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Beyond the Boxscore: Nickeil Alexander-Walker shines in Summer League debut

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver poses for pictures with Nickeil Alexander-Walker, of Virginia Tech, after the Brooklyn Nets chosen him as the 17th decide general decide in the NBA basketball draft Thursday, June 20, 2019, in New York. (AP Photograph/Julio Cortez)

There was obviously quite a lot of draft hype surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans after the staff gained the draft lottery. That occasion paved the approach for Zion Williamson to go south to Louisiana — in a transfer that may alter the course of NBA historical past.

Williamson, nevertheless, wasn’t the only piece that New Orleans, unofficially, added again on June 20. The Pelicans chosen three players in the first round: Zion, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — the latter of which made their summer time league debuts in a win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night time.

Before go back over Alexander-Walker’s dynamic efficiency out in Vegas, let’s shortly retrace how New Orleans arrived at this level.

Rewind the steps

It’s pretty wild whenever you draw out the string of occasions that have subsequently taken place since the night time of Might 14. The Lakers land the No. four decide that night time, which in turn turns into the foundation of its monster trade supply to accumulate Anthony Davis; the arrival of AD in Los Angeles, in fact, weeks later, pressured the Clippers to flip the long-term future of the franchise to the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder in order to commerce for Paul George as the catalyst for signing mega free agent and recognized fun man Kawhi Leonard.

In the deal that ultimately delivered Davis to LeBron James and the Lakers, the Pelicans netted the No. four decide in the draft — along with a trove of other belongings, together with former Duke star Brandon Ingram.

The Atlanta Hawks made it recognized that they have been set on drafting Virginia stud De’Andre Hunter previous to the draft; that’s why the Hawks have been so desperate to flip their No. 8 decide and the No. 17 decide (by way of Brooklyn in the Allen Crabbe salary dump trade, which performed a task in the Nets signing both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) in trade to move as much as No. four for Hunter. Atlanta additionally traded the 35th general selection to New Orleans, too, which turned Marcos Louzada Silva.

(Buying and selling up like this in the draft is often dangerous business and dear asset administration, however Atlanta acquired its man.)

On draft night time, New Orleans went to bat with three top-17 picks. Zion was the no-brainer at No. 1; Jaxson Hayes, a lob machine with defensive upside, went off the board at No. eight; and with the 17th choice, the Pelicans dipped again into the ACC: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a favourite of ours at the ACC Analytics page.

Ramp it up

The Davis commerce wasn’t finalized till over the weekend — late Saturday night time. Hence why it wasn’t until Monday that Alexander-Walker and Hayes made their Summer League debuts. Each guys put collectively massive video games; nevertheless, for our purposes, let’s focus in on NAW, who stuffed the stat sheet in his Vegas arrival: 23 factors (9-of-16 FGA), eight assists, three steals and two blocks.

Fast start, let it fly

During his two seasons at Virginia Tech, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was a strong 3-point shooter. He shot 38.3 % from distance on a bit of more than 4.5 3-point attempts per recreation; in response to The Stepien, Alexander-Walker shot 40 % on NBA-range makes an attempt this season.

Proper from the bounce Monday night time, NAW was aggressive — trying to hit from deep.

Nickeil the greatest player on the flooring in the 1Q. Came out of the gates firing with a movement Three off a BLOB, pressured a TO getting over a display staying hooked up after which had a dime left-handed small window entry to Hayes for a dunk. Already at ~3 left solely passes.

— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) July 9, 2019

He completed the recreation going 3-of-6 on Three-point attempts; all three of his hits from distance came off the catch, too, including this rhythm look. (I really like the little compact elevator door display action from New Orleans on this BLOB play.)

Alexander-Walker posted an effective capturing fee of 63 % on no-dribble spot-up jumpers last season, in line with Synergy Sports activities. Whereas he needed to play on ball much more as a sophomore, which broadened his horizons as a prospect, NAW nonetheless proved effective spotting up.

It’s truthful to critique NAW’s relocation expertise and motion capturing talents; nevertheless, it’s not like he doesn’t have that in his recreation. There’s room for progress here, though.

It’s still a bit rigid and plodding, but some relocation capacity from NAW.

— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) June four, 2019

Lefty Passes

Even earlier than the midseason damage to point guard Justin Robinson, Alexander-Walker spent much more time as a pick-and-roll engine his sophomore yr. These efforts, in fact, ramped up after Robinson went down — together with the Hokies enjoying via NAW and Kerry Blackshear Jr. at the elbows and high submit.

On these possessions, it was unimaginable to not notice Alexander-Walker’s use/reliance of his left hand to move.

Donning an NBA uniform for the first time — albeit a Summer League one — Alexander-Walker was into his previous bag of tips once more. Early on, he rifled a number of lasers together with his left hand — with Hayes as the beneficiary.

A few of these passing windows might not current themselves in an precise common season NBA recreation towards actual NBA-level defenders and wingspans. That’s a completely totally different degree of competition than what you’ll find out in Vegas, and it’s not like the Chicago Bulls introduced the biggest Summer League roster, both.

Nevertheless, it’s further proof that NAW has the vision and peak combination to be a daring playmaker in the NBA. He might never rise beyond secondary creator, particularly if he plays long term with Zion, who ought to have the ball a lot, but that’s still a pleasant weapon to function.

Finesse the lob

Whereas NAW is keen on slinging pocket passes on the bounce or skip passes on a line, he has pretty good touch, too. He’s able to throwing a catchable lob. That should work nicely with Hayes and Zion (no duh).

This set got here with some good motion from the Pelicans after a timeout — on the first possession of the third quarter for New Orleans. Hayes sets a (half-hearted) pindown and shortly flows right into a again display from guard Jalen Adams, in search of the over-the-top lob from NAW.

It’s a quick-hitter that the Houston Rockets wish to run for Clint Capela, too, with James Harden orchestrating from up excessive and Chris Paul screening on the again aspect.

Purple Hayes by way of NAW

The highlight of the night time got here from Hayes, though, who threw down what’s possible the biggest dunk in Summer League history. (Apologies to Mychal Mulder, this couldn’t have been much enjoyable to “live” via.)

After watching this with glee and laughter, like, 5 occasions, I observed the design and origin of the play, too. It’s one other BLOB look from the Pelicans, right into an empty-side pick-and-roll with NAW, who again uses that lefty pocket cross of his to hit Hayes in stride for the growth.

Will probably be fascinating to see how NAW’s pick-and-roll playmaking and decision-making evolve. Does his left-handed craftiness give him an advantage, or is that utilization dependance-based — a compensation for an offensive shortcoming.

NAW’s left hand cross courtroom/skip passes are his personal execs of playmaking.
But it will be better if it could possibly be carried out flexibly with the proper hand like this. Shorten PnR (nonetheless he’s not consolation at flip the cornet into paint) then pass-out off of proper hand.

— Skyfall (@polarfall) July 9, 2019

And once more: he doesn’t look quite as snug.

Defense to Offense

A part of the attraction for Nickeil Alexander-Walker as a prospect is his two-way recreation. When it comes to stocks (steal plus blocks), Alexander-Walker was relatively strong for a wing. Together with Zion Williamson, NAW was one among 4 ACC players final season with a block price of two % and a steal fee of three %.

At the mix this yr, he measured in with a wingspan simply shy of 6-foot-10, too, one in every of the greatest numbers for a guard. Out in Vegas, NAW acquired after it: three steals in 28 minutes of motion.

As a sophomore this season at Virginia Tech, Alexander-Walker averaged 2.2 steals per 40 minutes — up from 1.3 as a freshman. He finished the yr with a 3.four % steal price, which ranked 68th nationally, per KenPom.

Underneath head coach Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans play fast — like really, actually quick. In the 2017-18 season, New Orleans tied with Golden State as the fastest offenses in the NBA. That yr, New Orleans averaged 13.6 seconds per offensive possession, in accordance with Mike Beuoy’s knowledge. After an opponent made shot, the Pelicans averaged 15.8 seconds per offensive possession that season — tops in the NBA by almost a full second.

Nicely, watch how shortly NAW and Hayes go from defense to offense after the pull-up bucket by Coby White.

From end to finish, that took all of 5 seconds — word the shot clock.

Here’s an analogous possession from earlier in the recreation. After another White score, Alexander-Walker pushes the ball; nevertheless, with no rim-runner diving to the hoop, NAW keeps this time for the transition rating.

Defensive Profile

It’s fairly uncommon to discover a defensive stopper in the NBA. Teams spend great amounts of assets trying to find, cultivate and develop a lot of these defenders. It’s just not that straightforward.

Alexander-Walker doesn’t mild up as a stopper; nevertheless, he tasks to being a great defender, one that can play inside a system, guard a number of positions and wreck the occasional dose of havoc with a steal, deflection or block.

This can be a fantastic assist effort from NAW — rotating over from the weak-side nook and contesting the shot. What he does after that — weaving coast-to-coast with one other lefty transition finish — is simply the icing on the cake.

Based on Synergy, Alexander-Walker scored 1.29 factors per possession (79.eight eFG%) in transition last season.

1-on-1 with Coby White

One in every of the extra gratifying features of this Summer League outing was that it pitted NAW towards Coby White, a former ACC rival. White has experienced some good moments whereas breaking into the NBA out in Vegas, although his Three-point recreation hasn’t fairly gotten on-line. (Whereas he’s able to contorting round the basket in nifty methods to score, White has issues ending via contract.) Defensively, he’s shown some good flashes, too.

White completed with team-highs in points (25) and utilization price (36.eight %). On the last possession earlier than halftime, although, NAW matched up one-on-one with White and obtained the better. This is strong lateral work from Alexander-Walker as he stays with the speedy and slippery White by way of a change of path.

Later in the recreation, NAW had the alternative to go at White with the flooring unfold. Alexander-Walker doesn’t have an excellent explosive first step; he often wants a ball display or some created advantage to get going to the basket.

But on this possession, he jabs proper and drives left. Round the center of the lane, White is in good defensive place — between NAW and the basket, together with his arms raised vertically. Nevertheless, Alexander-Walker makes use of some intelligent footwork and an extended right-footed stride in the last dimension of the flooring to create sufficient separation for the finish.

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