• It’s just preseason, and in the midst of a Pelicans revival, keeping things in perspective is difficult.

    The Pelicans are 4-0 and it’s easy to think that the world has been solved for them.  It hasn’t.  But there are so many things that are going well (mostly, Zion is a monster) that it’s hard to give any individual story the attention that it deserves.  And aside from Zion, there is likely no story more important than Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s for the new-look Pelicans. NAW dominated Summer League, but that’s, erm, Summer League, but he has been equally fantastic in preseason.

    One of the most common ways to misjudge a player is to get overexcited about his scoring, particularly if it’s inefficient.  Right now, NAW is scoring at a rate of 29.3 points per 36 minutes and registering nearly a 60% TS in the process. But it’s not just that: there are several things to be excited about.

    Scoring

    The easiest start.  As mentioned before, NAW is scoring at an insanely high rate for anyone, much less a rookie.  There are several other Pelicans hovering around 30 points per 36 minutes, including Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, and Jahlil Okafor.  What is particularly surprising is how many shots NAW is taking.  He is shooting 22.5 FGA per 36, which is superstar-level usage.  Of guys in the preseason with significant minutes, this would put NAW behind just Giannis, Kristaps, Steph, Chris Clemons, Beal, and Terrence Ross.

    Common sense is that NAW will cut down on his usage some, as there isn’t much reason to believe he’d be scoring anywhere near 30 points per game.  But what is clear is that he is a very aggressive scorer despite often being played in a point guard role.  NAW has a 3PAr of over 50% and will likely start out his career as an outside-in scorer.  He isn’t explosive enough to get to the rim as his foundation and he’s seemingly most comfortable operating in pick/rolls.

    Passing

    As mentioned earlier, NAW very much appears to prefer operating in pick/rolls and hitting his teammates with live-dribble lefty passes.  What has made him special so far is that he takes what the defense gives him, and this opens up a lot for his passing.  Defenses who leave him alone watch him score and defenses who over-commit to him wind up giving up easy shots.

    NAW has cut down on some of the crazy passes that he was slinging in Summer League, which is good, because he’s not at the level to be doing that in real games yet.  Over time, he will learn when to make difficult passes and when to be conservative.  As Jason Calmes of Bourbon Street Shots says, “Turnovers are the cost of good passing,” and the bumps/bruises NAW experiences in his first few years will sometimes be ugly, but they will be worth it.

    Other

    This is a section that will be talked about least but is most indicative of what is most unusual about NAW.  He is not the first rookie in the league to be dangerous shooting or passing.  What makes him stand out is his high basketball IQ and the little things he is doing in the midst of each play to contribute.

    Spacing is often seen as “can this guy shoot or not?” but it is not that simple.  It is not just the physical shot that matters, though a decent one is clearly a prerequisite to be a threat.

    It is how a player moves without a ball, and sometimes that is in extremely subtle ways.  A great shooter also knows how to free himself for shots but also how to make small adjustments to his positioning in order to put defenses in no-win situations.  A great shooter a few feet away from his teammate can crowd him and that allows for easy doubles with minimal consequences.

    “Don’t double [said to defenders] one pass away” is only true if the player he is guarding has the breathing room to get his shot off before the defender who doubled recovers to him.

    These movements are where NAW is well ahead of his years.  Throughout the play, he is making small adjustments in his positioning to optimize his spacing.  He’s not napping when the ball isn’t in his hands.  When he passes the ball, he immediately relocates (see below)

    This sort of feel is not limited to offense.  NAW is an active off-ball defender, keeping track of his man, possessing a good feel for navigating around screens, and aggressive when opportunities arise.  His frame could use some filling-out to guard some of the bigger wings, but by all appearances, he looks like he has both the toolkit and the intangibles to be a very good defender at the NBA level.

    Moving Forward

    As discussed this summer, the Pelicans have a bit of a logjam on the perimeter, and minutes will be hard to come by.  Early on, it wouldn’t be a shock if NAW sat some games, particularly if Zion is actually hurt (please noooooo).

    What gives him a chance is that the second unit lacks anyone else who can run the offense.  If Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday are on the bench, there really isn’t any other player who can initiate the offense well enough to get the defense moving.  Given what NAW has shown so far (in limited, somewhat meaningless games), he could absolutely be that guy.

    NAW appears to be the most NBA-ready guard that New Orleans has had since Chris Paul (granted, they traded a lot of their draft picks), and everything he’s shown so far seems to indicate that he can be a high-level starter in the NBA.  If Alvin Gentry is given some latitude with the final win total this year, NAW is a guy who could wind up earning 15-20 minutes a night earlier rather than later, and if he is the player he’s been in Summer League and preseason, he absolutely deserves those minutes.

Fantasy News

  • Jordan Bone
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    Jordan Bone was a top-490 fantasy player as a rookie, making 10 appearances and averaging 5.3 mpg.

    Bone was stuck behind a surprisingly deep guard rotation in Detroit, so he played sparingly even given the rotating injury woes of Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. Maybe next year affords him a great chance to earn a backup spot.

  • Khyri Thomas
    SG, Detroit Pistons

    Khyri Thomas was able to play in eight games for the Pistons after missing three months with right foot surgery.

    Thomas went under the knife on November 13, 2019 and returned with a G League outing on February 22, 2020. He was able to crack the rotation right before the NBA stopped but only saw more than 10 minutes of run in three games. The former second-round selection should get a fair shake at earning a full-time spot next year given Detroit's impending rebuild.

  • Louis King
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Louis King wrapped up his rookie season with averages of 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.2 steals and 0.4 3-pointers in 6.2 mpg across 10 contests.

    King was on a two-way deal with the Pistons and finished as a top-475 fantasy option. His .364 mark from deep is something to build on but fantasy GMs can keep track from afar.

  • Donta Hall
    PF, Brooklyn Nets

    Donta Hall, recently signed by the Nets, made four appearances in the 2019-20 fantasy season and finished outside the top-425 in value.

    Hall only averaged 12 minutes in those games despite the state of Detroit's roster. He put up 3.8 rebounds, 0.3 steals and 0.5 blocks in that time and is a name to file away given the potential for him to crack Brooklyn's depleted rotation. Beyond this strange set of circumstances, Hall is unlikely to hold fantasy value in the next regular season.

  • Pau Gasol
    C, Free Agent

    Refuting earlier reports, Barcelona manager Joan Bladé says that the team will not be signing Pau Gasol.

    It was reported that Gasol was set to sign a one-year deal but the 40-year-old is still on the open market. We may have seen the last of the big man at the NBA level but he's preparing to play in the Olympics, so expect to see his name pop up in the rumor mill as he looks for his next club team.

    Source: Catradio Sports on Twitter

  • Rodions Kurucs
    PF, Brooklyn Nets

    Rodions Kurucs was the starting power forward in Friday's practice session, per Brian Lewis.

    The Nets have lost basically their entire power forward rotation with Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler out for the Orlando restart. Kurucs should be able to soak up plenty of minutes and we'd expect him to keep the lion's share of work even when Michael Beasley is ready to go. The entire Brooklyn lineup looks pretty fluid given the sheer volume of their absences, but Kurucs could be one of the big beneficiaries. He had a successful rookie season, averaging 8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.9 threes in 20.5 mpg while making 46 starts, but fell out of the rotation this year, averaging just 12.8 minutes per contest in 39 games. Anyone playing fantasy games should probably value Kurucs closer to his rookie campaign given the work available to him.

    Source: Brian Lewis on Twitter

  • Dewan Hernandez
    PF, Toronto Raptors

    Dewan Hernandez, who suffered a severe right ankle sprain in December, says he expects to play in the Orlando restart.

    Hernandez missed the final 37 games of the season and was often seen in a walking boot on the bench. The rookie wasn't really in the rotation to begin with so the fantasy impact is minimal, but it's good to know that he's healthy.

    Source: Austin Kent on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic
    C, Denver Nuggets

    Nikola Jokic posted his fourth straight elite fantasy season and his best season to date, finishing as the 9th best option in 9-category formats.

    Jokic is as reliable as they come with another season of huge popcorn numbers. He scored 20.2 points (a career-high) to go with 10.2 boards and 6.9 assists on a strong 52.8% shooting from the floor and 81.3% from the line. The cash counter output also maintained from past seasons, with 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.1 triples. At this point, Jokic's best asset is his consistency. This is what we've grown to expect from him as someone who always shows up to work. He played every game for the Nuggets this season and has missed just 20 games total in his five-year career. As long as he is healthy, he's money in the bank.

  • Jamal Murray
    PG, Denver Nuggets

    Jamal Murray took a nice step forward in his fourth NBA campaign and approached top-50 value in 9-category leagues due to a large increase in shooting efficiency.

    Murray was limited to 55 games due to a sprained left ankle but performed well when he was on the court. The popcorn numbers were similar to his 2018-19 season, with 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 3-pointers in 32.8 minutes. The 25 spot jump to the 52nd player in 9-category format was directly tied to a 1.8% improvement to 45.5% from the floor and a 4.5% improvement to 89.3% from the charity stripe. If he can continue to improve his passing and game management, he can hop into the top-50 with ease going forward.

  • Paul Millsap
    PF, Denver Nuggets

    Paul Millsap maintained his typical per-minute production, finishing as the 97th player in 9-category formats in just 24.4 minutes per game.

    Millsap's minute decline over the past three seasons in Denver have muted the upside he enjoyed during his heyday in Atlanta. In 44 games and a few nagging injuries including a left knee contusion and a sprained right ankle, he put up 12.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks on good percentages (48.6 from the floor and a career-high 83.3% from the free throw line). Millsap should continue to be a good per-minute producer even if he moves on to a new destination for 2021, but expect the minutes to be the real sticking point as he enters his age 35 season.