Timberwolves free agent focus: Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a lot of work to do this offseason, and some of the more complex but most rewarding actions involve resolving the future of their 2022-23 players who are no longer under contract to play for the Timberwolves in the 2023-24 NBA season. One such player, who arrived alongside PG Mike Conley Jr. in the trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers, is surprisingly effective SG Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

And folks, I am here to tell you that Nickeil Alexander-Walker has some very serious upside. Plus, he is relatively affordable. And as far as the Minnesota Timberwolves free agents this season, that sets him apart.

He is the ‘other guy,’ the sidekick in the trade that brought PG Conley, and I admit that I saw his inclusion in that trade more as a salary cap counterweight than as a promising young player. Thankfully, I was wrong. For starters, Minnesota Timberwolves fans love the guy:

And why shouldn’t they? After all, the guy arrived and instantly was put to work in the rotation. That’s a very tough spot to be in, but Nickeil Alexander-Walker delivered. Perhaps the most unique contribution from the player who saw action in just 28 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves is the fact that, due to the injury to SF Jaden McDaniels, NAW was asked to step up for the Timberwolves and start in the NBA Playoffs. Not only was he able to do so, but he upped his game significantly for the Wolves.

Why Timberwolves may not re-sign Nickeil Alexander-Walker

While we may all be in agreement that NAW should return, there are both practical and strategic reasons why that may not be a priority for the team. On the practical side, the Timberwolves are squeezed right now for the funds to extend SG Anthony Edwards, and SF Jaden McDaniels, re-sign backup center Naz Reid, and re-sign other free agents to the Timberwolves roster.

On a more strategic side, the veteran Alexander-Walker was more capable and therefore bumped rookie wing, Wendell Moore Jr., down in the rotation and depth chart. Whether or not to bring back NAW may depend on the confidence that this team has in Moore as well. Will Moore step up next season? The answer to that may dictate how the Timberwolves roster is constructed.

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Why Timberwolves should re-sign Nickeil Alexander Walker

The toughest goal for any NBA team’s front office is not to find talented players. The rarest and most difficult goal is to find players who get stronger as the level of competition increases. Clearly, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was able to up his game for the Timberwolves in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Need proof?

Jazz 2022-23: 14.7 MPG | 6.3 PPG | .488 FG% | .402 3P% | 1.6 RPG | 2.1 APG | 0.7 SPG | 0.4 BPG
Wolves 22-23: 15.5 MPG | 5.9 PPG | .388 FG% | .361 3P% | 1.8 RPG | 1.4 APG | 0.3 SPG | 0.3 BPG
Wolves P/offs: 29.6 MPG | 8.4 PPG | .429 FG% | .400 3P% | 2.0 RPG | 1.4 APG | 0.6 SPG | 0.2 BPG

While some of the improvement can be attributable to his playing time, Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s shooting accuracy improved measurably as well. And keep in mind that this all developed over the span of just a fraction of a season’s number of games.  So what should the team do?

Recommendation: Re-sign

The versatility of NAW was on full display as he was able to perform at or above expectations for the Timberwolves in two positions. And he has the type of defensive chops that gives Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch a comfort level in sending him onto the floor.

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Bringing NAW back really isn’t a matter of if. This one is a matter of when.