Nickeil Alexander-Walker may be Wolves wonderful wildcard this year

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Minnesota Timberwolves added shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the return for trading away veteran point guard D’Angelo Russell, I was too quick to gloss over his upside. After all, the Timberwolves added a more suitable veteran point guard in Mike Conley Jr.

And the Timberwolves add a trio of future Round 2 NBA Draft picks to spend later. Those draft picks were too sparkly to resist. Conley was just too vital to ignore. But shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker seemed to be a bit superfluous. After all, the Timberwolves already had drafted a similar player in rookie Wendell Moore Jr.

And yet, the Timberwolves sought him out, added him to the trade package, and put him to work almost instantly.

Oh Hell Naw, NAW delivers better than the brochure

Nickeil Alexander-Walker was not struggling through his first NBA season. Actually, by the time he arrived to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nickeil Alexander-Walkers was finishing his fourth season in the NBA.

He showed rapid development when he arrived at the New Orleans Pelicans, as his role and production increased rapidly.

Unfortunately, his growth was stunted a bit in his chapter with the Utah Jazz.

After arriving on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster, some events seemed to pivot NAW back to a positive direction. For starters, the Timberwolves did not hesitate to toss him onto the basketball court and give him minutes. Even though he was unfamiliar with his teammates, he showed a lot of fortitude on defense and was more than expected as a perimeter sharpshooter.

Playoff push and beyond

While he only played an average of just over 15 minutes per game, he showed up in 23 games for the Timberwolves as the team made its final playoff push. He played so well late in the season that the team turned to him to start in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs in place of the injured SF Jaden McDaniels.

NAW stepped up his game admirably, which was a bit of a surprise due to his recent arrival. Even his offense synched up, and he made 40.0 percent of his three-point shots in post-season play.

Now the Timberwolves have a full season to tinker with the 6-foot-5 205-pound 3-and-D from Toronto, Canada. While the Timberwolves have already set the five starters and will likely lean on veterans off the bench like Naz Reid, Kyle Anderson, Shake Milton, and Troy Brown Jr, Nickeil Alexander-Walker remains a bit of a wildcard for the Timberwolves. And that is wonderful news.

While not viewed as a heavy scorer, NAW can generate over 10 points per game, while supplying smothering defense. Perhaps best of all, he will have a full season to find his true niche for the team. Will he come off the bench to shut down opponents’ rallies? Will he come into games to spark the Timberwolves own offense? Or will he be the occasional spot starter to give veterans a rest on the numerous back-to-backs this season?

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However the Timberwolves find ways to get him onto the basketball court, he will deliver. After all, that’s what makes him the Wolves’ wonderful wildcard this year.