It was a difficult NBA season for all teams but some players saw their roles increase and become key players. One of those players is former Virginia Tech Hokies guard and New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. In only his second year in the league, Alexander-Walker is becoming a critical player for the Pelicans.
Nickeil was the first Hokie selected in the NBA Draft in six years when he was selected by the Brooklyn Nets with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Within a few weeks, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and then immediately traded to the Pelicans to be a key player in the guard rotation. He would ultimately be the second rookie drafted in the first round for the Pelicans joining power forward Zion Williamson. In his first season in the NBA this past season, Alexander-Walker played in 47 games while only starting in one of them. He averaged 5.7 points per game shooting a 36.8% field goal percentage, a 34.6 three-point shooting percentage, and a 67.6% free-throw percentage.
It was clear that Alexander-Walker had to clear a learning and playing curve from the collegiate ranks to the NBA. He took to the practice gym constantly to work on his shooting but his availability to be a reliable player without the ball in his hands. There was a clear difference in the style of play between his first year last season to his season.
This season, Alexander-Walker played in 46 games in a tough injury-filled season while starting in 13 of them. He went from averaging 12.6 minutes per game in his rookie season to 21.9 minutes per game in his second season. He averaged 11 points per game a field-goal percentage of 41.9%, a three-point shooting percentage of 34.7%, and a free-throw shooting percentage of 72.7%. He also averaged 3.1 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, half a block per game, and one steal per game.
His breakout game of the season as well as his career was in 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on January 13th. This was his first start of the season for the Pelicans as well as his second career start in the league. Alexander-Walker led the Pelicans with 37 points shooting 15-of-23 in field goals as well as 5-of-8 from behind the three-point arc. He also accounted for eight total rebounds, one steal, and only one turnover as he gave the Clippers a headache trying to figure out ways to stop him. He has proven to be a player that can create his own shots as he is building up confidence in his playmaking abilities.
After a hot start in January, Nickeil Alexander-Walker had some frustrations with nagging injuries as he was limited in minutes played. He was also in-and-out of the lineup for New Orleans for a month. He had a massive surge in March as he averaged 14.1 points per game shooting a 42.3% field-goal percentage and a 40% three-point shooting percentage. He also averaged 4.6 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game, .8 blocks per game, and .8 steals per game while playing an average of 26.5 minutes per game.
He suffered another tough injury as he was out almost all of April and half the games in May with an ankle injury. He did play great in the five remaining games of the Pelicans’ season strong including a 30-point and three steal performance in the 125-122 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
The Pelicans have missed his contributors as a tenacious scorer as well as someone who complements the play style of Zion Williamson and point guard Lonzo Ball. The Pelicans were 8-10 without Nickeil on the court from April 6th to May 5th to the ankle injury.
The Pelicans finished the 2020-2021 NBA season with an overall record of 31-41 as they were just short of missing the play-in game. There is going to be some key roster restructuring for the Pelicans this offseason. Ball will be a restricted free agent along with fellow shooting guard Josh Hart. Nickeil Alexander-Walker could be one of the key pieces of the Pelicans going forward due to his youth, talents, and potential.