Why did Timberwolves need to extend Nickeil Alexander Walker?

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Minnesota Timberwolves chose not to exercise their option to extend wing Nickeil Alexander-Walker with a qualifying offer for $7 million for one season, the fear of the Timberwolves losing a young and promising prospect on the whim of creating salary cap space for the upcoming 2023 NBA Free Agency market spread rapidly among Timberwolves fans.

Of course, the Timberwolves were not done with NAW just yet, a point made even as the young wing found himself unexpectedly heading for NBA Free agency. In the end, all’s well that ends well. The Timberwolves did extend Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but on a two-year deal that is far less costly on a per-year basis.

But now, in the aftermath, we should ask ourselves the basic question. Why did Timberwolves need to extend Nickeil Alexander Walker? So, with a Timberwolves roster already set with starters, what role can NAW possibly hope to fill in the rotation?

Floor spacing

With the Timberwolves committing to center Rudy Gobert living in the paint and building around the hard-driving scoring of star shooting guard Anthony Edwards, the first qualification for players to be (re-)added to the team is the ability to space the floor.

While his career accuracy at perimeter shooting stands at just 33.9 percent, he managed to score 38.4 percent of his perimeter shots for the Timberwolves. That is punctuated even further in the per-game analysis when NAW was one of the most accurate perimeter scorers off the Timberwolves bench last season. No need to replace someone you can simply re-sign.

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Dominating defense

At the onset of the 2022-23 NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves clearly did not have enough capable wing defenders. That was a result of the team shedding five players after the NBA Draft to acquire center Rudy Gobert, and then being forced to sign additional veterans after the fact. While Timberwolves President Tim Connelly signed familiar players, many of them simply did not meet expectations.

On the other hand, when the Timberwolves added wing Nickeil Alexander-Walker at the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline, he proved to be far better than the brochure. Not only did he add a nice long-range shot, but he was a motivated and impenetrable defender who loved to lock down his opponent.

Playoff tested

I don’t think that any NBA team can go wrong with adding and retaining players whose best production occurs during the postseason. How well did NAW do for the Timberwolves in the 2023 NBA Playoffs? After appearing in just 23 regular season games for the Wolves, Alexander-Walker started four of the five NBA Playoff games in Round 1.

While his production was not elite enough to make the NBA Playoffs highlight reels, he was a smothering defender who loved to clog the Denver Nuggets’ passing lanes. This year,  after a full regular season competing with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I expect to see an even better level of production from him in both the regular season and the NBA Playoffs.

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In the end, we can sum it all up in three words. Why did Timberwolves need to extend Nickeil Alexander Walker? He’s that good, that’s why.