Redefining Joe Alexander

Updated: January 12, 2011

Three years ago Joe Alexander was one of the hottest names at the 2008 NBA Draft, blowing scouts away with his athleticism and upside, ultimately climbing the board to number eight where he was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks. He was out of the league in two seasons.

Today the former lottery pick is starring for the Texas Legends where he has emerged as quite possibly the best player in the D-League, ranking 5th in scoring, 1st in rebounding and has the highest efficiency of any active player. In less than two months, Alexander has changed his public perception from a draft day bust, to one of the individuals most likely to receive a call-up and be a contributor at the next level. This revolution of sorts is a credit to both Alexander and the Legends coaching staff for recognizing that the forward was being utilized inefficiently as a rookie with the Bucks.

With his freakish athleticism and ability to face up and attack as a 6-8 forward, many thought Alexander projected as a small forward at the professional level. A closer examination of his time spent at West Virginia, paired with his subsequent performance in the D-League reveals that he is better equipped to operate as a “stretch 4”, a face up power forward who can score inside and outside. The Bucks, already with a crowded frontcourt when Alexander arrived, opted to stick him on the perimeter and convert him to a full-time wing. In theory it didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time, but Milwaukee should have recognized the problems this created for their lottery pick early on.

In college Alexander was hardly a threat to hurt teams from beyond the arc, attempting just 1.4 three’s per-40 minutes and hitting only 27% of them. That doesn’t sound like a player teams want chucking up shots from the outside, but with Milwaukee he turned into a spot up shooter, doubling his number of attempted three’s. According to data from Synergy Sports, nearly 30% of his possessions as a rookie were in spot-up situations, with Alexander settling to catch and shoot two-thirds of the time. What’s more, greater than one-third of all his jumpers in the half court setting came from beyond the three-point line. Taking a player with tremendous athleticism, the ability to finish around the basket, a track record for mediocre outside shooting and turning him into a catch and shoot player sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Now to be fair, Alexander was still relatively new to the game of basketball, having only been playing for approximately five years by the time he entered the NBA, so there was plenty of developing left. But Milwaukee didn’t seem to want to wait for the rookie to come around. He was out of the Bucks system after one year and played briefly in Chicago the following season before landing with Texas this year. Enter the new Joe Alexander.

The first thing you notice about the forward is the significant muscle he has put on in his upper body. The athleticism is still there, but Alexander now looks more like a power forward than he does a wing player, having the necessary strength to overpower opponents inside and dominate the glass as he has been. Then there’s the possession break down which closely resembles how Alexander made his living in college with 25% of his touches coming in isolation and 25% coming in the post, as compared to 13% and 10% respectively in the NBA.

You can also look at his shot locations and see a drastic difference. Jumpers have dropped from 58% of his possessions to 48%, with post-ups more than doubling from 12% to 29%. Whereas he was trigger happy from the outside with the Bucks, Alexander is now a mid-range junky in the D-League, with 70% of his jump shot attempts coming from between 17 and 23 feet and only 9% from beyond the arc. The Legends are utilizing him in a fashion that plays to his strengths, moving without the basketball and taking advantage of mismatches in face up scenarios.

When isolating, Alexander gets the bulk of his touches in the high post and along the baseline. He has improved his shooting mechanics significantly, showing a quicker, smoother release which has resulted in a 44.5% shooting mark from mid-range, a great mark for a forward. Often times the mere threat of him attacking off the drive is enough to create space for him to get his shot off, especially now that teams are forced to play slower frontcourt players against him with the added strength he acquired in the off-season. Being able to isolate closer to the basket has also made Alexander a bigger threat off the dribble. For all of his physical abilities, he is only average when it comes to changing direction on the fly, something he was forced to do a lot when driving from the perimeter. In the D-League with a closer starting point, he has excelled, able to explode with one dribble and get to the rim and finish at an improved rate. He may be undersized as power forward in the NBA, but Alexander is quick enough and explosive enough to finish against bigger defenders.

The development of Alexander’s post game has centered around his turnaround jumper, a move that is difficult to defend due to how high he jumps and how quickly he spins off his defender. From an NBA standpoint he could be hurt in that this is the only consistent move he currently has in his repertoire, though not surprisingly Alexander often faces up and attacks off the bounce when he works on the block as well. Frontcourt defenders simply can’t consistently stay in front of the third-year pro and while elite NBA defenders will certainly fair better in this regard, Alexander has shown enough as a passer to indicate he will be able to create scoring opportunities for teammates when driving.

Where questions still remain are at the defensive end. Alexander is only an average defender, particularly when he is forced to guard perimeter players. His lateral quickness isn’t good enough to cover most NBA wings, but again should he be utilized as a power forward he does a solid enough job defending the pick and roll. In the post he is physical and has enough athleticism to contest shots in an effective manner, ranking as one of the D-League’s best defenders on the block allowing just .69 points per possession with a high usage rate.

There’s no question Alexander redefining his game has allowed him to start realizing the potential he showed coming out of college. He has been a remarkably consistent player, scoring at least 16 points in all but two games this season and has already made a good impression at the Showcase with a 21-point, 10-rebound, 6-block stat line in the Legends loss to New Mexico on Monday. He may never be a prominent player in the NBA, but for teams in need of a role player who can serve as a face up power forward, Alexander may be exactly what they are looking for.


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  2. scrabs

    January 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Joe was best in college working on the block on offense in college and was who WVU often turned to to guard talented centers, who he usually gave up size and strength to. It’s great to see that someone has figured out his strengths at the pro level, it’s just too bad it took this long for someone to figure it out.

  3. From Milwaukee

    January 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    There’s a lot you’ve left out about his time in Milwaukee. Call a reporter or two, or get on a Milwaukee message board. Alexander was given every opportunity and drank it away.

    • scooper

      January 13, 2011 at 1:34 am

      Joe alexander does not drink. Get your facts straight.

    • DomesticFeverPitch

      January 13, 2011 at 1:44 am

      As long as I have known him, he has never drank. Ever.

    • seadog

      January 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm

      WOW! It’s really amazing that this poster says that we should “call a reporter or two, or get on a Milwaukee message board” for the story… Hahahaha! As if either are reliable sources of actual facts. Most reporters write crap they think up or over-hear, mix it up with their own sorry perceptions of the world, and sprinkled it with morsels of their own low self-esteme and inadequacies (in this case relating to a serious frustration from poor performance in athletics).

      Many have NEVER worked out, much less competed in top-level (or any level) of sports. They are full of statistical analysis and theory. And… “posters” on the Milwaukee message boards… OMG! Now there’s a treasure chest of brainpower that the world should tap into to solve some serious issues… dah!

      • seadog

        January 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm

        That is … except for writers like this Joey Whelan here, for D-League Digest… this is a well researched and well written article dealing with facts about a determined b-baller and not just ‘hearsay” for the misinformed.

        Those of us that know Joe A personally can tell you for a fact that he does’t eat junk food, wont drink alcohol and is a hard working young athlete who is finding his way back into the toughest b-ball league in the world… and he will get to where he wants to be… go Jo! ATG!

  4. Allaboutwvu

    January 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I knew Joe at WVU. The guy doesn’t drink. Hes a gym rat who doesn’t even eat junk food. Zero basis for your accusations. Zero. He does go out, but thats not alcohal in his glass. Richard Jefferson tells a story that he tried to buy Joe shots when he was out with the team, and he wouldn’t drink.

  5. Frank

    January 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Good article.

  6. HBBOB

    January 13, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Great article. Joe is exciting to watch. I always thought he was better at the small forward position. Watched him all thru college.BTW- Milwaukee fan- I looked-and found nothing to back up your accusations that Joe has a drinking problem. No articles, blogs or news story- nothing. Everything I’ve read points to a young man who works hard and dedicates himself to the sport. I personally find it irresponsible of you. Motives?

    • HBBOB

      January 13, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Correction; I meant to say POWER FORWARD!

      • WVU4ever

        January 13, 2011 at 10:45 am

        Nice to see Joe do well. Not nice to see the Milwaukee fan pop his ugly head up yet again. He’s said the same exact thing on other sites! What’s the beef dude? I went to WVU when Joe was there. The guy is a straight arrow. FACT from someone who knows- JOE DOESN’T DRINK- period. Seriously dude, you got a problem.

  7. jesus_shuttlesworth

    January 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Great to see Joe playing well. With his work ethic, it was only a matter of time before he found his way. Hopefully he finds himself on an NBA roster by year’s end.

  8. FANdango

    January 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Nice to see Joe doing well. I always root for the guy…loved watching him at WVU. Good luck Joe…you deserve another shot at the NBA level.

  9. GeorgeS

    January 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Glad to see Joe turn things around. Got to talk to him during the Vegas Summer League in ’08. Definitely a nice person and consistent with all the articles I read.

  10. Rod G

    January 31, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    WVU Grad (’75) and I tune in to as many of Joe’s games that I can watch. Joe was not given every opportunity as a Buck. I do recall his first season and the pre-season games overseas. He had some good games. You got to play to get better. The Bucks screwed up by not playing Joe….same for the Bulls.
    Joe is a GOOD role model too!

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