They say what was once lost, can always be found again. A similar sentiment can be echoed in the case of Tyler Nickel, who was once a North Carolina Tar heel but is now a Virginia Tech Hokie.
Mike Young recruited the Elkton, Virginia native heavily out of high school. Nickel was ranked as a top 100 player, coming in as the third best player in the state of Virginia and #90 overall in the 2022 class.
Just when it looked like Nickel to Blacksburg was meant to be, Hubert Davis stole the four-star recruit right from under Tech’s nose.
Nickel’s freshman season didn’t go quite to plan though as he netted 2.1 points and 0.6 rebounds in only an average of six minutes per game throughout his 25 games played. Given the talent Nickel showcased at the high school level, he knew he had more to offer.
So after a freshman season that saw him play sparing minutes on a disappointing Tar Heel squad, Nickel decided to enter the transfer portal and commit to becoming a Hokie.
He will enter a situation more suited to his shot making talents. As a 6’7, 200-pound forward, Nickel offers another big bodied floor spacing option who can knock down perimeter shots and flashes the ability to do much more.
Catch & Shoot Threat to Space the Floor
At heart, Nickel is a sharpshooting wing who plays a stationary role along the wing or the corner. He waits for the ball to swing to him and can often catch and fire with a quick release. Nickel has a smooth shooting stroke that’s free of any mechanical issues. He only shot the ball at a 22% clip from downtown but the volume wasn’t large enough for that data to necessarily matter.
Nickel will commonly spot up in either the left or right corner where he can take advantage of a defender that helps to stunt or double at the ball handler. Nickel showcased his ability to catch the ball at even an awkward angle and still get off his shot well in time to cash out from three.
The ease in which he shoots with is a strong indicator that he will be a better statistical shooter for his remaining years of eligibility with the Hokies.
In other clips, Nickel does a good job of holding his follow through until he sees the ball rip the chords of the net. Nickel is left open a lot of the time and that trend will more than likely continue to the start of his career in Blacksburg. Since he hasn’t proven himself at the ACC level yet, teams will leave him open.
However, with Nickel’s good shooting stroke, he certainly has the capability to make teams pay in the early going.
Flashes of a Dynamic Shooting Package
Nickel didn’t just knock down shots from stationary catch and shoot shots. He also flashed the ability to get buckets on the move.
Here, Nickel plays the role of the back screener in UNC’s Spain Pick & Roll play. The defense shifts to the other two players in the action which leaves Nickel open for the top of the key three which he drains. Nickel has good shot organization from top to bottom, especially with his feet before he releases the ball.
In this clip, Nickel starts the play out by fighting for an offensive rebound. Another Heel gets the ball so Nickel makes the smart read to space the floor out by drifting back to the corner. This high IQ movement off the ball is rewarded when Nickel gets the ball off the second chance opportunity. The pass is outside so Nickel steps out a foot to his right, re-sets his feet and swishes a comfortable corner three look.
In addition to movement shooting, Nickel had a couple plays where he took matters into his own hands and scored off the dribble.
In this play, Nickel looks to run a dribble handoff but the play is cut off by none other than Tech’s Sean Pedulla. Nickel promptly takes a sharp dribble to his left and has the space to fire up a long two over Justyn Mutts. Even with a good contest from Mutts, his shot is pure, proving some shot versatility is in the cards long-term for Nickel.
Nickel is involved in a multi-layered North Carolina set play here. He starts off by flashing at the elbow extended area after coming off a back screen set by Armando Bacot. When the pass isn’t made, he tries to set a back screen himself before relocating around Bacot for the ball off a basic down screen.
From there, Nickel and Bacot go into some two-man action where Nickel has the space to pull into a jumper. UNC plays a drop which Nickel is able to beat. Hitting shots like these consistently will be critical for Nickel’s collegiate development.
Finishing Around the Basket
Nickel’s shooting touch goes with him in situations other than just threes too.
For example, take this play where Nickel can’t hit the corner three but tracks down his own miss. Nickel plays heads up basketball by being the first to the loose ball. He attacks off the catch and dribbles once into the lane where he finds room to replicate his shooting form in the paint this time and not from behind the arc.
We’ve already seen a few plays where Nickel is moving well without the basketball. That trend continues in a clip like this. After handing the ball off to UNC’s now former lead guard Caleb Love, Nickel immediately runs towards the basket, coming off a back screen set by Bacot. Nickel catches the ball cleanly, feels his defender catch up to him and converts the layup at a tough angle.
Where else would the final clip be but Nickel’s new home in Cassell Coliseum.
North Carolina runs a typical ball screen action in which Tech's Grant Basile has to help off the wing to prevent the drive. Nickel corrals a desperate pass and has to drive into a thicket of Hokie defenders. Nickel is able to pierce through the lane, take a bump from Pedulla and finish through contact for an and-one layup.