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Nickeil Alexander-Walker, traded to the Timberwolves about a year ago, didn't hold back when asked what was going through his mind at the time.

"I was terrified," he said. "I was terrified."

He said it twice for full effect.

There was a lot in his head. Alexander-Walker wasn't playing regular minutes in Utah, a rebuilding team, and now was going to a team with playoff aspirations. How could he possibly crack its rotation? The average NBA career is just over four years, and here he was in Year 4, getting traded.

"If I'm one in a million to make it here, what makes me so different that I get to stay here?" he wondered.

He was also coming to play for Wolves coach Chris Finch, an assistant in New Orleans during Alexander-Walker's rookie year. He was afraid he'd left Finch with the wrong impression.

"I was very, um, strong-willed," Alexander-Walker said.

He needed to show a lot in the short time between the February trade deadline and the end of last season. But Alexander-Walker had already developed a habit that served him well in navigating turbulence: He began reading. A lot. All the time. Whenever he could.

"Even when he has his headphones on, he's got a book in his hand," teammate Mike Conley said. "I don't know how he multi-tasks."

On buses, on planes, at his locker before games. Five minutes here, 15 minutes there. A couple of chapters or only a couple of paragraphs, he will read and read and read. This, paired with a tireless work ethic, made Alexander-Walker ready to seize his opportunity in Minnesota, and now he has become an integral part of the Wolves rotation.

"I realized I was more at peace," Alexander-Walker said. "I realized that reading gave me more of a calm state and allowed me to be present."

What to read

The cerebral way Alexander-Walker approaches any facet of his life jumps out. He will sometimes pause before giving thoughtful answers in media sessions, and there's a purpose for everything the wiry 25-year-old does. When he reads, he sometimes takes notes on his phone.

In Utah, he "didn't want to waste my days away waiting on an opportunity." Instead, he wanted to prepare for it, and that led to reading, something he often saw his mother doing while he was growing up in Toronto.

"I have a brain that really likes to think, is always looking for some type of stimulus," he said. "Reading was something I could use to take my mind off basketball but also grow, develop and become a better person, a better human, more efficient, more in tune with myself, and just generally smarter."

Alexander-Walker decided that in moments when he would otherwise pull out his phone to scroll through social media, he would read.

"When you're following people and scrolling aimlessly, it just didn't benefit me," he said.

So he reads wherever he can. He will read during treatment sessions or for just a few minutes on a bus ride. He'll be at his locker stretching with an open book in hand. He doesn't like to read in bed, because that can cause him to fall asleep; he likes to be alert and open to receive what he reads.

He tends to consume the same subjects: self-help and motivation. From "Atomic Habits," he learned about the importance of input over output in daily life. From "The Subtle Art Of …" a popular book with a word in its title that can't be repeated here, he learned the importance of belief in a higher power. From other books on philosophy he learned the importance of letting go of self. This has been important for Alexander-Walker, who Finch said has had a tendency to overthink as a player. All these words he has put into his brain have helped him empty it, in a good way.

"All those things, I realized it was different wording to say you just have to do what you can do," Alexander-Walker said. "Do what you can do, control what you can control and then the rest will play out in your favor."

He also values his Christian faith. A Bible passage sticks with him, from Matthew, Chapter 25, that those who do not invest in what they've been given, even if they have little, will lose it.

"I looked in the mirror and I said, 'I could've done so much more with what I had in New Orleans,' " Alexander-Walker said. "Then it was taken away. Then I started from ground zero."

From New Orleans to Minnesota

Not everything that happened in New Orleans, where he spent parts of his first three seasons, was Alexander-Walker's fault. Finch said the coaching staff and front office had different visions of the player Alexander-Walker could become. He said Alexander-Walker got "so many mixed messages he didn't know if he was coming or going."

"Nickeil is now who I always thought he was going to be," Finch said. "The defense is better than I thought. But when we had him as a rookie, I always thought he was going to have this type of impact, be a spot starter, maybe a key rotation guy. Kind of a jack of all trades."

Added Alexander-Walker: "I had made it so far being eager, aggressive, wanting it and having that will, so I didn't think it was almost going to be my kryptonite."

Alexander-Walker said Finch preached to him to be patient, that his comfort level would grow.

Finch laughed when told Alexander-Walker was terrified when he was traded to the Wolves. To Finch, the trade was a great opportunity to mine what he had seen in Alexander-Walker.

"I didn't view him as like, a problem or a guy I didn't want to coach," Finch said. "In fact, I looked at it the opposite. What's there? What's redeemable at this point in his career? To be honest with you, it's the defense. Offensively, I always felt he was a really good secondary playmaker, that he needed to lean into … shooting more threes."

That's how he found his niche with the Wolves, defense and shotmaking. He steadily earned minutes, and when the Wolves were down Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels in the playoffs, Alexander-Walker stepped up. First, he had a great game guarding his cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in a play-in game against Oklahoma City that got the Wolves in the playoffs, then he made fellow Canadian Jamal Murray work for all he got in their series against Denver.

That led to a two-year deal and a regular rotation spot. The former Virginia Tech Hokie is averaging 6.7 points in 22.5 minutes per game.

"That security when you sleep at night, it would be very hard, very stressful," said Gilgeous-Alexander, a first-team All-NBA player last season. "... He was thrown in the fire, he was ready and played big minutes and then got an extension. Hat's off to him for sticking with it. He's super tough."

Time enough at last

When people have idle time on their hands, worry can creep in their mind. That, coupled with anxiety that can come from social media, can create an unhealthy headspace. It's a problem NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about addressing many times in his tenure. Alexander-Walker took the initiative on his own to change what he was feeding his brain. These books helped change the way he viewed the world — and how he viewed basketball.

There are parts of the game and life in the NBA that are out of his control, and while they might seem a simple lesson to learn, it's not always one players can accept. He learned to trust his ability and the work he has done. When he's on the floor, he tries to clear his head, and let muscle memory guide him.

"You let go of yourself, you're almost having an out-of-body experience … and it just takes over," Alexander-Walker said.

He is shooting 37% from three-point range, above his career average, plays regular minutes every night off the bench and has been a dependable sixth starter for the Wolves when someone has been out. For instance, he hit a number of key buckets late while filling in for a resting Conley in an overtime loss at Boston on Jan. 10..

"I just kept telling myself, 'Let go,' " Alexander-Walker said. "Stop trying to be [Mike's] replacement. Just let go and be in the moment, do what you do and it'll come."

That wasn't always easy; not while going through three teams, multiple coaching changes and fluctuating playing time. The trade deadline is Feb. 8 and is a tension-ridden time for many players, but Alexander-Walker is essential to what the Wolves are building this season. It would be hard to see them moving him.

"I think he can play in the league for a long, long time," Finch said.

Contrast that to where Alexander-Walker was about this time last year, how "terrified" he was that his career was slipping away. But it turned out, the trade wasn't the end of his NBA story. Just the start of another chapter.

"Whatever is my life now, enjoy it," he said. "Even the bad, because … at some point in time, I'm gonna miss this."