Nickeil Alexander-Walker dribbles around a Nicolo Melli pick at San Antonio

Pelicans shootaround update presented by HUB International: Nickeil Alexander-Walker to debut in hometown

by Jim Eichenhofer

TORONTO – The NBA’s 2019-20 schedulemaker was rather generous to New Orleans, granting the Pelicans a franchise-record 30 national television appearances. An equally gracious gift arrived Aug. 12 for rookie guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was briefly stunned to hear that his initial official NBA game would take place in his hometown of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

“When I heard it, I kind of froze, (to know) my very first NBA game is going to be at home,” Alexander-Walker said on Media Day. “My mom gets to see it, my grandmother gets to see it, my uncles. That experience in itself, not too many players can say they’ve had the opportunity to do. For me to play there with this team, (my) story just keeps getting better and better. It’s a blessing. I can’t wait.”

The 21-year-old initially expected to be assisting a large group of family and friends in finding tickets to Pelicans-Raptors – until he started hearing about the price tag.

“I was, but then I heard you have to pay for some tickets,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “That would be $10,000 right there. For the ones who can’t make it (with a complimentary ticket), I’m sorry.”

Unfortunately for one of Alexander-Walker’s fellow New Orleans first-round picks, Tuesday’s interconference matchup against won’t mark the NBA debut of Zion Williamson. On Monday, Williamson was ruled out for 6-8 weeks, after undergoing surgery on the torn meniscus in his right knee.

Notes from Tuesday’s shootaround at Scotiabank Arena:

Jrue Holiday on the Pelicans being able to witness the Raptors’ ring ceremony prior to Tuesday’s game: “Hopefully it’s motivation, to see kind of what it’s like, to see how the city takes them in, surrounds them with love for what they did last season.” …

Alexander-Walker is part of a recent wave of Canadian players to enter the NBA, with many of them hailing from the province of Ontario. Alexander-Walker described the influx of local talent as part of a multi-generation process in which younger players have learned from their predecessors.

“Once you get through that door and get over that hump, the floodgates start to open,” Alexander-Walker said. “We’re just now getting over that hump. When you have guys who didn’t quite make (the NBA), they come back (home) and tell you what you’ve got to do to succeed, preparing you for those obstacles. They say, ‘I didn’t make it because I did this, so make sure you don’t do that.’

“Then you come back and help someone else, and they get farther. It’s just starting to reach a point where everyone in Toronto who’s made it is helping. It’s opening doors for the next generation. It’s kind of passing on the torch and keeping it afloat.” …

The Raptors may have lost Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, but the rest of the NBA should have a healthy respect for Toronto’s current roster, which is filled with proven veterans who helped secure a championship four months ago. Alvin Gentry on the Raptors: “Obviously it’s going to be a challenge. The one thing people have to realize is that they are the world champs. I know they’re missing a piece from that, but you still have to have a really good team to win a world championship. They’ve still got really, really good pieces. I think they’re going to be a lot better than people anticipate.”

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