LAS VEGAS – “This is going to be a fun one to talk about.”
As New Orleans summer league head coach Fred Vinson approached a group of media members, he seemed to channel the thoughts of every Pelicans fan who’d tuned in for the Monday debuts of draft picks Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Didi Louzada. The trio probably could not have produced a better, more entertaining performance, just 90 minutes after speaking at their introductory press conference in Thomas & Mack Center.
Hayes barged his way into every highlight reel in America with a high-flying first-half slam over a Chicago defender, en route to a dominant 28-point night. Alexander-Walker controlled the game from the opening minute, finishing with 23 points and eight assists, while Louzada added 13 points, two blocks and two steals. The Pelicans’ 2019 draft class minus Zion Williamson (knee, out for precautionary reasons) combined for 64 points on 24/41 shooting, including 6/10 accuracy from three-point range. This despite the fact that none of the draftees logged more than 27 minutes in a thorough demolition of Chicago.
“It was exciting to see,” Vinson said of the showing. “What a playmaker Nickeil is. To see him make plays like that all game long, I thought he really controlled the game. Jaxson, what can you say? His finishing, his hands were unbelievable, his presence on the defensive end was outstanding. And then Didi was out there making shots and helped us separate in terms of our lead. It was great to see those guys out on the floor.”
The newcomers had waited since June 20 draft night to be able to play for the Pelicans, delayed by the official finalization of the Anthony Davis trade, which brought a significant number of future picks, as well as three immediate ones. Even though none of the first-time pros had practiced with their summer league teammates, they showed no evident rust or unfamiliarity when Monday’s game began.
“Those guys seem to be pretty cerebral,” Vinson said of one factor that allowed Hayes, Alexander-Walker and Louzada to fit in quickly. “They were around (the team), getting to watch, but they weren’t able to participate. We tried to talk things through to them, so they could hit the ground running… They were definitely anxious to play.”
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
New Orleans built a 22-point lead through three quarters, then quickly pushed the edge into the 30s not long into the final period. The Pelicans won the first, second and fourth quarters by double digits, while tying the third stanza. If quarters won becomes a tiebreaker in terms of trying to reach Saturday’s league tournament quarterfinals, this could be a very beneficial development.
PELICANS PLAYER UPDATES
Hayes, 19, was described as a likely “project” center prior to the draft, based partly on his status as a late-bloomer in high school who has only been competing at a high level for two basketball seasons. Yet at least based on his smashing debut Monday, he looked far more polished than advertised, particularly with his ability to catch everything thrown to him, as well as reel in the ball on the move during fast breaks, no easy feat for many 6-foot-11 types. He generated cheers from the Las Vegas crowd due to a series of dunks, but he also converted a couple low-post moves that helped him go 10/15 from the field (he shot a staggering 72.8 percent from the field in college at Texas). Hayes’ career high in scoring in college was just 19 points, but he easily surpassed that in his Pelicans opener. …
The 20-year-old Alexander-Walker likewise looked far more ready to perform than his birth certificate might indicate, showing poise in running New Orleans’ offense, which totaled 23 assists on 38 baskets.
“When you have a team that plays so well together, sometimes guys stand out,” Alexander-Walker said of the unselfishness and cohesive offense. “Tonight, it was me and Jaxson. (But) on any given night, when you have guys who are constantly playing for each other, knowing each other’s strengths and using that to the best of their ability, it’s hard to play against.”