TORONTO — When Leonard Miller was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves he knew he had a natural mentor in Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Miller made the Timberwolves' NBA opening day roster and was in Minnesota's lineup on Wednesday when they started their season in Toronto against the Raptors. Miller said before the game that Alexander-Walker, who is also from Scarborough in Toronto's east end, had been helpful throughout the pre-season.
"He's a great person, good heart, and I listen to him," said the 19-year-old Miller, sitting in the stands at Scotiabank Arena after morning shootaround. "Whenever I need anything from him, I don't hesitate to ask and he's really knowledgeable and he always helps me.
"I appreciate him for that. It's good that we're both from the same place."
Miller was selected in the second round, 33rd overall, of this summer's NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. The small forward was traded to the Timberwolves on draft night and made his summer league debut in Las Vegas on July 7. Minnesota signed Miller to a contract two days later, putting him under Alexander-Walker's wing.
Alexander-Walker noted that although there are a record 27 Canadians in the NBA this season, it's rare for two of them to be on the same roster let alone from the same part of the same city.
"He's my guy. I try to take care of him as much as I can," said the 25-year-old Alexander-Walker, a combo guard who made his NBA debut for the Timberwolves in Toronto on Oct. 22, 2019. "You don't really have that as much, especially for Canada, let alone Scarborough.
"So many people have tried to make it and haven't gotten this far but to share that experience with him, for him to have his first career game in Toronto, the same way I did, I mean, the story writes itself."
The Timberwolves are expected to make the NBA's post-season and maybe even challenge for a title. That deep a roster means that time on the court will be scarce for Miller.
"I'm not worried about playing time. I feel like that's going to come," he said after scrimmaging with Minnesota's final group on Wednesday. "I'm going to continue working.
"With hard work and dedication the minutes will follow but our team is good. I'm fortunate to come to a team like this."
Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said that it's "vital" for a young player like Miller to forge a bond with a more experienced player like Alexander-Walker.
"We kind of take it for granted that when guys get here at the age of 19 or something like that, that they have all the answers and they know which way they're trying to go. The reality is they just don't," said Finch. "As an organization, or as coaches, we can only provide so much.
"Of course, it's our job to give them guidance, but when they are able to talk to their teammates, that's probably the most impactful thing."
Whether he played or not, Miller was excited that his first regular-season NBA game would be in his hometown.
"What are the odds that I get to play my first ever NBA game where I'm from?" said Miller. "I'm glad to be here and I'm having fun. I have a lot of friends and family coming out tonight."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press