Little, Alexander-Walker headline loaded Pistons workout group as NBA draft nears
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AUBURN HILLS – Like the clockwork reliability of the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, first-round draft prospects start migrating to NBA draft workouts in the last two weeks of the process.
So it was that a day after working out a six-man group that likely won’t see anyone drafted, the Pistons – with the June 20 draft now 13 days away – hosted a loaded group on Friday that included five top-50 prospects and four potential first-round picks.
North Carolina’s Nassir Little and Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker are the two likeliest to be under consideration by the Pistons with their pick at 15, but Arizona State’s Luguentz Dort and Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker could be in the mix as well in an all-bets-are-off draft. St. John’s scoring point guard Shamorie Ponds could be a prime candidate with the 45th pick.
“It’s definitely up there,” Ponds said of the quality of the workout, the sixth he’s conducted for NBA teams. “Four first-rounders, definitely the number one, for sure.”
Little is listed as the No. 10 prospect by ESPN.com, while Alexander-Walker checks in at 22, Dort at 26 and Horton-Tucker at 33. Ponds is ranked 47th.
Little said he’s worked out for two other teams, Charlotte and Orlando, and believes he has four others scheduled with Boston up next. Charlotte has the 12th pick and Orlando the 16th and Little, who grew up in Orlando, doesn’t expect to work out for any team with a lower pick than the Magic. His workout with Atlanta – which holds the eighth and 10th picks and on Thursday picked up the No. 17 pick in a deal with Brooklyn – will be the one on the other end of the spectrum.
Little went into the college season as no worse than a top-five prospect, generally considered in the same group with the Duke trio of R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish. But he came off the bench at North Carolina, averaging 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18 minutes a game. He’s got ideal size for a wing at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds with a 7-foot-1¼ wingspan, but questions about his shooting or, more broadly, what offensive role he’ll play in the NBA cloud his appeal.
Starting with the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Little perhaps has begun to assuage some of the questions about the viability of his perimeter threat.
“Throughout the season, even before the season at UNC, I’ve always worked on that part of my game,” he said. “Especially in this process, I’ve done it a lot and I’ve improved a lot. I still think that I shot better than what people think at UNC. I’ve definitely improved the consistency and continue to show it going forward.”
The question with Alexander-Walker is whether he can be more than a secondary ballhandler. With his size (6-foot-5) and shooting potential, Alexander-Walker’s appeal becomes significantly stronger if teams see him as capable of playing point guard eventually. He got a taste of it at Virginia Tech when four-year starter Justin Robinson – who worked out for the Pistons two weeks ago – missed a string of late-season games with a foot injury. Following a few rocky games, Alexander-Walker settled in after “kind of calming down,” he said.
“It was a new experience for me. When you have that much power, you want to make sure that you’re doing right by it. You’ve got a lot of guys you want to make happy on your team. You want to be a leader and kind of will to victory, but just sitting down (with Robinson to study tape), understanding the game.”
Alexander-Walker has worked out for two teams with picks ahead of the Pistons, Charlotte and Boston (which also has two picks later in the first round), and is unsure how many he has remaining or with which teams.
The Pistons have worked out 42 players – seven six-man groups. Before Friday’s group, the two highest-ranked prospects were Darius Bazley, attempting to go from high school to the NBA with one year sitting out as an intern for New Balance, and Arkansas sophomore 7-footer Daniel Gafford.