As an aggressive on-ball defender, Timberwolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker is constantly straddling the line between fouling and playing allowable physical defense.

In Saturday's preseason game against the Knicks, Alexander-Walker was on the wrong side of that line more often than not — officials whistled him for five fouls in 17 minutes of playing time.

When the fifth-year pro went to talk to the officials about some of his calls, he got an answer he wasn't quite expecting — he said the officials told him it was preseason for them, too.

"I'll let them warm up right now," Alexander-Walker joked after Monday's practice.

If the preseason is any indication, Alexander-Walker will be in constant communication with the officials because he will often be on the floor guarding the opposing team's best scorer.

The Wolves have not had their projected starting lineup available for each of their first three preseason games, with No. 4 on tap for Tuesday night at Target Center against the Israeli team Maccabi Ra'anana.

Anthony Edwards missed the first game as he was battling ankle soreness, and Jaden McDaniels has missed the last two because of what the team has said is a minor left calf strain.

On all three occasions, Alexander-Walker got the start. It underscored how the Wolves feel about the 6-5 Canadian, who came to the Wolves in the D'Angelo Russell-Mike Conley trade in February. His defensive presence and versatility to play any number of positions have made him an integral part of how the Wolves want to play.

After filling in the starting lineup for an injured McDaniels in the Wolves' playoff series against Denver, the Wolves will be giving significant minutes to Alexander-Walker in their rotation. It has been quite the ascent for Alexander-Walker, who needed time to crack the rotation after the trade and seemed adrift in his career in New Orleans and Utah before landing in Minnesota and getting a new two-year deal this summer.

He followed his playoff success for the Wolves with a strong summer in helping Team Canada to a bronze medal in the FIBA World Cup, and now he said he's ready to keep building on the success that has come since last spring.

"My mentality, now more than ever, has been right," Alexander-Walker said. "... I'm doing the right things, and I know that these guys are behind me and I'm in a position that I have support and trust and opportunity."

The Wolves know what Alexander-Walker, 25, can bring defensively, but a big factor in his ability to stay on the court and keep earning minutes will be how he fits in on offense. Even though his shot doesn't have textbook form, Alexander-Walker shot 38% from three-point range a season ago. That marked a dramatic improvement from 31% the previous season. He averaged 6.2 points per game.

Coach Chris Finch, who was an assistant when Alexander-Walker was in New Orleans, said Alexander-Walker has learned more of who he is as an offensive player in the league.

"When he first came into the league … he wanted to always play with the dribble, go somewhere and try to do things, and he got himself in trouble doing that at times," Finch said. "But now he uses his shooting. He's a high-level shooter. Has a great high release so he can always get it off on people. Now, he's using that to set up the rest of his game, which is really smart."

Alexander-Walker said in those earlier years he was "eager, naïve, stubborn," but at some point he learned to trust what he does well and not overdo it on the floor. That experience, the work he put in and his talent finally combined with the opportunity the Wolves gave him last season, and now he is in perhaps the best spot of his career.

"You play the game so much, you start to worry about really nothing," Alexander-Walker said. "You don't really need to worry. You just trust in the work, keep working, keep going and it's going to turn around and it's going to be in your favor. You just got to weather those storms and be ready."