With the 1st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans select...Zion Williamson from Duke University.
After those words were spoken we realized the New Orleans Pelicans organization had hit a home run in the draft right? Well...not so fast ladies and gentlemen of the basketball jury.
While every fan that loves to enjoy an orange ball going through a hoop was buying as much possible stock of Zion Williamson's NBA career, we all forgot one thing...
David Griffin went to work on draft night.
Let's take a quick trip down memory lane, in case some of you forgot about the brilliant moves that Griffin made. First, Griffin makes a move with the Atlanta Hawks for the #4 overall pick, which was previously acquired in the Anthony Davis trade with the Lakers. Griffin trades with the Hawks and moves #4 overall (which ends up being De'Andre Hunter) for the #8 and #17 overall selections. Griffin also acquires a 2nd rounder and a future 2nd in the process.
From there, Griffin goes to work selecting the raw athletic shot blocking big man Jaxson Hayes out of the University of Texas 8th overall. With the second first rounder acquired, Griffin and the Pelicans use the 17th overall selection to take Virginia Tech's shifty combo guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The night gives the Pelicans three promising first-round selections to add to the rebuilding process.
All caught up now? Good. Now I want you to forget about Zion for a bit because we need to talk about what's happening in New Orleans. The Pelicans look to have hit an absolute GRAND SLAM in this draft. Now yes, I can hear you saying through the computer screen "It's Summer League...let's not overreact here." Completely agree with you, but rarely do you see two rookies come into the Summer League action and absolutely dominate in the fashion that Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have so far.
Let's first start with Jaxson Hayes who might have given us one of the most memorable poster dunks in Summer League and NBA history.
Hayes has been magnificent for the Pelicans in his Summer League action. He's shown off his jaw-dropping athleticism and ability to be a rim protector at the next level. Often in Summer League action, we find ourselves noticing players that "jump off" the screen as players that potentially don't belong out there (in a good way). Hayes, although still raw offensively, has been a candidate for that nod which just shows you how impressive he's been. The rest of his offensive game will come as time progresses in his development, but you can see the tools and potential for him to be a building block in the middle for this Pelicans franchise. In three games so far this Summer, Hayes has gone on to average 18.7 PTS, 7.7 REB, 1.7 BLK, while shooting 61% from the field. Below you can see highlights from Hayes Summer League debut. In this game, Hayes finished with 28 points (10/15 FG), 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
That brings us to our next first-round selection for the Pelicans and one that has simply been one of the most impressive and shocking players of Summer League action. Virginia Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker didn't draw a lot of hype in the pre-draft process which I found shocking. If you watched Alexander-Walker during his time in a Hokies uniform, you'll notice he has a great feel for the game. You could have argued that Alexander-Walker was one of the best passers in this draft class, including then Murray State phenom and second overall pick Ja Morant. Alexander-Walker has an outstanding feel for the game and does a great job of using both of his hands to distribute the ball on a rope. Nickeil fell under the classic predraft tag of "doing everything well but nothing at an elite level." Experts also knocked that Alexander-Walker wasn't a great athlete for the position. None of the statements are false, but everyone seemed to overlook one thing...Nickeil can flat out play.
Alexander-Walker has been absolutely sensational in Summer League and has put together a number of eye-opening performances with his play on the court. In three games for the Pelicans, Alexander-Walker is averaging 27.7 PTS, 4.0 REB, 6.3 AST, 2.7 STL, all while shooting 49% from the field. Below are highlights of Nickeil's most recent performance, in which the rookie guard posted 34 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals in a win against the Miami Heat.
Summer League is one of the top cases in which we as NBA fans want to overreact, and maybe time will tell that these two rookies end up fizzling out. But, it's always important to remember that film doesn't lie and the truth is that Hayes and Alexander-Walker have been nothing short of outstanding for this Pelicans organization so far. While it's going to be a whole different ball game once these two have to go up against NBA veterans on a nightly basis, it's going to be exciting to see what the future holds for both Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker moving forward. As of now, it looks like the Pelicans might have hit a grand slam...but can they produce against the NBA elite? We're excited to find out.