Nickeil Alexander-Walker is the Heir to Reggie Jackson
The point guard position has been a subject of controversy for a number of years, as the franchise has failed to bring in an elite talent at the position since the days of Chauncey Billups. While current starter Reggie Jackson has been adequate and at times even above-average when his health is in order, the Pistons still should be looking toward the future with their 15th overall pick. Jackson’s five-year, $90 million deal expires following the 2019-20 season, and the team will be hard-pressed to bring in a superior player without vastly overpaying. It would be in the team’s best interest to possibly bring in a guard that can be mentored by Jackson prior to him leaving next offseason if he chooses to do so.
Enter Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Canadian combo guard from Virginia Tech. The 20-year-old sophomore led the Hokies to a 26-9 record this past season, fifth best in the ACC. While his averages won’t blow anyone away, his 16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.0 assists are impressive nonetheless. NAW provides a unique blend of length and shot-creation, and at 6’5″ with a 6’9″ wingspan, he is able to cover ground quickly while also possessing the ability to shoot over shorter defenders.
Another positive about Alexander-Walker’s game is his ability to play off the ball when needed, although he can step into the role of primary ball-handler as well. With the possibility of playing alongside a playmaking forward in Blake Griffin, NAW’s ability to find space for a shot without the ball in his hands would come in handy. Not to mention, if he does find space for an open shot from the perimeter, he takes advantage of it. His efficiency from three-point range (38.3% over two collegiate seasons) would obviously benefit a Detroit team that is known for having “shooters who can’t shoot”. A quicker-than-average release for a tall guard doesn’t hurt, either. If he were to impress the Pistons with his combo-guard versatility, he could even line up next to Reggie Jackson in the starting backcourt. This would be a move that would relegate Luke Kennard to his better-suited sixth man role in which he succeeded tremendously in throughout last season. While that is unlikely, it is another option the Pistons would have with Alexander-Walker. His versatility shines as one of his greatest qualities.
If NAW’s ability to play both backcourt positions, provide a threat from three-point range, and distribute the ball aren’t enough, he’s proven to have defensive tools as well. His aforementioned wingspan and defense discipline has allowed him to disrupt passing lanes and contest shots, with his 1.9 steals per game in 2018-19 doing a lot of the talking. Stats mean nothing without context, however, and Virginia Tech’s weaker schedule obviously benefitted Alexander-Walker’s production. He wasn’t often relied on to guard the opposing team’s primary scorer, but always made an impact on the less flashy end of the floor.
NAW’s main weaknesses include his strength, a shortcoming that could limit him against the more physical defenders in the NBA. With some added bulk, however, he could solidify himself as a starting-caliber guard at the next level. He lacks a quick first step, although his ability to shoot quickly and score over shorter defenders helps lessen the blow. While the consensus is that he is a good decision maker overall, he can be a bit careless with the ball, evidenced by his alarming 2.9 turnovers per game last season. However, he wouldn’t be relied on for the bulk of any team’s playmaking in the NBA just yet anyway.
The Pistons are in dire need of a big wing capable of defending the league’s best forwards while also being able to shoot, but those seem to be few and far between in this year’s draft. Nickeil Alexander-Walker would be a seamless fit in Detroit and has the potential to become a starting option for years to come. In my opinion, NAW’s game nearly mirrors that of Los Angeles’ standout rookie, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is fittingly related to him. If the Virginia Tech product could even come close to matching SGA’s production as a rookie, it would be a massive victory for the lucky team that selects him.