The 2022 second-round pick out of Duke spent his first year with the Knicks, largely the Westchester variety before getting a few minutes after the Josh Hart trade left New York needed wing and guard depth.
Keels joins Vit Krejci and Daishen Nix as a fringe roster additions to the back-court in preparation for training camp opening on Friday. The clear commonality between these three additions is their ability as big guards. It seems the Wolves have placed an emphasis on adding that skillset.
Keels is the fifth Big Guard™ the Wolves have signed to a deal this summer/fall.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) September 25, 2023
• NAW is 6-5, 205 pounds
• Shake Milton is 6-5, 205 pounds
• Vit Krejci is 6-7, 195 pounds
• Daishen Nix is 6-4, 226 pounds
• Trevor Keels is 6-4, 221 pounds
All 5 can handle it and play make https://t.co/EoHi583jOD
When we talk about the Maryland native, we need to start with his time at Duke and his decision to declare for the draft after his freshman year there. In Keels’ first game as a Blue Devil, he took personal favorite TyTy Washington and eliminated him from Kentucky’s game plan entirely. Although a battle between the two in 2023 is not as impressive as it was then, for an unheralded Keels to take an expected lottery pick and completely lock him up set the standard high for the year.
Keels’ freshman year was one of typical success and deflating failure. Duke’s year ended against the UNC Tarheels in the National Championship Semifinal. Keels was the second leading scorer that game, scoring 19 points on 14 shots while former and now-current teammate Wendell Moore Jr. took the same number of shots but scored a mere 10 points. Keels entered as a strong point of attack defender and created a great pairing with the aforementioned Moore Jr. while gradually developing his slashing ability and grit to finish in traffic, which enabled him to find more success off the ball.
Here’s former ESPN Scouting Analyst and current Portland Trail Blazers Assistant General Manager Mike Schmitz on Keels:
Trevor Keels just turned 20 years old last month. It's just a training camp look, but he's still got a ton of room to growpic.twitter.com/4t4OkTxlhu— Leo S (@Y0Leo) September 25, 2023
If Keels had gone back for another year at Duke and had played alongside their multi-big lineups (hint hint) and developed his shotmaking ability (another hint hint), he may have gotten the first round pedigree he chased when he left school early. However, his rushed transition to the NBA resulted in a less than ideal non-guaranteed contract and two career games played. This feels more like a second draft opportunity than a simple depth signing.
If this is, in fact, just a chance to steal a prospect that Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly is interested in, then let’s take a look at what the notes were on Keels before he wore an NBA jersey.
Daniel Schulmann of the Hoops Prospects described him as an “excellent secondary playmaker...solid base with broad shoulders which he utilizes as a driver... lacking awareness, he is consistently blindsided.”
Synergy Sports, authors of the prospect reviews shown on the official NBA site, stressed that he “could not always stay in front of dynamic ball handlers, he often compensated with multiple efforts...”
Bleacher Report, which is by no means the paragon of draft comparisons, compared him to Thunder forward Lu Dort and expected him to become a “strong rotational backcourt piece” and “quality NBA guard.”
As I’ve mentioned with the other two training camp acquisitions, there’s an incredibly small chance that any of these players spend significant time playing on the Timberwolves as opposed to the Iowa Wolves, but Keels reminds me of our beloved Naz Reid.
Reid entered as a former high school five-star with a phenomenal skillset, fascinating diversity in attacks, and growing understanding of playmaking and shooting as supplements to his game. Keels could be the subject of that exact same sentence without producing a lie. Reid’s tragic flaw as a prospect was his 14% body fat percentage and not pro-ready body. Keels had a similar problem, sitting at 13.5%. Naz managed to slim down and become arguably the best backup big in the entire National Basketball Association. Setting that standard for Keels is unfair, but it has happened before.
Keels will join the Wolves at training camp from the outside looking in, with point guard responsibilities already likely split between Mike Conley Jr., Shake Milton, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, with Jordan McLaughlin looking to reclaim a spot in the rotation. However, Naz Reid joined a roster behind Karl-Anthony Towns, James Johnson, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jarred Vanderbilt and has outlasted all but one.
Training camp begins on Friday, September 29, before preseason opens on Thursday, October 5 against the Dallas Mavericks in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.