The young Pels wasted no time introducing themselves to Las Vegas on Monday night, July 8th.
Less than one minute into the contest, 17th overall pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker drilled a three then threaded two defenders, hitting Jaxson Hayes in stride for what may have been the scariest dunk in summer league’s 15-year history.
Walker and NAW would give Pelicans’ fans a lot more to get excited about over their four contests and utilized skill sets that even the most respected experts in the NBA scouting circles had not expected.
Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman took time from his brief vacation to speak on some of these baby Pels and what fans should expect of them in their rookie season and beyond.
You had Nickeil Alexander-Walker ranked 23rd on your Big Board three weeks before the draft. How has your perception changed since then?
“Well he’s probably going to make me look stupid for ranking him 23rd.”
“He looked awfully comfortable out there. It’s one of those things, you see a guy in college, he plays within a system, and he’s kind of afraid to make mistakes. Then you see him at summer league and there’s nothing to lose. He’s got a green light to dominate the ball and make mistakes. He looked so much more confident.”
“We saw him do a lot more creating off the dribble, a lot more facilitating and passing as a lead guard. I think the biggest takeaway was how comfortable Walker looked and some of the limitations and fears we had, they really didn’t pop in Las Vegas. You didn’t get the sense physicality was going to be a problem. He looked good inside the arc, finishing after contact, creating his own shot, and getting shots for others at a really high level.”
“He was one of the more pleasant surprises and looked like a potential steal at 17th overall.”
The Pelicans are shallow at the point guard position. Is that a role NAW can grow into as soon as this season?
“That’s what all signs are pointing to. If we learned one thing, it’s that he can get guys involved. His first year at VT he was mostly a spot up player, I would have said no way can this guy play point guard and then he got more reps last year with Justin Robinson getting injured. We saw some more flashes.”
“But in SL, the thing that stood out was his playmaking, one-handed passes. I think that’s really gonna be the ideal position for him, an oversized point guard. Ideally, you put him as a mismatch at the point and let him pick apart second units as a passer. The question is, how fast does he take that position? It seems that’s the direction he’s heading.”
You had Jaxson Hayes ranked higher than most, fifth overall in fact on your Big Board. Has your impression of him changed after seeing him in action against NBA-level competition?
“I was obviously very high on him. A low risk type of guy. He has the size, physical tools and athleticism to succeed in that role. Reminds me a lot of what Mitchell Robinson did last year. Just let him play to his strengths as a rim-runner, let him dive to the basket, you saw how high he can get above the rim.”
“He’s going to be an easy basket machine. Whether his offensive skill develops or not. He’s energetic, he loves to fly to the rim and make plays on the ball on both sides. He’s going to be a very active, efficient player on both sides. It’s just a matter of when he learns to defend without fouling. I think he’s clearly the future starting center of the Pelicans, just maybe not right away.”
Can Hayes be an offensive threat outside of the painted area and in the post?
“I think his identity will rely on off ball stuff. But we’ve seen he’s got some touch from the free throw line and the key. He can maneuver his body in finish in different angles. When he’s got space down low, he ranked in the 95th percentile in post-ups at Texas. I think he’s going to be a threat with the ball at the key, maybe not a top option in the offense but someone who can make you pay other than dunks and blocked shots with his back to the basket.”
Hayes displayed some attributes beyond finishing in his four games at summer league including as a perimeter threat and facilitator (pictured above). Having reached 6’11 at such a late age, is there a chance he can continue to develop a more versatile skillset?
“How do you put a ceiling on this guy?”
“In college, he had nine assists all season as a freshmen. He had that big growth spurt, a really late bloomer in terms of high school recruiting. Who knows? He’s going to play three NBA seasons and still be 21. The first three years, expect him to be that Mitchell Robinson type guy. I’m not going to say he can’t get better, but the real value and appeal to him is that high floor. No matter what you’re going to get, (initially) you’re going to get that Mitchell Robinson type guy”.
Kenrich Williams showed elevated intelligence managing the offense in summer league and setting his teammates. Does he have the talent to become a championship-level rotation player in the NBA?
“With his work ethic, this is a guy you want to bet on.”
“It looked like he took a step up in finding his own shot in half court, becoming more of a threat with the ball. I always pictured him as a three-and-D, make the simple plays, make the right shots, attack the open lane and defend with toughness and he’d find a way to carve out a role but I think he looked a little more threatening with the ball in his hands. I know he didn’t shoot a great percentage but you got to expect with better players around him his three-point percentage will increase. I know everyone graded him as a second rounder coming out of college, but just one of those guys that if he finds the right spot, he’s going to stick. I’d imagine with the support from the fans and coaching staff that he’s eventually going to be a rotational player even if in a smaller capacity.”
Frank Jackson is a guy who could fall through the cracks of a crowded rotational position. With stellar veterans in Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and E’Twaun Moore plus high upside youth like Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, are they any minutes left for ‘Ferrari’ Frank?
“I’m high on Frank Jackson. I think he’s a talented NBA player, a legitimate rotation player, a sixth man type.”
“He’s gonna be that guy that gives you that punch or firepower off the bench. Coming out of college you didn’t know if he was a point guard or shooting guard. I guess it doesn’t matter, it just matters who he’s playing alongside.”
“He’s probably going to have stretches where he doesn’t play much, but he’ll be valuable for his ability to put the ball in the basket and catch fire and rattle in jumpers, consecutively; score in bunches. That’s going to be his role. JJ and Josh Hart may make it tough for him to get minutes. It may be different each game. His role is going to change on a week-to-week basis. I had him ranked number ten in summer league. It just depends on when they’re going to need him most, but I have a feeling that they have their eyes on Frank Jackson and they’re going to be excited to use him.”
‘Didi’ Marco Louzada Silva was a surprise pick by Langdon and company. Were you surprised by the selection and what did you think of his performance?
“After the Nike Hoop Summit, he was not in my top 50, not in my top 75, actually. This was a big surprise for me. Just from what we saw at summer league, it looks like a lot of people missed on him.”
“Good for Griffin and for this Pelicans’ franchise because that was a good pick.”
“I didn’t see that coming and most scouts I talked to..he wasn’t mentioned as one of the top international guys as a second round flyer.”
“He looked way more comfortable than the highlights I saw from Brazil. He looked more like a 3-and-D guy. He does the simple things, makes open shots, attacks lanes as a line driver. Maybe not a very creative guy with the ball in his hands, but he capitalizes opportunistically when he’s in scoring position and he defends with some toughness. So he looks like exactly what you’d hope he’d look like but maybe not anticipate he’d look like.”
“He’s going to Australia. I’ll certainly be paying more attention this year than I did last year, just looks like another positive for the Pelicans’ organization.”
Small sample size but what did you see from Zion Williamson in his first minutes of NBA action?
“The most we got out of it was the satisfaction of ripping the ball out of Kevin Knox’s hands. That was such a signature Zion type of play.”
“The guys (Luka Doncic, Trae Young) from last year set the bar high, they put up big numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zion’s numbers are closer to 18 and eight. I think he’s going to struggle in half court, creating his own shot. The easy shots will be there for him but when the game slows down, I think he’s going to have trouble finding half court shots for himself. I think he’ll be forced into awkward runners and shots that he’s not used to having to take. He may not have as good a season as Luka but long term I think his ceiling is one notch below MVP. I’d cap it off at All-Star starter. That’s where I see Zion. Take it easy on him this year if he doesn’t have a Luka Doncic-type season.”
For the complete conversation, check out our most recent podcast hosted by Oleh Kosel and Preston Ellis.
Geaux Pels, and let’s dance!