Dell Curry (15th in 1986) was the highest-drafted Virginia Tech basketball player in the lottery era. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had a chance to top that and though he fell short, his selection was history-making nonetheless.
The Hokies’ star guard wound up being taken at No. 17 by the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s not as high as he could have been selected — although it was within the range that most mock drafts had him — but it is among the more intriguing destinations.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, New Orleans won this year’s draft lottery and the rights to the top pick, which turned into Zion Williamson. The Pelicans also recently traded All-Star Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a package that included guards Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, forward Brandon Ingram, and the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft.
About two hours before the draft began, they traded the fourth pick to Atlanta for Nos. 8 and 17, where they wound up selecting Alexander-Walker.
Alexander-Walker will be an interesting fit in New Orleans. He will not start, as their top lineup will feature Ball, Jrue Holiday, Ingram, Williamson, and either Jahlil Okafor or No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes. Instead, “NAW” is in line to share backcourt duties (and possibly ball-handling responsibilities) with Hart on the second unit.
Neither of the young guards are true point guards, but both are proven capable of shouldering some of the load. They can also both score from virtually anywhere on the floor. NAW made 52.9 percent of his field goal attempts in his two seasons at Tech, including 38.3 percent from three-point range, which is approximately the same clip Hart converts them at — his 33.6 percent conversion rate last season was atypical relative to his production as a rookie and in his four years at Villanova.
Leading the second unit as both an on and off-ball guard should do wonders for NAW’s development. However, he will almost certainly receive minutes with the starters. Williamson can’t play 48 minutes, so he could see considerable time as a third guard (with Williamson or Ingram at power forward) alongside Ball and Holiday.
New Orleans’ starting guards and wing players also aren’t particularly effective three-point shooters. The Ball, Holiday and Ingram trio each converted between 32 and 33 percent of their attempts from behind the arch last year. NAW would provide a substantial boost in that area.
Aside from Holiday (a two-time All-Defensive NBA selection), New Orleans’ new core struggles on defense. Hart was less to blame, but the Lakers as a whole have been heavily criticized for their efforts on that end in recent years, and that starts with Ball and Ingram (and most recently LeBron James). Williamson is active, but his atypical build (6-foot-7 and 285 pounds) could also make defense a challenge for him at the pro level. NAW is an active defender and his 6-foot-9 wingspan gives him considerable switch-ability.
Health is also a question for many of New Orleans’ players. Ball has only played 99 games in his first two seasons, Ingram has missed 53 games in his last two years and is suffering from the early effects of blood clotting, Okafor has seldom been in playing shape (although that may have improved now) and even Hart has missed 34 games in two years. That could certainly also free up more time for Alexander-Walker.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of him joining the Pelicans is how young the team is. The entire unit will be able to grow together, with Holiday serving as the team’s leader and Alexander-Walker’s mentor.
All told, this is a great fit for Nickeil Alexander Walker. The ACC-fueled Pelicans — their entire starting front court may wind up being comprised of former Duke players, if Okafor gets the nod over Hayes — are very much on the rise, and they will have staying power in the Western Conference. Alexander-Walker will have every opportunity to be a major part of their ascent and his multi-positional deployment should make him an indispensable asset for the next few years.