Second chances in the NBA are hard to come by. Fail to impress on the first go-around and one swiftly becomes yesterday’s news, remembered solely for their shortcomings rather than any slither of potential they may have flaunted during their tenure. The road back is a bumpy one, filled with peaks and valleys, often culminating in a dead end or an unforeseen detour. It’s why the odds for former lottery pick Joe Alexander appear grim on the surface, but it’s that experience and resilience that has seen him transform himself from a draft bust into one of the D-League’s most dynamic big men. With 10-day contract season fast approaching, he’ll be looking to parlay his high level of play into an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business.
Alexander’s career has been riddled with disappointment and injuries since the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him with the eighth pick in 2008. As a rookie, growing pains ran their course. He looked lost on the court, like a deer in headlights, not being able to harness the athleticism that made him such a hot commodity coming out of college. It’s why he eventually saw his opportunities fizzle out as his first season wore on, and why he soon found his stock plummet in the open market.
It wasn’t until 2011 that injuries began to take over Alexander’s career. While playing in Russia, he discovered a stress fracture in his foot, which wound up sidelining him for nearly two years. Alexander’s basketball future looked bleak at times after having gone through numerous setbacks — he believed at one point that he’d never play competitive basketball again — but, miraculously so, he was able to return to the court in 2013 after a long hiatus. It’s there where his journey began in the D-League with the Santa Cruz Warriors.
In Alexander’s first game with the Warriors, he put together a double-double in 27 minutes, showcasing both the good (12 points and 12 rebounds) and the bad (4-for-13 shooting, three turnovers, five fouls). Over the 13 remaining games that season, he showed signs of promise, yet also signs of rust. At the very least, him receiving steady minutes was a promising step in the right direction. The Warriors’ coaching staff worked with him to fine tune his body, teaching him how to run and jump to avoid future stress injuries from occurring. He appeared to be healthy for the first time in years, and he was beginning to find his feet again.
Fast forward to this season and Alexander has been a completely different player. He has established himself as one of the top prospects in the D-League, averaging 21.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, all the while shooting 54.1 percent from the field. He was named the D-League’s Performer of the Week for games played between November 24th and November 30th, and he’s a big reason why the Warriors are off to a 7-and-4 start — a record that has them standing tall in a competitive West Division. He has emerged as a legitimate threat from 16-feet from the basket, and has shown off a impressive level of athleticism considering the injuries he has sustained over the years. And on a team stacked to the brim with young, talented up-and-comers, Alexander has become their most reliable asset.
It’s been a bumpy road for Alexander thus far. He’ll even admit that he relied far too heavily on his athleticism coming out of college. It’s why he was slow out of the gates, and why the Bucks eventually declined the third year of his rookie contract — a sum of money that is peanuts to an NBA franchise. But the last four years have given him the opportunity to learn and develop as a player, and it’s led to positive results. Not only is he playing the best basketball of his career, he’s healthy for the first time since he was drafted into the NBA.
Alexander’s athleticism was never a question. His ability to channel it was. Now, at age 27, he’s figured out how to blend the two seamlessly, and he’s ready for a second chance in the NBA. Not necessarily to prove to the world why he was a one-time lottery pick. (That ship sailed long ago.) Instead, to prove that he belongs in the big leagues, whatever capacity that may be.