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Jose Alvarado: Pelicans may have unearthed their own TJ McConnell

The New Orleans two-way player has undoubtedly staked his claim to a regular spot in the rotation

New Orleans Pelicans v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans will host the Pacers Monday evening, but this Indiana team probably won’t be recognizable to the common fan.

Although Caris LeVert is listed as a game-time decision, the Pacers will be missing the rest of their usual starters in Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and TJ Warren.

They’ll also be without TJ McConnell. You know, Indiana’s version of Jose Alvarado.

But honestly, with the Pacers having lost 11 of their last 14 games and Rick Carlisle needing to field patchwork lineups, let’s skip the traditional preview and take a closer look at New Orleans’ budding two-way player.

The dominant storyline that emerged from the Pelicans’ 102-91 victory over the Knicks last Thursday night was Alvarado seizing a golden opportunity — and making the most of it — to live out one of his dreams.

The rookie point guard brought copious amounts of energy, producing career highs in several areas. The reserve finished with a line of 13 points, four assists and four steals. No wonder New Orleans was a +12 in his twenty minutes of action.

While the occasion will forever be etched in the minds of Jose’s family and friends, this performance didn’t come completely out of nowhere. He had been playing well leading up to his appearance in Madison Square Garden.

Alvarado’s per 36 minute stats over his last six games are more than solid: 14.8 points (on 46.9% shooting), 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 0.8 turnovers, 4.8 steals and a +10.4 plus-minus.

Those last four categories fly off the page, actually. The Pelicans have enjoyed really good results when he’s been on the floor, and Alvarado’s playmaking efficiency and thievery instincts are on a pace practically never witnessed.

Chris Paul is averaging about 4.5 assists for every turnover this season. Alvarado is on pace to drop 7.0 dimes for every mistake.

Jose is coming up with steals in 5.4% of his defensive possessions played. McConnell led the NBA with a 3.4% steal percentage last season.

Perusing 2021-22 on/off data to date, the stats say Alvarado has made the biggest positive impact. New Orleans has a +9.6 net rating when he’s on the court. Sure, this has come in only 166 minutes of action, but there’s a steep drop-off behind him so this is worth at least keeping an eye on. The next best figures belong to Herb Jones (+2.1), Devonte’ Graham (+0.4) and Brandon Ingram (+0.3).

Moreover, the eye test seemingly supports the stats.

Watching him beat three opponents for the loose ball and then score in front of a fourth:

Or outrace the not slow Immanuel Quickely to swipe the inbounds pass:

Or display shades of Steve Nash (Remember how the two-time MVP point guard used to probe defenses with the basketball, which often ended up as easy buckets at the rim?):

It feels pretty self-explanatory as to why Alvarado has been a difference-maker. Offensively, he makes the right reads and helps the team score easy points. His defensive instincts are world-class. And he’s as dogged as they come.

Herb Jones even tipped his cap to Jose’s hounding ball pressure, calling him a more tenacious defender.

“More tenacious?” Jones said after Saturday’s practice. “You could say that. He definitely talks a lot more than me when he’s playing defense. So yeah, I’ll give him that one.”

Being an agitator isn’t only about the notoriety that gets earned across the league. It can serve as important momentum within games, leading to genuine results.

“It’s tough, man, because they’re just everywhere,” Devonte’ Graham replied when asked what it’s like going against the Pat Bev’s and McConnell’s of the world. “You can’t take any offensive possessions off. You’ve got to be alert with your passes. You turn around, they’re right there behind you. It’s like a little gnat, but you love to have them on your team.”

TJ McConnell, who I circled as a player that the Pelicans should chase in a potential trade back in December, makes for a great comparison to Alvarado. Both undersized point guards went undrafted, but more importantly, they share a slew of common characteristics: intelligent playmaking ability, fantastic ball pressure, top-notch defensive toughness, and highly vocalized styles.

My favorite thing with pesky guards is watching them pick up opponents 94 feet from the basket. (Did you happen to notice in two of the three video clips above that Jose found his man immediately after scoring?) This action can be wildly disruptive and set the tone.

I’m sure Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and Kira Lewis Jr. still remember the times that Patrick Beverley made their lives a living hell during a game or two. I know I do.

Jose Alvarado has accumulated so few professional minutes under his belt that his career could absolutely go in any direction. But believe you me, I’m going to sit with great anticipation until he checks in against the Pacers tonight.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (17-28) vs Indiana Pacers (17-30)

When: January 24, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.