After sitting out the first couple of Summer League games waiting to sign his first-ever NBA contract, Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans on July 8, netting 23 points and eight assists in a blowout win over the Bulls.
It was only uphill from there.
The 6'5' guard from Vaughan Ontario showcased an impressive all-around game in Vegas, averaging 24.3 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 steals. He also shot the ball incredibly well from 3-point range, knocking down 41% of his threes.
NAW's play in Las Vegas drew a lot of comparisons to his cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA parlayed a strong Summer League last season into an All-Rookie second team selection. And while Alexander-Walker and his older cousin share some similarities on the court, the 20-year-old Canadian has also modelled his game after two of the league's brightest stars: CJ McCollum and Devin Booker.
"CJ and Devin Booker aren't the most athletic players, but they're the most crafty - smart," Alexander-Walker told NBA.com. "They know how to get their shot off, they know how to create space off the bounce - great shooters."
While McCollum and Booker are great examples of what NAW can potentially become in the NBA, he ultimately looked up to an NBA legend that came before them in Kobe Bryant. Bryant isn't just Alexander-Walker's favourite player, he's been a source of inspiration to overcome a timidness in his younger years.
"Kobe as well with his mentality. His will to score. He has a will to win," Alexander-Walker continued. "For me, I was a shy kid and sometimes I would feel bad about what people said, and seeing Kobe embrace (and) not caring what someone said about him really stuck with me in my heart because he truly showed like I'm going to be me.
"I'm going to be me to the fullest and enjoy my time. And that's how I want to be remembered as a player."
It's Alexander-Walker's winning mentality that will have him beloved in the Bayou State. The Pelicans roster has been completely overhauled, adding a healthy balance of young and old over the offseason. It's a positive in the rookie's eyes.
"I mean, I believe we are the youngest team, so that means we have some time to grow together - that's how you build strong relationships," Alexander-Walker told NBA.com of the Pelicans roster. "I think so far after meeting some of the guys, they're really cool guys and I feel like I'm fortunate to have good vets.
"You have the great mixture of young, mixed with some veteran guys who can still chase the dream. Hopefully, we're able to do something with that and I feel like we have the talent, we have the tools - the (coaching) staff as well, and we should be able to."
Excluding Jrue Holiday, New Orleans was devoid of talent in the backcourt last season. Now they have one of the most talented guard stables in the NBA. It will be tough for NAW to find minutes among some already established vets in the backcourt, but he's not focused on that yet. He wants to learn from them - mainly Holiday, who he believes is one of the most underrated players in the game.
"He's a great defender, I feel like he's underrated in terms of his ability," Alexander-Walker said of Holiday. "That series when they swept Portland he was tremendous.
"Everything he did - passing, scoring, his reads, guarding the ball, guarding ball screens.
"I feel like guarding ball screens is probably one of the most difficult things you can do in today's game and he does it efficiently, so that's definitely something I would like to learn from him."