#13 on the PB Big Board
G – Virginia Tech
Sophomore, 6’5, 205 pounds
What he does well:
Alexander-Walker (who I’ll occasionally refer to as “NAW” here) played alongside two high usage upperclassmen at Virginia Tech in senior point guard Justin Robinson and interior bruiser Kerry Blackshear. Because those players contributed so much, we never really got to see Alexander-Walker run the show in Blacksburg, which is something that could have been a sight worth seeing.
For a player his size, who plays bigger than even his listed height, NAW operates very comfortably with the ball in his hands. He’s a very willing passer, with brilliant court vision. Alexander-Walker proved particularly skilled at drawing extra attention with a drive and finding the right open shooter to hit with a kick-out pass.
This past season, NAW averaged more than 4 assists per game, again without really having the keys to the car, so to speak.
As a point guard or as a wing player acting as a secondary creator, his ability to read defenses and make the correct move with the ball will be very valuable in any NBA offense.
Alexander-Walker expands the rest of his offensive game by knocking down 3-point shots when given the opportunity. He was an incredibly consistent 3-point shooter during his college career, making 38 percent from long range as a Hokie.
His touch isn’t limited to outside the arc. Alexander-Walker’s game includes a penchant for attacking close-outs, leading to a drive into the lane or a mid-range look. He’s really smart about how and when he chooses to shoot the ball.
Alexander-Walker isn’t thought of at the top of the list of best shooters in this draft, but that could be a mistake. He should have no trouble immediately stepping onto an NBA floor and being a productive outside shooter.
At his size, with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Alexander-Walker offers an exciting tool for an NBA defense. He should be able to guard three positions confidently. That’s especially true given the defensive effort he showed at Virginia Tech. Head coach Buzz Williams famously demands that of his players and it’s a valuable asset in NAW’s resume.
This season, he averaged 1.9 steals per game, thanks to quick thinking and fast hands. In his college career, Alexander-Walker had eight games with at least four steals, including a career high six swipes at Miami in January. In the NBA, even the briefest deflection of the ball can disrupt an offense. Analytics nerds will love NAW’s nose for the ball.
Where he struggles:
Alexander-Walker isn’t an eye-popping athlete and it shows at both ends of the floor. He’s fast enough, big enough, and twitchy enough to make it in the NBA, yet he’ll have clear limitations on what he’s capable of at the next level due to his physical limitations.
His first step isn’t a lightning quick blow by, forcing him to rely more on craftiness or timeliness to get into the paint. NAW isn’t going to win at the rim with air or muscle. Instead, he has to finagle his way to a floater or other advantageous look in the lane.
Defensively, Alexander-Walker does well with anticipatory thinking and working hard. Against the best athletes in the world, at times, he’ll be overmatched by size, strength, or speed.
So much of his game, because it’s based on effort, smarts, and the mental side of things can still work against NBA competition, but the lack of big time athleticism simply puts a cap on his potential. He’s more skilled but far less athletic than his cousin, Shae Gilgeous-Alexander of the LA Clippers
How his game translates to the NBA:
I love his fit in today’s NBA, in the “Pace and Space” era for a few reasons. The main thing that will help him succeed at the next level is his court vision. We live in an era where any player can be a creator with the ball in his hands. There’s proof of that up and down the league thanks to players like LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, and Nikola Jokic.
At his heart, I think Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a point guard. Some people just feel most comfortable running the show, receiving outlet passes, and bringing the ball up the court. Purely from watching him at Virginia Tech, that’s visible in the way NAW plays.
He might not be given the chance to be a starting point guard or even nominally play that position in the NBA. Given the pace that games are now played at though, every player has more chances to handle the ball and more open space with which to operate. Even if Alexander-Walker isn’t listed at point guard in the program, I expect him to make plays like one.
- Victor Oladipo
- Tiny glimpses of Manu Ginobili
- Kris Dunn
Next up: #14 Nassir Little
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.