Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Mike Conley Sidelined By Left Knee Strain

5:56pm: Conley could return sooner than two weeks, Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune tweets. His injury will be reevaluated when the Jazz return to Salt Lake City on Tuesday after the team faces the Clippers on Monday.

4:39pm: Veteran Jazz point guard Mike Conley will miss at least two weeks due to a left knee strain, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

The franchise is actually relieved the injury isn’t worse. Conley, who underwent an MRI on Sunday, avoided ligament damage during the non-contact injury that occurred after he played nine minutes against Portland on Saturday. Conley said he felt his leg lock up as he tried to get around a screen.

Conley is averaging 10.2 points and 7.9 assists per game for the surprising Jazz this season. He’s battled numerous injuries in recent seasons, though he was able to start 72 regular season games for Utah in 2021/22. During the six previous seasons, four with Memphis and two with Utah, Conley appeared in 70 or more games just once.

Collin Sexton figures to take Conley’s starting spot for the time being, though Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Malik Beasley and even Talen Horton-Tucker could see more backcourt time.

Jazz Notes: Horton-Tucker, Clarkson, Alexander-Walker, Vanderbilt

This year’s Lakers Night at Dodger Stadium included an unexpected surprise for Talen Horton-Tucker, writes Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. Horton-Tucker was at the ballpark for the August promotion when news broke that he was being sent to the Jazz as part of a trade for Patrick Beverley. The deal ended his time in L.A. just one season after re-signing as a restricted free agent.

A second-round pick in 2019, Horton-Tucker spent three seasons with the Lakers and earned rotation minutes during the last two. He won a championship ring in 2020 and said he learned a lot by breaking into the NBA on a team with so many established veterans.

“Just being able to be around great players, just coming into the league with an understanding of how to work hard, how to become a star in the NBA,” Horton-Tucker said. “Being able to be around them guys, I appreciate it. I appreciate (the Lakers), too. Just welcoming me with open arms, even (LeBron James) texts me to this day, wishing me luck and stuff like that.”

Unlike the Lakers, Utah isn’t built around stars, especially after parting with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell in offseason trades. Horton-Tucker believes part of the explanation for the team’s 7-3 start is that so many players are eager to show what they can do.

“I feel like guys are hungry to prove they’re good,” he said. “And I feel like we know that we’re good. We got NBA players. So we feel like we can compete with pretty much anybody. So being able to have a team like that, to have an attitude coming into games adds to everything else.”

There’s more on the Jazz:

  • After seeing Gobert and Mitchell moved, Jordan Clarkson thought he might be next to go, per Mark Medina of Clarkson prefers to stay in Utah, but adds that he doesn’t get fazed by trade rumors. “I don’t really care about that stuff,” he said. “I just come out and hoop. If I have another jersey on tomorrow, I’ll still try to impact the game and try to win.”
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker played fewer than eight minutes in Friday’s win over the Lakers, but he scored five important points and helped stave off an L.A. run, notes Tony Jones of The Athletic. In a season where he already has four DNPs, Alexander-Walker is learning the importance of taking advantage of whatever opportunities arise. The Jazz traded for him in February, but didn’t give him an extension on his rookie contract, so he’ll be a free agent in July. “I can’t worry about next summer until it gets here,” he said. “Nobody is promised tomorrow, so I think we all have to try and stay in the moment. I’m confident in myself and what I can do. I try to have a Kobe mentality on always being focused mentally. I have great agents that I put my trust in. So, I just want to come out and play hard whenever I have the chance.”
  • Teammates say Jarred Vanderbilt is a “maniac” in his approach to rebounding and compare him to Dennis Rodman, according to Sarah Todd of The Deseret News.

Jazz Notes: Sexton, Conley, NAW, Bolmaro, Strong Start

Jazz point guard Mike Conley has taken new teammate Collin Sexton under his wing and is helping him see the game in a new way, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. With 16-year veteran Conley held out of the second game of a back-to-back set, Sexton received his first start of the 2022/23 season in Saturday’s win over Memphis, recording 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four assists in nearly 32 minutes.

We’ll walk through, and he’ll be like, ‘Alright, what are you doing in this situation?’ And I’ll let him know, and then he’ll be like, ‘Well, in this situation, I think you should do this. Just try it,’” Sexton explained. “During the game, he’ll be like, ‘OK, you got to the basket — now let’s see if you can pitch [the ball] behind two or three times.’ And I’ll do it. And then he’s like, ‘Alright, now the next time, try to see if you can get all the way there [to the rim].’ It’s opening my mind to multiple ways of playing, and also multiple ways of seeing the game, too. I know he sees it from a different angle than I do.”

As Walden writes, the Jazz have been cautious not to overextend Sexton after he only played 11 games last season with a torn meniscus, which required surgery. He’s technically not on a minutes restriction, but that’s partly why he’s only averaging 19.0 MPG.

Sexton is eager to prove his worth after inking a four-year, $71MM deal as part of the Donovan Mitchell sign-and-trade with Cleveland, but he recognizes he’ll have more opportunities as the season goes on, per Walden.

Just giving [it all in] the time that I’m out there and just making an impact. And I might play four-minute spurts, so in those four minutes, giving it all I can, whether it’s pressuring the ball or pushing the ball and changing the pace of the game, whether it’s on the defensive side or offensive side,” Sexton said. “Just trying to use the little time that I’m given just to make sure that they know I’m out there, you know what I mean? Because I know once the season continues to go, more minutes, more time [will come].

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • Little-used guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker got an opportunity for extended run with Conley sidelined against the Grizzlies, and he showed that he can be a positive player when given the opportunity, writes Sarah Todd of The Desert News. Alexander-Walker played solid defense against Desmond Bane and Hardy was pleased with his effort, as Todd relays. “He came in with such a fire,” head coach Will Hardy said of Alexander-Walker. “He really got into the ball with Desmond Bane and I think he got two steals on the ball, just taking the dribble. He has really good instincts and really long arms and he did a good job of just trying to speed up their ball handlers, which I thought was great…It’s a difficult situation. He hasn’t played that much and he got thrown into a big game with Mike out, and I thought he handled himself great.”
  • Second-year guard Leandro Bolmaro, who recently had his third-year option declined by Utah, has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and is out for Monday’s game against Memphis, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic. Rudy Gay and Simone Fontecchio are still in the protocols. Rookie center Walker Kessler (non-COVID illness) has also been ruled out for the contest, according to Jones (Twitter link).
  • How have the Jazz gotten off to a 5-2 start? Tony Jones tackles that topic for The Athletic, concluding that the team’s depth, offensive pressure, floor spacing, and key adjustments from head coach Will Hardy have been instrumental to the surprising seven-game stretch.

No Extensions For Grant Williams, Cam Johnson, Others

Several notable fourth-year NBA players who were eligible for rookie scale contract extension agreements did not come to terms with their current clubs, and will now enter restricted free agency next summer with the extension deadline having passed.

Adrian Wojnarowksi of ESPN reports (via Twitter) that newly-promoted Suns starting power forward Cameron Johnson, Hornets forward P.J. Washington, and Celtics forward Grant Williams all failed to reach extension deals with their respective clubs.

With former Phoenix starting four Jae Crowder demanding his way out of town, it would have perhaps behooved the Suns to lock up Johnson to a long-term deal, but the team’s ownership situation could have made figuring out an agreement difficult. Williams had an erratic postseason for Boston during the team’s Finals run. Washington could get some additional run this season with the availability of forward Miles Bridges up in the air.

A source informs Christian Clark of (Twitter link) that Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes did not ultimately reach an agreement on a contract extension with New Orleans. Clark suggested that Hayes and his team would most likely resume negotiations when the big man reaches restricted free agency next summer, so it appears New Orleans does hope to keep him aboard.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets that Sixers swingman Matisse Thybulle similarly did not agree to an extension with Philadelphia, and is now set to reach restricted free agency in the summer of 2023. Thybulle is a terrific perimeter defender, but his offensive limitations impede his value.

Even though Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard and head coach Wes Unseld Jr. gave him positive preseason performance reviews, forward Rui Hachimura also will now enter restricted free agency in the 2023 offseason, reports Ava Wallace of The Washington Post (Twitter link).

Knicks forward Cam Reddish, the tenth pick in the 2019 draft, did not get an extension from New York, his second NBA team, The Athletic’s Fred Katz reports (via Twitter). Katz notes that an agreement was not anticipated. Reddish struggled to carve out rotation minutes when the Hawks traded him to the Knicks, even though the team was clearly lottery-bound near the end of the 2021/22 season.

Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link). reports that, in another anticipated move, combo guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker did not reach an extension agreement with the Jazz.

Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago writes that the Bulls also opted to not extend reserve guard Coby White, the seventh pick in the 2019 draft. Schaefer notes that, though Chicago considered trade offers for the 22-year-old out of UNC, the team eventually decided to not move him.

White will compete for minutes in a crowded backcourt that includes starting point guard Ayo Dosunmu and starting shooting guard Zach LaVine, plus reserves Alex Caruso and Goran Dragic. If Lonzo Ball returns from a recent knee surgery, he would supplant Dosunmu in the starting lineup, and further dilute White’s minutes load.

Here’s the full list of players eligible for rookie scale extensions who didn’t sign new deals before Monday’s 5:00 pm CT deadline:

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Jazz)
  • Darius Bazley (Thunder)
  • Goga Bitadze (Pacers)
  • Rui Hachimura (Wizards)
  • Jaxson Hayes (Pelicans)
  • Cameron Johnson (Suns)
  • Romeo Langford (Spurs)
  • Cam Reddish (Knicks)
  • Matisse Thybulle (Sixers)
  • P.J. Washington (Hornets)
  • Coby White (Bulls)
  • Grant Williams (Celtics)
  • Dylan Windler (Cavaliers)

Extension-eligible veterans on expiring contracts remain eligible to sign new contracts throughout the season, while extension-eligible vets with multiple years left on their contracts can extend their deals up until 10:59 pm CT tonight.

Though the roster deadline has passed and every team is in compliance, that doesn’t mean there will be no additional moves tonight and tomorrow before the games begin. That said, in general, team rosters are set with the 2022/23 season set to tip off on Tuesday.

Luke Adams contributed to this report.

Northwest Notes: Towns, Dort, Alexander-Walker, Hyland

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns is back in practice after being hospitalized for a non-COVID illness, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Anthony-Towns still hasn’t fully recovered his voice and will be eased back into action, but expects to be ready for the season opener.

“I’m still recovering, I’m still getting better,” Towns said. ” I know it sounds weird I’m talking like this, but this is as loud as I can get. This is as much as I could give you.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Thunder guard Luguentz Dort sustained a concussion during Sunday’s practice and has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol, according to a team press release. Dort, who was limited to 51 games last season, signed a five-year, $87.5MM contract in July and projects as the team’s starting small forward.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker appeared in 15 games with the Jazz last season after being acquired in a three-team deal. He has made a strong impression early in training camp as he attempts to solidify a rotation spot, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News writes. Alexander-Walker, who could be a restricted free agent next summer, believes his development has been stalled by playing under different systems. “It’s hard to develop under five different coaches in four years … I think it’s safe to say that in all four years I’ve had a different role and it’s not always clear what that role is,” he said. “I’m still trying to understand that and understand how I can get better.”
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t happy with the performance of Bones Hyland in Monday’s preseason opener, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post“Bones has to do a better job of running his team, and when things aren’t going your way, keep playing,” Malone said. “I thought he took some plays off, which is unacceptable.” Hyland took the criticism well. “He came in here (for Tuesday’s practice) ready to work, ready to get better, and he owned it,” Malone said. “He didn’t come in here feeling sorry for himself. That’s a big step for him.”

Western Notes: Nowell, KAT, Dinwiddie, Jazz

Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell is hoping to take advantage of a more consistent role in 2022/23 after the Rudy Gobert trade created the potential for additional playing time off the bench, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

With the trade that happened, it definitely opened up a lot of opportunity for me,” Nowell said. “It’s my job to make sure I don’t take that for granted, I continue to get better as a player, and whenever I get on that court just be the best version of myself.”

Nowell, 23, averaged 8.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG and 2.1 APG on .475/.394/.783 shooting in 62 games (15.7 MPG) in ’21/22. He’s entering the final season of his non-guaranteed contract, which will pay him $1,930,681. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, but he says he’s not focused on that.

I definitely just try to keep that to the side,” Nowell said, per Hine. “Because I think if I’m focusing on that, I’m not doing my part as a teammate. So, you know, obviously it’s coming up. It’s just part of this business, but at the end of the day I’m focused on this year and how good we can be this year. I just want to be the best teammate and be the best player I can be so we can all succeed.”

Here are a few more notes from the Western Conference:

  • Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch is hopeful Karl-Anthony Towns will be able to start “low-level” basketball activities early next week after missing training camp practices with a non-COVID illness, Hine relays in the same story. The three-time All-Star will slide down to power forward this season with Gobert’s addition, though he’ll almost certainly play some center when Gobert rests. Minnesota will feature one of the biggest starting lineups in the NBA in ’22/23.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie says he’s no longer worried about his ACL injury, which he suffered in late December 2020, per Dwain Price of “It’s a normal offseason, full training mode, not worried about swelling or taking a break, or two days on and one day off,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s let’s get to it.” After starting seven of his 23 games with the Mavericks last season, the 29-year-old will replace Jalen Brunson as a full-time starter in ’22/23, Price notes. “I don’t really see myself filling Jalen’s role per se,” Dinwiddie said. “There were a lot of games (last season) I finished games, there were games I played without Luka (Doncic) and without JB, and where I started games as well. But in terms of the mentality, green means go. Go make plays and try to win the game.”
  • Fourth-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and a trio of rookies — Ochai Agbaji, Walker Kessler and Simone Fontecchio — are impressing the Jazz during training camp, writes Sarah Todd of The Desert News. “Nickeil is a very, very skilled, diverse offensive player,” head coach Will Hardy said. “He has good size, is a very good passer, he can put the ball in the basket. When he’s open and he shoots, I think it’s going in. He’s just really shown a confidence throughout open gym and training camp that I think has been really, really great for our group. His presence when he has the ball, sort of settles everybody down and he has been awesome.”

And-Ones: BIG3, Canada, Hezonja, Coaches

Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer, Jordan Crawford, Jonathon Simmons, Norris Cole, Festus Ezeli, and Jordan Hill are among the many former NBA players whose names are in the BIG3 draft pool for the 2022 season, per the league’s official website.

The BIG3 will hold its draft on Wednesday evening in Los Angeles as it gears up for the coming season. As we previously relayed, the first games of 2022 are scheduled for June 18 and this will be the first year in which the BIG3 holds an All-Star Game.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Northwest Notes: Vanderbilt, Murray, Barton, Alexander-Walker

Jarred Vanderbilt played 25 minutes on Wednesday, but the Timberwolves forward is still bothered by a left quad contusion, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune tweets. Head coach Chris Finch said Vanderbilt, who is listed as questionable to play on Saturday, is closer to 70% than 100% and he’ll remain on a minutes restriction.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Jamal Murray‘s practice with the G League Grand Rapids included some live work but he still must overcome some hurdles before he makes his season debut, coach Michael Malone told Mike Singer of the Denver Post (Twitter link). The Nuggets guard was assigned to Grand Rapids early this week and is expected to report back to the NBA team on Saturday.
  • Nuggets swingman Will Barton has missed opportunities to play in the postseason due to injuries and he’s hopeful that will change next month, Singer writes“That’s really all my focus is on is just staying healthy, trying to play good basketball and getting ready for the playoffs – something I’ve been looking forward to my whole career,” he said. “And I haven’t been able to be in there healthy. Now I have the chance if everything keeps going well.” Barton, who is signed through next season, is averaging 14.7, 4.9 RPG and a career-best 3.8 APG.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker has looked sharp while getting extended playing time this week, Tony Jones of The Athletic writes. Alexander-Walker had 13 points and five assists against the Clippers on Friday after a 16-point outing against Chicago. The Jazz also believe Alexander-Walker, who is eligible for a rookie scale extension this offseason, can be a defensive factor off the bench.

Jazz Notes: Deadline, Alexander-Walker, House

Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said he looked at many possibilities ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, but ultimately decided that trading for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juan Hernangomez was the best move for the group, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Zanik still believes Utah can compete for a title this season, when healthy and connected.

I feel really confident in the amount of information we knew about the market and what was going on. And every opportunity that came our way, we were able to look at and understand and make really good decisions from where we stand as a team,” Zanik told reporters. “We’re a very competitive team. When we’re healthy, when we’re connected, we have a chance to contend for a title. … I’m excited about this group. We want to make a bet on this group. We have proof of concept with this group.”

Alexander-Walker has been very inconsistent to this point in his career, but has flashed upside at times as a versatile shot-creator. As a third-year former first-round pick, he’s eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer. If the sides can’t come to an agreement, he’ll become a restricted free agent in 2023, if Utah tenders him a qualifying offer. The possibility of team control on a young player appealed to the club, Zanik said.

We look at those opportunities whatever our timeline, in terms of the competitiveness of our team, whether we’re a young, rebuilding team, or a playoff-competitive team, or we’re trying to be a championship-contending team,” Zanik said. “It’s not just, ‘What are we doing for the next four months? What are we doing for the next year?’ Nickeil has a chance to be here on a multiyear timeline, and you always have to have a chance to add some of those guys.”

Here’s more on the Jazz:

  • When asked by a reporter if the team considered trading a future first-round pick, Zanik said everything was on the table to improve the team, but the opportunity cost wasn’t worth it with the deals that were available, as Walden relays. “There’s always a value proposition of the assets that you have, and that goes for future picks. … This trade deadline window, we investigated every possible situation and the value coming back: Can it make us better? Can it definitively make us better? That’s a high bar with this group because we’re really good,” Zanik said. “… There was just not anything definitive that reached a bar, whether using a future first or not.”
  • Alexander-Walker spoke to coach Quin Snyder about his role with the team, and he recognizes that his role will be different with Utah than it was in New Orleans, per Walden. “Really helping defend, being a good perimeter defender. Giving that good spark off the bench defensively, and allowing the offensive end to come,” Alexander-Walker said. “The team’s full of great guards and All-Stars, so my role is not to be that spark plug of scoring.”
  • Zanik said Danuel House brings a lot to the table for the Jazz, which is why the team opted to sign him to a contract for the remainder of the season after multiple 10-day deals, as Ryan McDonald and Sarah Todd of The Desert News relay. “His activity level, the ability to defend, his ability to make a shot — we wanted to give him a shot and he has integrated seamlessly within this group … when he was still available and we got through the deadline, it made sense. He’s done well with his opportunity and we’d like to see it continue,” Zanik said.

Northwest Notes: Ja. Green, Beasley, Jazz, Muscala

Nuggets forward JaMychal Green, one of the team’s top remaining trade candidates, showed his value on Tuesday night, pouring in 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting in just 17 minutes, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Green and his $8.2MM cap hit could be necessary if Denver makes a move for a small forward, but the veteran suggested after Tuesday’s game that he’s not worried about being the subject of trade rumors.

“I’m still getting paid, man, first and the 15th,” Green said with a laugh, according to Singer.

Of course, Green has reason not to be concerned. The contract he signed in the offseason gives him the ability to veto a trade, and Singer has reported that the 31-year-old likely wouldn’t approve a move to a non-contender. That will increase the level of difficulty for the Nuggets as they consider their options today.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Timberwolves wing Malik Beasley, the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks, said this week that his preference would be to stay in Minnesota. I’m just working hard and doing what I gotta do, whether I’m here or anywhere else,” Beasley said (Twitter link via Dane Moore). “I’d rather be here, but it’s a business, so you can never know what can happen.”
  • Tony Jones of The Athletic takes a look at how Nickeil Alexander-Walker will fit in with the Jazz, writing that the third-year guard represents a low-risk, high-reward addition to the roster. Utah isn’t necessarily done dealing, but has been reluctant to add a first-round pick to its trade offers, according to Jones, who adds that it remains to be seen whether newly-acquired forward Juan Hernangomez will remain on the roster for the rest of the season.
  • Thunder big man Mike Muscala will be sidelined through the All-Star break due to a right ankle injury, per head coach Mark Daigneault (Twitter link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman). Muscala is knocking down 42.9% of his threes this year and could theoretically be a trade candidate, but his ankle issue will hurt his value and Oklahoma City seems to like having him around anyway. Muscala has been in OKC since 2019.