Talented 2-Way Prospect Floated as Heat’s Next Developmental Project

Onyeka Okongwu Nickeil Alexander-Walker Wolves Hawks

Getty Onyeka Okongwu defends Nickeil Alexander-Walker during a game between the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jimmy Butler may be the beating heart of the Miami Heat on the court — with Bam Adebayo acting as his No. 2 and Erik Spoelstra masterminding their attack from the sidelines — but the team cannot be defined by any individual. Rather, it’s the organization’s overall culture that acts as its defining characteristic.

An important aspect of #HeatCulture is the club’s aptitude for bringing in castaways and reclamation projects and infusing them with a grit and a toughness that allows them to rise up and make their presence known on the hardwood in ways that didn’t seem possible before.

Such has been the case with the likes of Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and even Duncan Robinson.

For his part, Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes believes that another player could be plucked from the free-agent fray this summer and similarly elevated (perhaps even to levels beyond those of the aforementioned). Namely, Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard and former first-round pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

B/R: Nickeil Alexander-Walker an ‘Ambitious’ Free Agent Target for the Heat

Alexander-Walker, who averaged 6.2 points, 1.8 assists and 1.7 rebounds per contest with the Utah Jazz and the T-Wolves last season, was namechecked as part of B/R’s latest feature on “ambitious” targets in free agency for each of the league’s 30 teams.

It’s Hughes’ belief that the Heat could bring out the best in the baller, who’s still just 24 years old and has the physical profile of a lottery talent:

Traded twice in his first four seasons and facing the possibility of the Minnesota Timberwolves opting not to make him a $7 million qualifying offer, Nickeil Alexander-Walker already has the profile of a Miami Heat reclamation project.

So let’s send him to the ultimate “get right” destination and trust that Miami will harness the flashes of elite on-ball defense and eyebrow-raising offensive aggression the 6’6″ wing hasn’t yet put to use with enough consistency.

According to Hughes, some things would have to break Miami’s way in order for the franchise to land him but “the payoff could be immense.” This much is certain — there are real concerns that the Heat will need more bodies on the wing in 2023-24.

The Gabe Vincent-Max Strus Conundrum

Make no mistake, Vincent has been a revelation at the point for the Heat this postseason, averaging 13.1 points and 4.1 assists and connecting on 37.5% of his three-point tries through 15 appearances. Meanwhile, Strus has been a solid two-way wing for the last two years, averaging 11.1 points and 3.1 boards per contest and shooting 37.6% from deep.

Unfortunately, the Heat already owe more than $170 million in payroll next season before even considering new deals for Vincent and Strus, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents this summer. With that being the case, one would be hard-pressed to predict that both players will be back.

If one or both of them end up leaving for bigger paydays elsewhere, Miami could use a player like Alexander-Walker who can play on the wing and handle the ball in a pinch.

Opined Hughes: “Considering his draft pedigree (17th overall in 2019), there’s no reason #HeatCulture couldn’t turn him into the next Gabe Vincent or Max Strus.”

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