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The Prospect Overview: Trey Alexander, the Excellence of Execution
Creighton's Trey Alexander keeps it simple, and that's why he's excellent. Maxwell dives into how his playmaking, shooting, and defense can make him an NBA role player! PLUS: Quick Hits!
I don’t like player comparisons, but Trey Alexander reminds me of two people: the famous chef and restauranteur Gordon Ramsay, and the professional wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
I love cooking, and one program in particular helped shape my approach to food more than any other—Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I’m not talking about Kitchen Nightmares, the American version of the show, but The OG, RAMSAY’S Kitchen Nightmares. It aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, and it was substantially different than the version that aired in the United States. Whereas the American version of the show is about drama, nasty food, and yelling, the original was more about…a guy fixing a restaurant. Sure, Gordon still swears a lot and occasionally raises his voice. But it’s a far less dramatic, showy version of him than the one we know today. In one episode, he even likes the food! He’s far more empathetic, down-to-earth, and earnest. Throughout the series, he continuously harps on a few concepts:
1. Use inexpensive, local produce.
2. Don’t put too many items on the menu.
3. Keep the dishes simple.
Time and again, he encourages the owners and chefs to create “simple, honest, clean” food. My favorite episode of the show was “La Riviera.” The chef at La Riviera is skilled, but he has one horrendous habit—he can’t stop adding things to the plate. Rather than doing letting the main ingredient shine, he drowns out the flavor with extra ingredients and sauces. There was too much going on, and it detracted from the overall taste. While the chef was talented, he routinely overstepped his bounds, failing to cook within himself. Gordon brought in a food critic, and both he and La Riviera’s chef prepared a similar dish. The critic preferred Gordon’s dish, which was more straightforward rather than overly elaborate. That episode in particular taught me the value of doing the simple things unbelievably well. Sometimes, complicating matters leads to subtraction by addition.
I think that’s why I’m so drawn to Trey Alexander—he’s the “simple, honest, clean” basketball player. That may sound boring, but trust me—he’s far from it. For simplicity to be effective, it still requires intelligence and craft. A steak is simple. But a steak that’s boiled in water is going to taste a lot different than one that was seasoned to perfection and reverse-seared to a beautiful medium rare. Trey Alexander’s game isn’t a boiled chunk of beef—it’s the good stuff. He’s got that Gordon Ramsay in him.
Excellence is knowing what you can do and doing it well, as much as it’s about knowing what is unnecessary and what should not be done. The professional wrestler Bret Hart was given the nickname “The Excellence of Execution.” Despite being considered small for the era in which he performed, Hart made it to the top of the industry working a grounded, methodical style, with his matches making logical sense and his moves looking realistic. Some critics knocked him for being boring or repetitive, but by staying within himself, Bret always got the best matches out of himself and the person in the ring with him. My favorite Bret Hart matches were against more limited opponents, the big and clumsy dudes who lacked coordination and had phony-looking maneuvers. He managed to keep it simple, control the pace, and make others look more competent than they were. Famously, he once made the horrific Tom Magee look like an absolute star. The two had a match where they tore the house down, drawing a raucous reaction from the crowd. Hart knew Magee beforehand, and he knew how limited he was as a performer, so he structured a match that would hide Magee’s flaws and accentuate his strengths. WWF owner Vince McMahon was ready to make Tom Magee the next Hulk Hogan after their match. For one night, Bret Hart made him look like a star. But when Magee wrestled other people, it was obvious that he was technically inept and entirely unbelievable, lacking any credibility due to his ghastly strikes and his goofy reactions to his opponent’s offensive moves.
Bret Hart didn’t just make himself look good—he operated selflessly in the ring and elevated those around him. That’s what Trey Alexander does on a basketball court. Playing on a talented Creighton team, Alexander isn’t surrounded by a bunch of Hooper Tom Magees, but he still plays in a way that makes his squad better. His play isn’t predicated on flashiness but rather on assessing what is in front of him and making the most out of it.
What makes Trey Alexander an appealing NBA prospect is that he is very good at two things on offense, and he can defend. The first thing he does well on offense is make plays with the ball in his hands, and the second thing he does well is space the floor as a catch-and-shoot option. Let’s start with his on-ball arsenal, and then we’ll dive into the shooting and defense.
Alexander operates pick-and-roll plays with surgical precision. He’s thoughtful, careful, and effective. This season, he ranked in Synergy’s 77th percentile on pick-and-roll plays, and those plays made up a hearty 29.5% of his possessions. The first reason Alexander is efficient on these plays is that he’s able to play the ball screen in a multitude of ways. He’s not a guy who always uses the screen, balancing his options by rejecting it or splitting the middle when that is the best way to gain an advantage. Alexander will also “reuse” the screen, too, if he doesn’t like how it worked out for him the first time around. This healthy, controlled unpredictability makes it difficult for the second-level defender, as they can’t go into the play with a predetermined movement pattern. Instead, they are at the whims of Alexander and can’t act until he makes his move.
What makes matters even more complicated for the defender is that Alexander is super light on his feet and is a master of misdirection. Whether it’s a shoulder fake, change of direction, or sidestep, there are numerous ways for him to get the defender off balance while generating space for himself. He does a wonderful job of keeping his options open, too. Nothing is predetermined, and his counters are endless. If you catch up with him, it might just be because he’s slowing down before accelerating yet again. This methodical, open-minded approach, paired with a solid handle and stellar footwork, makes it difficult for whoever ends up on him to stay on him.
Of course, none of this advanced pick-and-roll play would matter if he couldn’t put the ball in the basket. The thing is—he can. Alexander is a great pull-up shooter. Per Synergy, he converted 43.3% of his pull-up twos this season. This isn’t anything new, either—he made 45.5% of them last year, too. Add in that he knocked down 37.5% of his threes off the bounce (per Synergy), and you have a complete outside shooter when operating out of a ball screen. The fact that he gets himself space does wonders, but he also keeps his release high, has a buttery stroke, and doesn’t need total balance in his lower half to keep his touch pristine.
But that’s not all!
Trey Alexander can find his teammates while running a ball screen, too. He ranks in the 77th percentile on pick-and-roll possessions including passes, too, per Synergy. While Alexander is manipulating defenders with his rhythm and footwork, he’s also aware of what else is happening on the court. He has an understanding of what off-ball defenders are doing, not just the people who are right in front of him. When help comes, he’s ready to hit the open man. If a teammate springs open off an action, he can find them. He’ll make the simple plays, too, hitting roll man Ryan Kalkbrenner for the easy inside finish when it’s there.
Alexander’s numbers don’t pop here. His 2.6 APG and 15.3 AST% are on the lower end for guards who stick in the NBA. Still, they aren’t a killer for combo guards. It actually beats out numbers that Immanuel Quickley posted at Kentucky, for example. In both cases, their role played a major factor. Quickley played alongside other guards who had the ball quite a bit, such as Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans. Meanwhile, Alexander plays with Ryan Nembhard, Arthur Kaluma, and Baylor Scheierman, all of whom get the opportunity to make plays on the ball in Creighton’s democratic system. As a freshman, Alexander got to run the point down the stretch after Nembhard suffered an injury. He averaged 4.3 APG to 2.8 TOV during that stretch while facing tough competition in the Big East and NCAA tournament. That serves as evidence that he can scale up in role when needed and perform admirably. With even more experience under his belt and as a more respectable scoring threat, I’d expect him to do better in a similar setting now.
Trey Alexander can play off the ball, too, because he’s a fantastic shooter. As a freshman, he only took only 1.8 threes per game and hit 28.1% of them. Still, it was one of the simplest, “yeah, he’s better than that” evaluations of the last season, and his leap wasn’t unpredictable. His shooting motion was consistent, it looked great, and he was successful on pull-up twos. Add in an 81.8% free throw percentage, and the pieces were in place. Still, his 42.3% from three on 4.3 attempts per game exceeded my expectations. That said, I buy it as a real indication of his prowess.
While Alexander made 43.2% of his catch-and-shoot threes, they weren’t the easiest looks, and the way he got himself open demonstrates his knowledge of the floor. Digging through the film, Alexander can be seen hitting from NBA distance, relocating to get open, and hitting shots off screens. He knows where to move, and he gets off his looks in a timely manner. His feet are balanced and square to the basket, and there’s little disconnect between his lower and upper half on his jump shot.
Offensively, this makes Trey Alexander project as a great piece next to a star. If there’s a time when he has to run a little something, or if he’s running a second-side pick-and-roll, he can do that efficiently. Without the ball, his shooting creates gravity, allowing space for other operators to get to their spots on the floor. Add in that he doesn’t need to stand perfectly still to hit his jumpers, and he can successfully act as a decoy coming off actions when needed to further complicate things for the defense. The easiest way to get on the floor if you’re not a star is to shoot, and Trey can do that. But he can do more than that, too.
Alexander can defend the guard spots well. He’s determined, savvy, and aware. This particularly shines when defending against ball screens. His knowledge of the floor and opposing offenses allows him to read the screener well, and his understanding of the personnel he’s covering leads to him making the correct decisions. He’ll consistently work around screens, and he does a good job of “staying connected,” keeping a hand on his man to avoid losing track of them. When he finds himself a step behind, the recovery effort is always present. His ability to stay with his man is significant. Defensively, he only allows 0.711 points per possession on pick-and-rolls and 0.686 on handoffs, per Synergy, both good marks. At 190 pounds, he’s not the biggest, but he does play with a level of physicality and toughness that prevents ball handlers from getting through him.
He’s in tune off the ball, too. Alexander’s 2.0 STL% is often a result of the “helping hands” turnovers he creates. There’s a clever sneakiness to him, interrupting plays when it’s not expected. If a player catches the ball and doesn’t know Alexander is nearby, he’ll knock it from their grasp. When ballhandlers get loose with their dribble and aren’t aware of their surroundings, he’ll come over and swipe it. Throw a lazy pass, and he’ll intercept it. On a basic fundamental level, he doesn’t screw up or lose focus. Rarely will you see him getting backdoor cut by opponents, losing his man as they relocate, or struggling after a failure to communicate during an off-ball action.
Look, I love Trey Alexander’s game. However, the harsh reality of the draft world is that most of the players taken don’t end up having long, successful NBA careers. With that said, it’s important to look at what might hold Alexander back.
Alexander’s rim finishing is a mixed bag. He only made 52.8% of his shots at the rim in the halfcourt, per Synergy. Part of that is that he doesn’t have much vertical explosiveness. Using BartTorvik’s tracking data, he only dunked twice this season and zero times last season. Alexander’s lack of elevation puts him in a tough spot when it comes to converting against length at the basket. His lack of speed doesn’t help, either. His first step is pretty mundane, limiting how easily he can pressure the rim. Still, he’s much better at getting there than I expected. Comparing Trey Alexander to his peers, his numbers don’t shake out poorly.
I ran some numbers for the point guards and combo guards in this class who were ranked in the Top 30 of our most recent staff consensus big board. The chart below includes what percent of that player’s shots in the half court came at the rim, the percentage of their shots at the rim that are assisted, and the player’s field goal percentage at the rim in the half court.
Because of Alexander’s use of pace, his handle, and his footwork, he still gets to his spots well; better than his potential competition in the 2023 NBA Draft, at the very least. While his lack of elevation is concerning, the bottom line is that Trey Alexander has found ways to put pressure on the rim in the halfcourt with the ball in his hands. Sure, he’s not the fastest, but he manages to get the job done. Of course, this will all become even more difficult at the next level. He’ll face quicker, longer defenders at the point of attack, and he’ll face taller, bouncier defenders when he gets to the basket. Still, his rim pressure and finishing might not be the red flag that his athletic tools might suggest.
Other issues exist. Alexander struggles when going left. He’s far more comfortable going to his right. In situations where he is forced left, he’s noticeably less comfortable. His command over the ball and footwork are less potent. He prefers to finish with his right at the basket, and his pull-up mechanics are much clunkier going left. It’s pretty obvious when he’s looking to counter back to his right. Another issue with his ball handling is that while he generally does a good job of keeping his dribble alive, there are moments when he picks it up at the wrong time. This leads to defenders swarming him while his teammates have to get open. His lack of size may make it tougher for him to guard wings at the next level, so he’ll likely need to play alongside bigger initiators out of the gate.
I can’t help but feel like Trey Alexander has been overlooked throughout this draft cycle. It makes sense to a point—he’s not quite a wing, and he hasn’t gotten to play like a traditional point guard. His counting numbers don’t leap off the page. When you casually throw on a game, he doesn’t soar for highlight reel dunks or blowby opponents at warp speed. He’s not flashy. But the bottom line is that Trey Alexander is excellent at what he does. He manipulates defenders, playing with an astounding level of fluidity and creativity. He gets to the basket on his own and finds teammates when they get open. He knocks down open shots. He guards the ball well. He plays with engagement off the ball on defense. There is excellence in his execution, and he doesn’t try to put too much on his plate. Alexander’s game is simple, but it’s still beautiful, and it’s still great.
There’s a real Top 30 case to be made for him. Projecting him toward the NBA, he could provide lineup malleability, secondary creation, shooting, and defense—all wonderful skills for a role player. The fact that he doesn’t overstep his bounds, plays within a team concept, and won’t make plays that make a coach rip their hair out all bode well for him, too. His trustworthiness could do him wonders. Still, athletic questions remain, and it’s fair to wonder if his pace-heavy offense can work against bigger, better athletes. At worst, he deserves a chance in the first part of the second round.
-I don’t know if Kobe Bufkin could have closed the year much stronger. The 6’4” Michigan combo guard is a sophomore, but he won’t turn 20 until just before the start of the NBA season. From the 10th game of the season on, he averaged 15.4 PPG on 50.5/39.6/84.8 splits. His frame still needs to develop, as he’s really thin for the next level at the moment. Still, he manages to get to his spots and score at every level of the floor. His burst, wiggle, and vertical pop help him get inside and finish. Plus, he’s a real-deal shooter, even if it took a while for him to settle in at the next level. Though his assist-to-turnover numbers (2.9 APG to 1.9 TOV) aren’t stellar, he’s ambidextrous and can sling out of his dribble with either hand. His motor as a transition defender is off the charts, sprinting back on defense to swat opponents’ shots at the rim. Between his defensive upside, youth, offensive production, and playmaking flashes, he’s a Top 20 guy for me.
-Jalen Bridges was slow out of the gate. I found myself frustrated and disappointed with the redshirt junior out of Baylor, but he really hit his stride down the stretch. Over the back half of the season, he averaged 11.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.1 APG to 1.1 TOV, 1.2 SPG, and 0.8 BPG. He was efficient, too, hitting 60% of his twos, 42.1% of his threes, and 80% of his free throws. At 6’7” with pro athleticism, there’s real appeal here. His strides, whether closing out, rotating, or attacking the basket, are always long and clean. He’s a ridiculous finisher, capable of highlight-reel dunks, and he converted 70.6% of his shots at the basket in the halfcourt, per Synergy. When his shot is falling, he looks like an NBA guy. Still, his consistency leaves a bit to be desired. He could be an appealing Top 100 guy if he declares, but another year at Baylor, where we’ve seen players make tremendous leaps in terms of improvement, could make him even more interesting next year—even as a redshirt senior.
-Junior TCU guard Mike Miles ended the year on a high note, scoring 24 points on 13 shots to go along with four assists, two steals, and a block in their loss to Gonzaga. The 20-year-old guard put together an outstanding campaign, exhibiting toughness, phenomenal at-rim finishing, and improved outside shooting. While the barrier to entry has never been higher for small guards, Miles has as good of a chance as any of them at carving out a long-term NBA role. His decision will be a fascinating one to monitor, as he has little to prove at the college level, but there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming level of buzz around him. For me, he’s a rock-solid second round target.
-Oregon’s Kel’el Ware ended the season in a way that seemed to fit his up-and-down freshman campaign. Against UCF, he was tremendous, scoring 11 points in 16 minutes. Ware drew fouls, displayed his soft shooting touch, and played with patience on the block. Though he didn’t get an assist, he looked off his passes well and demonstrated good awareness. However, in the next game against Wisconsin, he had two points on 1-6 shooting and two turnovers. His bucket came on his first shot on a buttery fall-away near the basket after setting an excellent screen. Later, he forced a contested three with time on the clock and missed some easy ones inside. Both turnovers came from offensive fouls—one on a moving screen, the other after egregiously lowering his shoulder on a smaller player on the block. It’s tough to find 7-footers with his touch and mobility, but his poor production was downright perplexing at times. His decision to return to school and enter the transfer portal is, in my opinion, a great one. As friend of the site Adam Spinella outlined here in one of the best pieces this draft cycle, the path for second round picks is beyond precarious in the current climate. For Ware, continuing to develop at the college level so that he can come into the NBA more prepared is the right move. The more ready a player can be to earn a second contract, the better I feel about them.
-Feel free to skip this if you want to avoid No Stone Unturned 2 spoilers, but Utah Valley’s Aziz Bandaogo is one of the most intriguing under-the-radar big men out there. After two seasons at Akron with little to show for it, he broke out at Utah Valley during his junior year. The NBA Academy graduate is averaging a double-double and nearly three blocks per game. His high motor, bounce, and agility have allowed him to look at home competing against bigger programs in the NIT. He’s been the anchor for a great defensive team, and it feels like he’s just scratching the surface. Bandaogo is still raw in terms of ball skills, and he’s really thin, but he’s an interesting late-bloomer nevertheless.