The Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday finalized a deal that sent starting point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers and netted point guard Mike Conley, backup guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and three second-round picks from the Utah Jazz, who received Russell Westbrook and a 2027 first-round pick from the Lakers.
To help paint us a picture of what we can expect from the newest Wolves, our friend James Hansen, site manager of SLC Dunk, gives his insight from covering Conley (and Rudy Gobert) for years and getting to know Alexander-Walker over the last year.
1) How have Conley and Alexander-Walker played this season?
Mike Conley has been a different player this season. It’s hard to say if some of that comes from him not being reigned in by Quin Snyder’s restrictive system or if he’s just playing at a higher level, but it’s clear he’s looking like vintage Mike Conley. You see that mostly in the assist totals. Utah has not been a good team when he’s been out. He should bring great versatility to the Wolves and also a connection to Rudy Gobert that was already established in Utah.
Alexander-Walker has had playing time when injuries allowed him to come in and he’s taken advantage of it when his number has been called. He also struggled in Quin Snyder’s system but WIll Hardy’s more open style has allowed him to grow, and he even solidified rotation minutes multiple times this year. I was actually surprised he was traded because he has consistently improved and I expected him to be the backup point guard of the future for the Jazz.
2) Why were the Jazz willing to trade them?
Long story short, the Jazz want to lose games. It makes no sense to go for the play-in with a young core that’s not ready to make a run for the title. Mike Conley has a partial guarantee next year but will likely not be on the team after that. Conley also helps them win too many games.
I was surprised that Alexander-Walker was dealt. It must have had to happen to make the trade work to appease the Wolves, I’m sure the Jazz were hoping to let him develop with the Jazz’s young core.
3) How will Conley help Gobert, specifically, and what might his impact be on the rest of his teammates?
Conley and Gobert already have a chemistry from back in Utah. Conley already knows how to use one of Gobert’s best offensive skills, setting screens. With the huge amount of space that Gobert provides, Conley is able to either get off his floater, or find Gobert at the rim for an easy score. It should translate right away to help the Wolves win more games this year. The other reason Conley helps is he doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s great at maximizing possessions and the ball only gets turned over when the defense makes a great play, not by his own mistakes. It’s a nice pickup for the Wolves.