First we had Jordan. Then we had LeBron. And now, Zion Williamson is taking his place as the next heir apparent to, if not the best player in the world, the most dominating and captivating force in the game. These three guys have shown us the rare combination of freakish athleticism and skills on the basketball court and a personality capable of taking over a room as if they were the ones providing the oxygen.
Some people just have that gravity about them and with amassing over a million followers before leaving high school, the world has known Zion Williamson had “it” since before he could go to prom. And now that Zion is coming into his own and showing the force of nature he is developing into, Pelicans fans and the NBA landscape are looking to David Griffin to build a team around Zion worthy of contending for championships.
According to reports for what seems like all year; Griffin does not have plans on including Lonzo Ball in those long term plans unless Ball ends up taking less than he is going to be offered on the open market. And while the Pelicans will have the right to match any contract Ball signs thanks to his Bird rights, multiple NBA insiders have reported they will walk away once the price reaches $20 million a year.
Complimenting Zion with Talent That’s Already In-House
With the cap space the Knicks, Bulls, and other free agent-hungry markets will have, along with the lack of available star power in this upcoming offseason, it’s highly unlikely Lonzo will be back with the Pelicans next season. The reason New Orleans is able to take this point of view (even if I don’t necessarily agree with it) is because of the two talented guards they have coming off the bench in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr.
Alexander-Walker currently has been resting a sprained ankle, but previously was playing the best basketball of his NBA career and was showing everyone why Griffin has so much faith in him as a potential player on a championship level team.
Over a 7 game stretch that saw NAW getting the chance to start he put up eye-popping numbers; 19 points per game while shooting 40 percent on three points attempts while attempting over half of his shots (9 of his 16 field goal attempts per game were behind the line) while also grabbing 5 boards, 2 assists, a steal and a block a game.
And one thing not mentioned in those stats but makes a huge difference; almost all of his 3 point attempts are from above the break and not just camping in the corner. That gives the Pelicans much more spacing than just a corner specialist and is going to be key for Alexander-Walker going forward in his career.
A lot of those games saw Alexander-Walker as one of the main options though and when the Pelicans are at full strength, he’s much more a 3-and-D complimentary player next to Zion and Brandon Ingram. So instead of just looking at that small sample size of games tilted to be in NAW’s favor, I went and looked at any game he has played in his first two years that he logged more than 20 minutes a game which totaled out to 34 games.
While not as jaw-dropping, Alexander-Walker had shooting lines of 42/35/74 with a little over half of his shots coming from behind the arc but still mostly above the break to go along with 4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and a steal per game in 27 minutes in the games he was in at least 20 minutes overall.
The Pelicans rookie this year, Kira Lewis Jr, hasn’t had a chance to start like Alexander-Walker, but he has still been able to show off his talent and convince the Pelicans front office that he is part of the long term future for the franchise moving forward. Again though, any time the Pelicans have had the minutes to give Lewis Jr to shine he has been able to come through. Using the same 20 minute minimum, Kira Lewis Jr has played 12 games so far that meet the criteria.
While a limited sample size, seeing him put up shooting lines of 45/40/83 (albeit only 1 three point attempt a game) for 10 points to go with 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal in 23 minutes a game in those 12 games. Just turning 20 last week, the upside is obvious for the rookie and the work ethic and ability to gel with his teammates have the Kira Lewis Jr stock rising in most NBA circles.
Moving on From Ball Gives The Pelicans Financial Flexibility
Neither player is at the level Lonzo Ball is currently playing at and might not be there for a year or two. But the advantage they have other than age (Ball is 23, NAW 22 and Lewis 20) is that Lonzo is due an expensive contract extension this offseason; Walker and Lewis, Jr are still on their rookie-scale deals for two and three more years, respectively.
Given the sizable contracts currently in place for Zion, Steven Adams, and Brandon Ingram, David Griffin is banking on using the cap space that Lonzo would have taken up elsewhere while counting on one of NAW and Lewis to be able to replace him while hoping the other can also contribute. In a perfect world for Pelicans fans, NAW can excel in the wing role beside Ingram while Lewis can run the point when “point Zion” isn’t terrorizing the league.
As usual for Pelicans fans, it’s time to wait and see. If I were a Pelicans fan though, I’d have much more faith in this team building around a star compared to the days of Anthony Davis. The West is going to be tough for the foreseeable future, but with Zion, Ingram, and a core of players meant to compliment them like Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr, the next few years look promising in New Orleans.
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About Trey Hill: Podcast host over at Charity Stripe Commentary, scouring NBA Twitter content over on @finalfinally, and of course writing for HoopSocial!