New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry praised Canadian Nickeil Alexander-Walker for his confident style of shooting hours before the rookie made his NBA debut.
Then the game started and Alexander-Walker’s shots started flowing. The results weren’t quite there, though.
The 21-year-old from Toronto had just three points in 12 minutes off the bench in New Orleans’ 130-122 overtime loss to the Raptors on Tuesday.
“I’m glad one fell,” Alexander-Walker said with a smile when asked about his 1-for-10 performance. “It was a cold night, but it felt great. I couldn’t have asked for more.
“I’m blessed to have this opportunity and for me it’s more just trying to get that win. [We] came up short but it’s a long season.”
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Alexander-Walker checked into the game with 4:16 left in first quarter, then drilled a three-pointer for his first career NBA points about a minute later.
He had six shot attempts in his first three minutes.
“The shots I took I felt like were great,” Alexander-Walker said. “And I’m going to continue to learn and help my team.”
Gentry wasn’t fazed by his rookie’s poor shooting performance.
“As a young player he’s going to have those kind of nights,” he said. “I still like that he plays with a lot of confidence and he’s going to have nights where he really shoots well.”
65 friends, family in attendance
Alexander-Walker grew up in Toronto and began his high school basketball career in nearby Vaughan, Ont., before moving to the U.S. to attend prep schools in Missouri and Tennessee.
A smiling Alexander-Walker estimated about 65 friends and family members were in the stands at Scotiabank Arena to watch his debut. And while he said there were nerves and excitement in the leadup to Tuesday’s big game, he felt “really at peace” by the time it started.
“I try not to tell myself ‘yeah you’re going to go out here and have an amazing game and it’s going to be a fairy tale,’ you know what I’m saying?” he said. “I just try to find the middle. Whatever happens, happens. I know who I am as a player.”
Alexander-Walker was drafted 17th overall by Brooklyn in the 2019 draft after his sophomore season at Virginia Tech, where he averaged 16.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
He was then traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who subsequently flipped him to the Pelicans.
Alexander-Walker had a stellar pre-season with New Orleans, finishing fourth in league-wide rookie scoring with 15.4 points per game, behind teammate Zion Williamson — who will miss the first two months of the season after having knee surgery — Chicago’s Coby White and fellow Canadian RJ Barrett of the Knicks.
Gentry said he had been impressed with Alexander-Walker’s maturity throughout camp. And his confidence caught his eye early on.
“He’s a very good basketball player,” Gentry said. “I don’t want to take anything away from his talent level, (but) the biggest thing for me is he’s not afraid of the big moment.
“He may fail but he’s not afraid of taking the big shot. And I think those kinds of guys do well in this league.”