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Alex Toohey: Ahead of Schedule
Alex Toohey of the NBL's Sydney Kings, is a versatile wing who will win your heart with his tough play on both ends of the floor. Tap in and see why Garbage Time Ghim has him going in the lottery.
Whether it’s in my personal life or at work, there are moments when I realize I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Sometimes, it’s my ambition; sometimes, it’s a lack of self-awareness; whatever the case, there are moments when I look at everything I’m doing and can feel a little overwhelmed. In those moments, I’ve been teaching myself to breathe and to re-calibrate, live in the moment, and take things one step at a time. This is not some mental-health update on my end; all of this came to mind as I was studying the game of the 6’8” jumbo wing for the Sydney Kings, Alex Toohey.
Even though the show has been over for months now, I still find myself thinking about the Logan family from HBO’s Emmy award-winning show, Succession, which recently ended its fourth and final season. The show was always about Kendall Roy and his self-destructive journey to greatness. Kendall is the classic portrayal of a person trying to function and succeed beyond their means.
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He thought he could take down his father, and he failed. He thought he was a great father; he was a terrible father. He thought he could manipulate his siblings and take over his father’s company; no shot. Every step of the way, Kendal Roy set himself up for failure with the pursuit of success and power being the driving force. I can’t think of a more toxic, more hateable person that we, as the audience, always found ourselves somehow rooting for. Up until the bitter end, there was something inside of me that believed that he would win and that the moral of the show would be that goodness or decency rarely wins.
Thankfully, Kendall lost, and he lost everything. Some people just don’t have the competency or ability to keep up with their ambitions. Alex Toohey is not that guy.
Some of you may take my first paragraph and think I’m saying that Toohey may have bitten off more than he can chew. The truth is, I’m saying the opposite. In June of this year, Alex Toohey announced that he would be de-committing from the Gonzaga Bulldogs and pursuing a professional career with the Sydney Kings as part of the NBL’s Next Stars program. Coming out of the NBA Global Academy, there were high expectations for Toohey in what would have been his freshman season with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
When the announcement dropped, I reached out to Toohey to find out what motivated the change of heart. At the time, Toohey made it clear that his decision had nothing to do with Gonzaga. He loved the coaches and the situation; deciding to de-commit was tough for him. His motivation for committing to the Sydney Kings came down to one thing: he wanted to be a pro.
This is not the first time basketball has seen a guy de-commit from a school and pursue a faster path to the pros. In his class, Ron Holland of the G League Ignite de-committed from the University of Texas to go pro instead, and many others. We’ve seen guys like Jeremy Tyler, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jalen Green, and LaMelo Ball take the road less traveled. Not all of those guys went on to have successful careers, and this has led people to wonder if going pro so early is the right choice.
The truth of the matter is this wave is getting stronger. With the Overtime Elite, G League Ignite, and programs like the NBL Next Stars program drawing more interest and attention, we can’t ignore that more and more young players will look to go pro instead of pursuing the classic college route. Although results are still mixed, we can’t help but acknowledge that this is a desirable option for young athletes and will only continue to grow.
Of the many concerns of this path, the most common one is the jump in level of play and physicality. This concern is understandable, considering these teenagers will be against grown men with more developed bodies and experience. Talking to Toohey, he expressed how much of an adjustment it was for him, even though he knew it was coming.
“The league is known to be physical, but playing in it was still a shock. I feel like I've adjusted to that now and am definitely starting to use the physicality to my benefit.”
As the old Mike Tyson quote goes, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Toohey may have had an idea of how rough things would be, but even for him, there was an adjustment. That second sentence is what I want to highlight, though. For someone so young, Toohey’s done a great job of adjusting to the higher level of play and has shown a ton of promise early on in the season. With that being said, let’s dive into the film and take a look at how he’s looked so far as a young pro.
This is the side of the floor that I expected him to struggle, at least to start. The NBL has always been notorious for physicality and toughness. Toohey has an excellent foundational physique for him to build on. He’s long, has a good set of shoulders, and you can tell that he will have a nice frame once he’s done growing and gains his grown-man strength. Although Toohey has a solid foundation to build on, he’s not a finished product yet, and there have been some instances when physicality was an obstacle for him. Until this season, Toohey has struggled a little with his finishing around the rim, especially finishing through contact. It’s not that he’s afraid of contact, but he has to continue to add mass. I also noticed that he needs to be stronger with his handle. As I mentioned, it’s not because he is afraid or avoiding contact; he’s just going up against grown men. He’s bound to struggle, and there will be an adjustment period.
With that being said, he has a good handle for his size. He can dribble in tight spaces, push the ball up the floor off of a rebound, and has even flashed the ability to run a pick-and-roll in a tiny sample size. I imagine Toohey won’t be asked to handle the ball a ton in the NBA to start, but it may become a vital part of his game over time. When I asked Toohey who he models his game after, he mentioned some really good names.
“I love watching and learning from a whole variety of players, particularly bigger wing players like Jayson Tatum, Mikal Bridges, and Klay Thompson. I love looking at Tatum’s footwork on post-ups and his jab game to shift his defender to blow by or shoot. Watching Mikal, I look at how he plays off the catch, changing the angles of closeouts by moving before he’s caught the ball. As well as his counters around the basket, being able to shoot over smaller defenders with a slight fade. Klay, I look at for his shooting, his footwork into shots, and his reads when heavily contested on closeouts, making a simple move to get past the defense.”
When you consider the guys that Toohey listed, it’s not hard to see the type of player that he wants to come, and I don’t think it’s crazy for him to be studying these three guys after watching his tape up to this point in the NBL. I’d never claim that Toohey is even close to the three guys he mentioned, but I believe he’s well on his way to becoming his version of those guys; it’s clear he’s learning different things from all three.
In the compilation I posted above, I chose some good and not-so-good possessions. You know how we like to be as objective as possible here at No Ceilings, and it was important to include some clips where he needs to continue to tighten things up. The first thing that stuck out to me was his improved jumper. On the Sydney Kings, Toohey is playing a bit of a hybrid role where he’s not asked to do a ton with the ball in his hands, and yet they don’t exactly just throw him into the corner and have him wait for catch-and-shoot opportunities.
To this point in the season, 79.5% of his jumpers have come off the catch, according to Synergy Sports, and only 18.5% of his jumpers have come off the dribble. This fleshes out when you turn on the tape, as most of his shots in the halfcourt are coming off of shots in the corner or finishes at the rim off of his excellent off-ball movement. Toohey is a nasty cutter with great court awareness and timing. He knows how to stay active and does a great job of taking advantage of what the defense is giving him. This will be a tremendous weapon for him to get easy buckets and stay involved in the flow of the offense, even if he’s not seeing a ton of the ball.
Although the volume is low, there have been some exciting flashes of him attacking the basket with the ball in his hands. As mentioned earlier, he still needs to add more strength at this point in his development. In the compilation, I threw in a couple of drives where he was moved off his line due to the defender’s strength and also a couple of possessions where he lost the handle of the ball for the same reason. Once again, the desire and the initiative are good; now, it’s just a matter of getting stronger and tightening things up. I’d like to see him continue to work on some of the in-between stuff, like a pull-up jumper or some nice touch on a floater in the lane. I think his touch around the rim needs to continue to improve, and adding a floater or push shot to his repertoire would help.
One of the underrated aspects of his game is his passing. Toohey’s not a floorbending maestro as a passer, but he’s good at pushing the ball and making plays in transition and can make some nice passes in the halfcourt. With more opportunity will come more flashes. I can see Toohey becoming an important ball-mover on the next level and a guy who can also create out of the pick and roll in a pinch.
The swing skill for him and seemingly every wing on this planet is the outside shot, and I’m happy to report that the jumper looks pretty good.
When I saw him up close at the Nike Hoop Summit, I thought his jumper looked disconnected and not as smooth overall. When I spoke to Toohey in April after the Summit, he told me that outside shooting and shooting off the dribble would be a primary focus for him heading into next season. The hard work is starting to pay off. Toohey is shooting 36.4% from three on 3.4 attempts per game, which isn’t an insanely high volume, but not tiny either.
I think the ultimate goal for Toohey and his outlook would be to be right around this percentage or higher. It’s still early in the season, and we should expect some variance moving forward, but the mechanics of the shot look so much better that it’s hard not to be encouraged. An area of improvement for him will be getting to the charity stripe and making them. Currently, Toohey is only averaging 3.2 FTA per game at 69%. That 69% mark isn’t a nightmare, but it’s definitely an area of improvement for him, and for him to eventually become a high-level scorer, free throws will be a big part of that.
“Finishing is a big area that I'm always working on learning to use my size to finish over or straight up dunk it.”
Watching Toohey develop on the offensive side of the ball will be something to watch because he already offers versatility. Everyone knows that versatility is one of the most popular words in modern basketball, and Toohey is very aware of that. Jumbo wings are extremely popular, and teams always want to add the next Paul George, Franz Wagner, or Mikal Bridges. With his development as a shooter and his ability to handle and move without the ball, it’s easy to see how Toohey could fit that mold one day.
“Being a bigger wing that can shoot, create off the dribble, pass, and defend 1-5 has allowed me to get to where I am. Looking at the NBA, shooting is one of the most important aspects, with almost everyone on the court having to make 3s to play. I see myself being able to space the floor as a shooting threat while playing off the catch if my shot isn’t there to get on the rim or find the open man. As well as reading my defender and cutting behind defenses.”
Toohey may have already grown leaps and bounds as a shooter, but he knows he still has a lot of work to do. Being in the NBL and playing for the Sydney Kings should offer him a ton of opportunities to continue to make mistakes, grow in his skill set, and become the offensive weapon that he’s aiming to be.
As excited as I was to see Toohey’s development on the offensive side of the ball, defense is where I think Toohey will be better prepared for the NBA early on. Toohey has good size and length for his position and is someone who takes a lot of pride in his defense. Versatility is a huge part of his game on this side of the floor as well. Toohey truly believes he can defend all five positions on the floor, and so far, he’s shown off a ton of that versatility in the NBL.
If you watch the montage above, you’ll notice Toohey guarding guys of all different sizes. He has good lateral mobility, knows how to use his length, and is not afraid of contact. There were multiple positions where he was able to wall up, even bigs, just by putting his chest into them and staying vertical. He does a great job in switches and is a strong team defender. The thing that really sticks out in the film is the awareness and focus.
Sometimes, you’ll get guys who are great cutters on the offensive side of the ball but, for whatever reason, get beat back door all the time on defense. You’d think that their expertise in cutting would make them more aware of the same thing happening to them, but it’s just not the case for everyone. Toohey is not one of those guys.
Toohey does a great job of watching man and ball and uses his IQ and ability to support his teammates or hold his own on the ball. He’s not a big-time rim-protector, but he can hold his own, and the timing and positioning have been fantastic, so he does more than you’d expect. Toohey is not an elite athlete, but he is a pretty good one and will surprise some people with what he can do as an athlete. He can move with a full head of steam and get up.
Even early on in the season, Toohey has been a productive defensive player, filling up the stats sheets with a couple of games with three steals and has had some nice blocks as well. Toohey is also a good defensive rebounder who does a good job of being around the paint and tracking the ball. He’s also done an excellent job of boxing out and mixing things up with the trees inside. He’s one of these guys that end up being around the ball. I don’t think he’ll ever be averaging double-digit boards in the NBA, but he will offer a ton of activity and production, even if it’s not elite.
I will say that Toohey isn’t perfect on the ball, especially against smaller guards. He does a good job of leveraging his strength and length, but quicker, smaller guards have given him some trouble. The truth is that those types of guards will always be trouble, but it is something to mention because I think he could continue to work on his mobility and flexibility to better stay in front of the quick types.
Even if he gets beat with speed, he does an excellent job of recovering and contesting shots, as you saw in the montage above. He does such an excellent job of using his length to contest and alter shots and pairs that with the desire to close out to shooters. He’s going to be beloved by his coaches on the next level. When talking to Toohey about his motivations as a player, he was pretty short and direct about it all.
“First and foremost, I play the game because I love it. I love the competition and want to compete at the highest level, with that ultimately being the NBA. I’d love to be someone kids can look up to as someone who made their dreams come true through hard work and commitment and inspired the next generation of Australian basketballers.”
You can’t help but wonder what he’d look like playing for the Miami Heat or the New York Knicks. His mentality and blue-collar work ethic would fit like a glove with those teams and any team in the league. As a Knicks fan, I’d love to see him on the Knicks, learning from the vets early on and eventually carving out a role as a jumbo wing next to Jalen Brunson and company. Let me pump the brakes here before I throw out this whole piece and go into a Knicks rant.
To this point in the draft cycle, you can see Toohey mocked all over the place. I’m a bit higher on him than most, which is why I wanted to write this piece. With the versatility, size, and significantly improved shooting ability, I think Toohey deserves to be in the first-round conversation. At this time, I have him at #11 on my board. I know some of you will think he’s only so high because I’ve talked to him, and I’m trying to curry favor. I call it as I see it, and I think a jumbo wing with his skillset is ridiculously valuable to NBA front offices. I also believe that it matters that he’s producing and putting up numbers against grown-ass men in one of the best leagues on the planet. That stuff matters.
We still have a long way to go, and a lot can change between now and next June, but I feel confident about Toohey’s outlook and value. In terms of a pro-comp, I see a couple of guys. Considering the size, length, and skillset, it’s hard not to think of guys like Keegan Murray, Franz Wagner, or even a young Nicolas Batum. I also think it’s great that he’s studying the games of guys like Jason Tatum, Klay Thompson, and Mikal Bridges.
For as much as we may think we know how a player will turn out, no one ever fully knows. I always return to my evaluation of Franz Wagner in the 2021 draft class. Corey Tulaba and I thoroughly broke down his game, and we loved him. As much as we loved him, I don’t think we saw him becoming as good as he’s been in his young NBA career. This is why some may think I’m crazy for having Alex Toohey in the lottery, but I believe in the player and the person. The journey he’s been on to get to this point may not have been the most conventional, but he’s going to be damn good at basketball, and that’s more than enough for me. He might be at 11 on my board now, but I could easily see a world where he ends up in my Top 10.
With that being said, patience is going to have to be involved when evaluating Toohey’s game. For all the good I’ve highlighted so far, I’d be lying if I said he’s a finished product or ready to be a day-one starter in the NBA. One of the most impressive aspects of Toohey’s personality is his self-awareness.
He knows he has work to do to get to where he wants to be, but he’s also unafraid of the work. That’s one of the main reasons he chose to play in the NBL. His decision wasn’t a money grab; it wasn’t for fame; he did it because he believed it was the best situation for him to become the player he thought he could be. Going against the grain and letting people down isn’t always easy. But the fact that Toohey made the best decision for his development down the road should be commended.
It’s not easy to say no to someone; sometimes, it’s even harder to say yes to yourself.
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