As a result of the three-team trade that brought veteran point guard Mike Conley Jr. to the Minnesota Timberwolves and sent PG D’Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Timberwolves also landed a 24-year-old Canadian wing named Nickeil Alexander-Walker who was waiting for the perfect opportunity to spread his wings and showcase his true potential that landed him in the NBA.
Although he has been traded five times in total since his draft in 2019, it doesn’t speak negatively of his playing ability, as NAW has proven to be a “core” piece of the trade. You see, NAW shared time with Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch’ when they were both associated with the New Orleans Pelicans.
With this, NAW still had to ease his way into the rotation. Thankfully, both Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and Coach Finch saw what everyone sees now when they look at the Walker. They immediately recognized his hustle and two-way ability as just too good to be stuck on the bench. And so, in his fourth official game with the Timberwolves, NAW had 24 minutes to showcase himself, and so he did, with 13 points and three rebounds, alongside some great defensive work.
Through 16 games where he played more than 20 minutes (which is the number of minutes that I expect him to get throughout the season), Nickeil averaged 15 points, 4 rebounds, and the top half of the league in defensive rating.
But just 16 games are in fact a small sample size. But we did see more of the same in Round 1 of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, where we finally got the starting role after starting small forward Jaden McDaniels’ hand injury
Nickeil Alexander-Walker didn’t buckle under the spotlight. While his numbers might not wow anyone, the impact on the defensive end was even more felt through these five tough games against the NBA Champions, the Denver Nuggets. Having the Michael Porter Jr. assignment most of the series, we see his impact directly through the box scores, scoring above his season average (18 points per game) only once. Meanwhile, NAW’s own performance improved.
In the upcoming season, the bench has been improved and Jaden McDaniels should be back in the starting lineup when he recovers. That adds a bit of uncertainty to NAW’s position in the rotation. However, I predict that he will absorb many of the minutes vacated by F Taurean Prince (around 23 per game). And beyond that, I believe that he is a truly better defender and will be able to score just as much as Prince this season.