For the first time in six arduous years, the Orlando Magic fan-base will not be toiling over who their beloved team selects with their lottery pick in next month’s NBA Draft. The Magic figured things out late in the ‘18-’19 season, and broke-through en route to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in seven years. They even found a way to steal a game in Toronto, who has gone on to win the Eastern Conference.
Since franchise center Dwight Howard was traded in the summer of 2012, the Magic have been a habitual “lottery team”. The organization drafted Victor Oladipo (‘13, 2nd), Aaron Gordon (‘14, 4th), Dario Saric (‘14, 12th - traded for the rights to Elfrid Payton), Mario Hezonja (‘15, 5th), Domantas Sabonis (‘16, 11th - traded along with Oladipo and Irsan Ilyasova for the rights to Serge Ibaka), Jonathan Isaac (‘17, 6th), and Mohamed Bamba (‘18, 6th) with their seven lottery picks in the last six years. Of course, only Gordon, Isaac, and Bamba remain with the team.
Now the Magic find themselves on the outside of the lottery looking in, and that’s obviously a good thing. The organization has seemed to turn a corner; they have the right coach in place, they have a player who was recognized as an NBA All-Star for the first time since Howard, and they have some promising young players to continue to build-around for the foreseeable future.
Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross are set to become unrestricted free agents for their first time in their respective careers, so the NBA Free Agency period (beginning on June 30th) will clearly be Orlando’s primary focus this summer. But that’s not to say that this year’s draft should be completely ignored. The Magic are slated to pick 16th (and 46th, 2nd round), and a quality player should still be there available for the organization to select. Finding a hidden gem at #16 won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.
NBA Hall-of-Fame point guard John Stockton was drafted 16th in 1984. Dana Barros (‘89), Chris Gatling (‘91), Metta World Peace (‘99), and Orlando’s own Nikola Vucevic (‘11) are all former 16th overall picks who have gone on to make an All-Star appearance in their careers. Hedo Turkoglu, Marreese Speights, Nick Young, Jusuf Nurkic, and Terry Rozier are all former 16th overall picks who have also carved out significant roles for themselves in the NBA at one point or another.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together a scouting report profiling some of the players who will likely be available at #16 when the Magic make their pick. Included in these pieces will be some notes from player film review, talking points, and the player’s draft outlook.
We continue in this series by now taking a dive into Nickeil Alexander-Walker - a versatile guard from “The 6”.
“Probably won’t happen” comparison: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (his cousin and former high school teammate; I don’t think he will have the versatility Gilgeous-Alexander possesses to be able to defend both guard positions)
“Possibly could happen” comparison: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb (but better defensive instincts, more play-making skills), Delon Wright (but with more shooting upside)
Eye in the sky
— Good vision for a wing player, could develop into a secondary play-maker
— Moves without the ball, finds open space on the floor, gives up the ball and relocates very well
— Length shows on film, potential to be disruptive on the perimeter defensively
— Gets his hands on the ball, produces a lot of deflections
— Balanced jumper, does a nice job getting his body squared-away
— Very high release on his shot, something about it looks awkward (but it goes in)
— Seems like he lags a bit getting his shot off, not a quick release
— Plays under-control, easy pace
— Was utilized as a pick-and-roll ball-handler
— Looks ambidextrous at times, finishes with either hand
Best film(s) of the season: 1/30 at Miami, 3/8 vs. Miami
Combined 46 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 6 steals in the two contests against Miami
Video credit: Stadium
1) He (probably) won’t be a lead-guard at the next level
One of the narratives surrounding Alexander-Walker is his perceived potential to blossom into an NBA point guard. I just don’t see that ever happening (and that’s okay). Again, he does have natural passing instincts; his vision for a wing-player is above-average. Let’s just let that be and avoid trying to make him into something that he’s not.
Justin Robinson, Alexander-Walker’s starting back-court mate, has been a phenomenal point guard in the ACC for some time. I bring this up because Robinson went down this season with a left-foot injury in late January, forcing Alexander-Walker to take over the lead guard duties for the remainder of the regular season and the ACC Tournament (Robinson came back for Virginia Tech’s three NCAA Tournament games).
Alexander-Walker accepted the challenge and new role admirably, but I noticed his play took a significant hit (filling-in as the team’s lead-guard). He hit a really rough stretch in the month of February where he failed to shoot over 40% from the field in six of Virginia Tech’s eight games (27-82 FGA’s, 33% FG%). Even more concerning is the fact that he turned the ball over a combined 16 times in a three game stretch in early February (against N.C. State, Louisville, and Clemson) operating as the team’s de facto point guard.
To be clear, I’m not holding any of this against the Canadian-product. It’s perfectly understandable that a player’s production and efficiency takes a hit when someone that was relied upon to orchestrate the team’s offense goes down with an injury. I’m only using this scenario within the context of the argument that I don’t think Alexander-Walker has a future as a multi-positional guard. I just didn’t see him create enough separation off-the-dribble against opposing point guards. He’s a “2”, and that’s perfectly good enough for me.
2) Does he have the potential upside that others in this class offer?
I think one of the common knocks on Alexander-Walker is that he doesn’t offer a team the potential “upside” that other players might possess in this class. I read from other places that “he’s pretty good at a lot of things, but he’s not dominant in any single-area on the floor.” I would argue that his secondary play-making upside is there, and I’m probably higher on his defensive potential than most (as long as he continues to get stronger).
But to circle back to my original point, I get why the Toronto native is viewed as a prospect with “a high-floor, but a low ceiling”. Alexander-Walker ranked in the Top-15 in the ACC in the following categories: field goal percentage, free throw percentage, player efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, assist percentage, steal percentage, defensive rating, win shares per/40, OBPM, DBPM, and BPM. That’s what I call added-value in a multitude of areas (He’s only 20 - it’s not like he’s a finished product either).
However, out of those 12 categories, he only ranked in the Top-5 in the ACC last season in one metric (assist percentage, 5th). Again, not dominant in one single area, but pretty good in a lot of areas. I find a player with those kinds of attributes as considerably valuable, but not everyone does.
There are only a handful of players that are assumed to be available where Alexander-Walker is being “mocked” who figure to be ready to contribute to a team right away. Now, obviously a player’s ability to break a team’s rotation is based upon a multitude of factors: depth chart, situation, scheme, etc.
But organization specificity aside, I view guys like Alexander-Walker, Grant Williams, and P.J. Washington as players that are more NBA ready than some others projected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round.
Because Alexander-Walker is so versatile, I think his opportunity to help an NBA team could come sooner than others. That’s not to say that every rookie doesn’t go through a learning curve of sorts. All I’m saying is that the former Hokie can help a team defensively if that’s what is needed, he could potentially help a team space the floor, and he can help a team’s offense keep the ball moving. There’s room for guys like that; on some teams there’s room right now for a guy like that.
Most reputable NBA Draft sites have Alexander-Walker coming off the board just outside of the lottery (from 15th-24th). Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation paired the Virginia Tech product with the Orlando Magic in his most recent Mock Draft. Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated has Alexander-Walker sitting at 18th on his Big Board; Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) and Sam Vecenie (The Athletic, Vecince Mock Draft 4.0) have him at 19th on their respective boards.
Like I previously mentioned, there will be other prospects within this range (and likely on the board) for the Magic to choose from that are considered “home run” options. Alexander-Walker is more of a “single”, or even a “double” - meaning he’s a safer pick. It just depends on what the Magic are trying to do with this pick. If management is looking for a guy who can contribute in Orlando as soon as possible, perhaps they go with Alexander-Walker. If they want to use the pick to select a developmental project with more long-term upside, then they will probably go elsewhere at #16.
Personally, I think safe is a good thing. Alexander-Walker has the ability to potentially contribute in Orlando in a multitude of ways (defense, shooting, play-making). Terrence Ross is an unrestricted free agent (beginning June 30th); Alexander-Walker certainly wouldn’t replace what Ross brings to the Magic, but he would provide the team with some depth at the position. And his family lineage certainly isn’t a bad thing either. Many thought that Gilgeous-Alexander’s incredible length would have been enough for Orlando to draft him at #6 last year. Instead, maybe they get his cousin at #16 this time around.
This is the second in a series of NBA Draft previews coming over the next few weeks on Orlando Pinstriped Post. Aaron previously profiled Kevin Porter Jr.
You can follow Aaron Goldstone on Twitter @AaronGoldstone.