Many NBA fans know Jose Alvarado for his on-court antics, hiding away behind anybody he can find and sneaking up behind unsuspecting ballhandlers for steals. Maybe they remember his iconic mic’d-up performance during all-star weekend. But the Pelicans value his high-impact defense and speed from the guard slot, making Alvarado a valuable role player in their system.
Defense is Alvarado’s main strength, founded on his defensive playmaking; his 2.4% steal rate sits in the 94th percentile among all players last season. Aside from plucking the handle of unsuspecting ballhandlers, Alvarado hounds defenders at the point of attack, pressuring relentlessly.
Screen navigation may be Alvarado’s most valuable skill, as his elite agility, footwork and low center of gravity help him attach to shifty guards sprinting around screens, evading screens like he’s the only one on the field with a portal gun. Modern NBA offense relies on dynamic off-ball motion, so having a specialist to shut those actions down bolsters New Orleans’ perimeter defense.
Alvarado’s aggressive playstyle gets him into trouble at times as his gambling for steals can lead to backdoor cuts and easy buckets for opposing offenses. His size will always be the main defensive limitation, though, as ballhandlers with size and strength too easily overpower Alvarado at the rim, limiting any rim protection impact he may offer otherwise. Regardless, Alvarado is a valuable defensive role player for the Pelicans even if not a star on that end.
Offense brings more of a challenge for Alvarado, as those same size limitations can make scoring a challenge at times. Though Alvarado often has the burst and handling to burn larger defenders, he’s vulnerable to being bumped off of his spot and challenged as a scorer at the bucket. Alvarado shot just 55.6% at the rim last season (20th percentile) and those struggles as as an interior scorer fuel his poor efficiency as a whole (52.4%, 18th percentile, -10 rTS).
As he does on defense, Alvarado’s speed, agility and relentless motor help him add value as an off-ball offensive player. Lazier defenders lose Alvarado as he sprints around the court, finding his spots to shoot threes (33.6%) and drive off of the catch. His solid passing can then shine, as Alvarado can hit weak side shooters off of his cuts and make simple reads to his bigs in the pick and roll.
Though the inefficient scoring and pedestrian shooting hold his offensive use back, Alvarado slots in well as an off-ball specialist, capitalizing on the gravity of New Orleans’ high-octane offensive weapons. That’s a valuable proposition while simultaneously being a plus defensive player as a small guard, a rarity in the modern NBA where size and athletic tools are at more of a premium than ever.
You can follow Ben Pfiefer on Twitter at @bjpf_
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