5. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Virginia Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker showed some promising ball-handling, scoring, playmaking and defensive abilities last season. The sophomore averaged 16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from 3.
Using Alexander-Walker as a secondary ball-handler/playmaker and spot-up shooter would open up the offense. The Heat ranked 21st in 3-point percentage and 17th in assists per game last season. He will be able to learn a lot from Goran Dragic, who plays a similar brand of ball. The best-case scenario for Miami is that Alexander-Walker fills the hole Dragic is leaving because of age.
Plugging him into Erik Spoelstra’s fluid offense will allow him to pick apart defenses that can’t switch well. The constant off-ball screens will open up the floor for him to find open teammates and shoot 3s, which are both strengths of his. Using the pick-and-roll with Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside will give him opportunities for lobs, but his underwhelming athleticism will make it hard to be an effective scorer in the paint.
The primary concern with Alexander-Walker is how well his game will translate from college ball to professional ball. He’s very thin and doesn’t have elite athleticism. Competing against better, smarter athletes is always a hurdle for rookies, but it’s especially daunting to guys that aren’t great athletes. Think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Both he and Alexander-Walker are skilled players with uninspiring athleticism.
Gilgeous-Alexander (Nickeil’s cousin) is a well-rounded guard that has a very similar game to Alexander-Walker. Shai was able to contribute mainly as a defender while providing solid offense.
Alexander-Walker is a skilled player, but he will likely see offensive struggles at the beginning of the year, if not all year. One thing that Alexander-Walker has in his favor is being a promising defender due to his length (6’9″ wingspan) and instincts. He could be a solid defender for the whole year, as he’ll have the help of Spoesltra, a terrific coach, as well as Richardson and Winslow, both strong perimeter defenders.
Alexander-Walker will definitely need some time to adjust to the increased physicality, but the kid can ball. He could be an ample contributor on both sides in due time.