect him to play like Brandon Ingram who is currently the same age, Alexander-Walker needs to show more to prove that he can be a long term fixture for New Orleans.