Timberwolves guard playing himself out of Minnesota's price range

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Two
Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Two / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

First, it must be addressed that Nickeil Alexander-Walker's contract doesn't expire until the 2025 offseason. The former 15th overall pick signed a two-year, $9 million deal with the Wolves a year ago, in the 2023 offseason.

Second, team president Tim Connelly made a fantastic move to bring Alexander-Walker back for two more seasons after acquiring the defensive-minded wing in the trade for D'Angelo Russell. Although veteran point guard Mike Conley Jr. was the deal's centerpiece, Alexander-Walker has proved to be more than a throw-in.

Alexander-Walker's first half-season numbers were modest after arriving in Minnesota via Utah. He contributed 5.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 15.5 minutes of action. Despite the modest production, the Wolves re-signed Alexander-Walker and immediately made him a part of this season's rotation.

The Virginia Tech product began the 2023-24 season how he ended the 2022-23 season—slowly. Alexander-Walker took his game to the next level once the calendar flipped. The defensive-minded guard has upped his point production every month since the new year began.

Now into the postseason, Alexander-Walker is playing the best basketball of his career. Thus far, the Minnesota wing is averaging 11.3 points, 2.8 boards, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.3 triples per contest. The coaching staff has entrusted Alexander-Walker with 29.5 minutes per game, the most of any reserve.

Aside from his all-around statistical contributions, Alexander-Walker's one-on-one defense has been indispensable. He's spent the majority of his minutes defending the opposition's best guard. In Minnesota's first series, Alexander-Walker defended Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.

In the Western Conference Semifinals, Alexander-Walker has defended Denver Nuggets' Jamal Murray for eight minutes. In his time guarding the star guard, he's forced Murray to shoot 3-of-7 from the floor. The wing's defense has aggravated Murray—causing the Nuggets' guard to lose control of his temper.

What's perhaps most impressive is Alexander-Walker's career progression. Nowadays, the Wolves' wing is known as a frenetic defender who can knock down 3-pointers at a high percentage. Alexander-Walker was essentially a low-percentage, volume scorer to begin his career.

The defensive-minded guard was a net negative throughout his time in New Orleans. It appeared Alexander-Walker's career was on the mend after being dealt to the Jazz in 2021. However, after arriving in Salt Lake City, Alexander-Walker's focus shifted.

In Alexander-Walker's first half-season in Utah, the Jazz were plus-4.5 points better with the wing on the court. Oddly enough, the former Pelican averaged a career-low 3.5 points per game, nearly a 10-point decrease from a season ago.

Since he arrived in Utah, Alexander-Walker has steadily recouped the value he lost after his first few seasons in the association. Fast forward to now, and the former first-rounder is outplaying his modest $4.5 million per year pact.

With improved efficiency and some of the stingiest perimeter defense in the NBA, Alexander-Walker's pay range has likely exceeded even the $10 million mark. The 3-and-D wing will likely command $15-plus million next offseason.

Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, the two-year pact he signed a season ago doesn't allow for "bird rights." The only financial constraint is a maximum contract under the bird rights provision. Alexander-Walker's contract does allow for "early bird rights," but this clause only allows for the Wolves to offer 175 percent of the athletic wing's current contract—roughly $7.9 million.

To make matters worse, the Wolves are projected to be more than $90 million over the salary cap in 2025 due to the bloated contracts of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Jaden McDaniels.

It's more likely than not that Alexander-Walker signs a contract similar to what ex-Nuggets guard Bruce Brown did in the 2023 offseason. Brown signed a two-year, $45 million pact with the Indiana Pacers that included a team option after the first season. Brown's contract was largely based on his excellent performance during Denver's championship run.

Alexander-Walker is just 25-years-old, entering his prime. By next offseason, the Minnesota wing will be 26. If Alexander-Walker's stellar play continues into next season, a sizable raise will certainly be in store for the Timberwolves' fan-favorite.