Sophomore Guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker has thrown his name in to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. How does he project into the NBA, and how does he fit with the Philadelphia 76ers?
Fun Fact: Alexander-Walker is the cousin of 2018 lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
One important thing to look for with prospects is what roles they can play on an NBA team. Alexander-Walker’s biggest strength may be his ability to fit any role you would ask of a non-point guard. On offense, he can hunt shots along the perimeter, he can slash against weaker defenders, he can operate pick-and-roll, he can even take smaller defenders down to the post. He probably can’t operate as a lead guard, but he may be able to do so in a few years next to another guy who can handle some of the load. On defense, he should be able to guard both positions in all situations, though he doesn’t project to be elite in any way.
It’s really hard to explain why Jarrett Culver is a projected top 5 player while Alexander-Walker has fallen outside the projected lottery. They are extremely similar players, with the only notable differences being that Culver is a much better rebounder while Alexander-Walker is a much better shooter. And when it comes to guards, shooting is the more important quality for sure. That is probably more Culver being overrated than Alexander-Walker being underrated, but if you are a big fan of Culver, there’s no reason not to feel the same about Alexander-Walker.
Ultimately, Alexander-Walker projects as a quality roleplayer at the next level. There’s always room for that on every team.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker the College Player
Alexander-Walker entered the 2018-19 season as a projected top 10 pick. Through his first 20 games, he shot 41.8% from three on 4.8 attempts per game and 79.4% on 3.3 FT attempts per game. Over his next 11 games, that fell to just 32.1% from three and 75.7% on 6.4 FT attempts per game. What happened? Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech’s point guard, was injured. Even when he came back, he came off the bench and did not play as much next to Alexander-Walker.
Luckily, that gives us a great view of Alexander-Walker in all facets of his offensive game. He’s currently a poor shooter off the bounce, and while his shooting form isn’t necessarily broken, it’s not really conducive to a quick shot off the dribble, so it’s not something likely to improve significantly. But he’s a great catch and shooter thanks to ready hands and a high release that is difficult to challenge. When asked to create, he is extremely aggressive. He’s a creative and willing passer, but when forced into full-time lead guard duty, his decision-making just leaves a little too much to be desired.
The defense is a little harder to parse, if only because Virginia Tech’s defensive scheme asked players to execute lots of different responsibilities, but many of them don’t exist at the next level. Alexander-Walker’s hands are active, and he seeks to swipe in both on and off-ball situations. While he is quite good at this, he sometimes takes it too far and gives up easy baskets as a result.
Alexander-Walker showed massive improvement from his freshman to his sophomore season. If he continues to improve and finds himself in the right team situation, he could be a very valuable player at the next level.
Where can we expect Nickeil Alexander-Walker to go in the 2019 NBA Draft?
SI.com (mock draft): 18
The Athletic (mock draft): 19
Could Alexander-Walker fall all the way to the Sixers at 24? Absolutely. There’s a ton of guys in this range and no two places have them in the same order. It only takes one team to fall in love with a player, and if nobody falls in love with him, he could certainly drop a bit.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s Strengths
Offensive versatility: I tend not to like describing players as “versatile,” as too often it is a fancy way of saying “not good enough at anything.” And while there is an element of that with Alexander-Walker, I have to list it as a strength. If you’re not a superstar at the next level, you better be able to fit in with one, and Alexander-Walker can fit in with any group of players.
To go back to the Culver comparison I started with, it’s difficult to see where Culver fits in at the next level if his shot doesn’t come along, because he’s not good enough to be a lead ball-handler. Culver could get away with standing 8 feet behind the 3P line without the ball in college, but it won’t work at the NBA level. Alexander-Walker has no such concerns. He can operate as a catch and shooter, cutter, slasher, whatever is needed. That’s useful!
Great hands: Normally, talk about hands is limited to big men catching the ball, but it’s important for guards to have good hands too. On offense, he can dribble with both hands, pass with both hands, and his hands are always in position to catch the ball when he doesn’t have it. On defense, his hands are very accurate on swipes and very active in passing lanes.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s Weaknesses
Lack of physicality: The biggest thing that stands out when watching Alexander-Walker is how often he avoids physical contact. When he’s attacking the rim on offense, he doesn’t mind it, but playing defense and especially rebounding, he really avoids contact as much as possible. He will need to bulk up and get more willing to mix it up to really succeed at the next level.
Decision-making: Alexander-Walker can get to the rim. Alexander-Walker can make really creative passes. Alexander-Walker doesn’t always know when to attempt these things. He can drive himself into bad positions, and then panics and throws the ball to the other team. This is the type of thing that tends to improve with age, but it’s at least moderately concerning.
Low upside: There’s always value in NBA-level SGs who don’t do anything special, but they may not be worth drafting particularly highly. This is a corollary to him being versatile. He doesn’t have a single elite skill to really take him from “solid roleplaying starter” to “irreplaceable piece.” It’s easy to see him playing 10+ years in the NBA without ever making a memorable impact anywhere.
Part of getting into the NBA Draft is learning how to get excited about unexciting prospects. Alexander-Walker isn’t exciting. He’s solid. He’s a solid NBA player. Maybe he’s a starter, maybe he’s a 3rd guard. He’ll hit some shots, he’ll play some D, he probably won’t rebound much. Whatever team drafts him will probably struggle to figure out what to pay him on his second contract.
But you know what? There’s only so many actual NBA players that come out of the draft each year, and he has a high chance of being one of them. That’s worth getting excited about.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s Fit with the 76ers
He fits! I mean, there’s not much more to say. Regardless of who comes back and who doesn’t, regardless of who else they draft or sign, he fits. He’s a guard who can shoot and defend and will fit into whatever scheme or whatever personnel are around him. He would be a fine pickup in the first round.