Newly-acquired Alexander-Walker gives Timberwolves a needed boost

The Timberwolves led Utah by 10 points early in the fourth quarter at Target Center back on Jan. 16.

Over the next few minutes, the contest was turned on its head — specifically by Nickeil Alexander-Walker. A reserve guard for the Jazz, Alexander-Walker dished out two assists, including a transition lob from halfcourt, and scored five points, a triple from the top of the arc and a layup in which he blew by then-Wolves guard D’Angelo Russell.

That spurt played a large role in the Jazz tying the game and, eventually, beating Minnesota 126-125. At the time, it felt like another unforgivable collapse for the Wolves. How could you let a little-used reserve guard spark such a comeback?

But as Wolves fans see now, Alexander-Walker has game.

Initially a forgotten piece of the deal that sent Russell to the Lakers and brought Mike Conley in from Utah, Alexander-Walker is proving to be a valuable piece in Minnesota’s new rotation. In Saturday’s shootout win over Sacramento, the 24-year-old finished with 16 points, five assists and zero turnovers. He buried four triples while providing Minnesota with additional perimeter defensive tenacity and ball-handling capabilities.

Since cementing his spot in the rotation over the past five games, Alexander-Walker is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range while recording four assists for every turnover committed.

An afterthought, he is, no longer.

“I think it’s just been great to come in and they’ve been giving me confidence and they’ve been boosting me up to just be myself,” Alexander-Walker told reporters Saturday.

That extends from Timberwolves coach Chris Finch to director of player programs Moses Ehambe to the entire Wolves’ roster.

“To be the new guy, it’s not about stepping on toes, it’s about doing what you need to do,” Alexander-Walker said. “We want to win, we want to get better. We’re trying to make a push. Being in an environment like that is going to give anyone confidence.”

That confidence is delivering results. Alexander-Walker’s emergence has solidified Minnesota’s wing rotation. With he and Taurean Prince coming off the bench, Finch has a pair of two-way wings who can fit into just about any lineup.

Anthony Edwards told reporters Alexander-Walker has been playing “out of his mind.”

“I was talking to Mike (Conley) about it, Mike was like, ‘All he do is work,’ ” Edwards said. “He’s just been waiting for his moment, and he got it and he’s showing up. So, we happy for him.”

When he was first dealt to Minnesota, Conley said Alexander-Walker’s main flaw may have been an insistence on perfection. There wasn’t much else not to like.

“When he gets his opportunities,” a prophetic Conley said, “he’s going to make the most of it.”


Minnesota has made Alexander-Walker’s life simpler by asking him to focus on the defensive end. Anything offensively, the former first-round pick noted, is just a bonus. That approach seems to have freed up his entire game.

Now, the guard is putting his best foot forward. And, heading into restricted free-agency this summer, he’s making a strong early case to be a long-term part of Minnesota’s plan.

“I’m grateful. I love the organization, I love being here,” Alexander-Walker said. “For real, I can’t express it enough. I feel like I was saved.”

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