October 18, 2019, 2:40 am
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.
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.
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.
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)
The play at 1:00 in this video is a good example of when I talk about NAW’s “other stuff.” Runs a P&R with the pass a smidge off the mark, but immediately relocates for shooting position. He’s active with and without the ballhttps://t.co/7Z8jmdHwZ0
— Mike (@Mike_Pelicans) October 16, 2019
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.
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.
November 15, 2019, 1:25 amPaul MillsapPF, Denver Nuggets
Paul Millsap had a throwback game on Thursday, scoring 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists and two triples.
Millsap continues to turn back the clock with his performances and he did so in only 27 minutes tonight. This is all with Jerami Grant (12 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two triples) also providing value. Mason Plumlee (10 points, seven rebounds and two assists) was actually vital in tonight's double-digit deficit comeback. The main guy to own right now is Millsap, but beware of his mileage.
November 15, 2019, 1:25 amTaurean PrinceSF, Brooklyn Nets
Tauren Prince had an inefficient night shooting the ball on Thursday, going 5-for-15 from the floor on his way to 12 points with eight rebounds, two assists and two triples.
Prince should be able to churn out some standard-league value while Caris LeVert (thumb) is sidelined for the next few weeks. He won't be as good as he was on the Hawks. but the points, triples and steals are still there and he's a top-90 player so far this year.
November 15, 2019, 1:24 amJoe HarrisSF, Brooklyn Nets
Joe Harris scored nine points on 4-of-11 shooting with three rebounds, a steal and a 3-pointer on Thursday.
Harris was held to only nine points tonight and only attempted three shots from deep. He should be much better on the next one and while he won't light up the scoreboard, the triples should come at a higher rate.
November 15, 2019, 1:15 amNikola JokicC, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets to their 101-93 win over the Nets on Thursday with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers.
Jokic's line is still under what he usually delivers and again, we're preaching patience here. He always takes a bit of time to warm up and there's no doubt in our minds that he'll be due for a top-15 finish.
November 15, 2019, 1:14 amWill BartonSG, Denver Nuggets
Will Barton played a game-high 38 minutes on Thursday, scoring 17 points on 8-of-17 shooting with six rebounds and four assists.
Barton had another solid night scoring the ball and the Nuggets offense should have enough usage for him to provide some decent value. The Nuggets are actually sputtering on offense, ranked 22th in ORTG on the year and they'll need Barton to continue to be himself on offense.
November 15, 2019, 1:13 amMalik BeasleySG, Denver Nuggets
Malik Beasley sat out Thursday's game vs. the Nets with an illness.
Beasley sitting gave more time for Monte Morris (19 minutes, 10 points, three rebounds, seven assists, a steal and a triple) and it's a known fact that Morris is standard-league value when he gets enough time. It's just a short-term injury though, so Beasley should be re-inserted again soon.
November 15, 2019, 1:12 amJamal MurrayPG, Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray had an awful game on Thursday, scoring four points on 1-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a 3-pointer.
Murray was getting all of the attention and collapsed on every time he drove in the paint. He's prone to some shooting slumps like this, but as we've seen before, he busts out of them in a huge way.
November 15, 2019, 1:11 amGary HarrisSG, Denver Nuggets
Gary Harris filled up the stat sheet on Thursday, scoring ten points on 4-of-7 shooting with seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, a block and two triples.
Harris's line was exactly what owners should be seeking. He got it done across the board and hit his triples. The top-40 days are long gone, but Harris is more than serviceable for standard leagues as the main man in Denver at shooting guard.
November 15, 2019, 1:10 amKyrie IrvingPG, Brooklyn Nets
Kyrie Irving scored 17 points on 8-of-20 shooting to go with six rebounds, nine assists, a steal and a 3-pointer in Thursday's 93-101 loss to the Nuggets.
Irving couldn't get his shot to fall in the second half, but he still delivered on the dimes tonight. He's still one of the top players in the league and if a slow stretch can pry open even the smallest buy-low window, you have to pounce on it. The only warning sign is his health as he played through a shoulder injury today.
November 15, 2019, 1:09 amJarrett AllenC, Brooklyn Nets
Jarret Allen scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and a block on Thursday.
Allen had a monster game, contesting almost every shot in the paint, but the Nets just couldn't keep things going in the second half. He's clearly the better player between he and DeAndre Jordan (17 minutes, zero points, 11 rebounds, three assists and a block) and it's good to see the minutes reflect that.