The Minnesota Timberwolves have strung together a strong first few weeks of 2023 and it has pushed them back into the playoff race in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves, who have been playing without Karl-Anthony Towns since he strained his calf in late November, were 11th in the West with a 16-21 record at the end of December. It looked like they were ready to tailspin straight into the lottery at that point, but the turn of the calendar has seemingly sparked their resurgence.
Minnesota has gone 7-4 so far in January thanks in large part to third-year swingman Anthony Edwards who has embraced the added usage that has come with Towns’ extended absence. The first overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft already has three 30-point games in 2023 and has scored at least 20 points in nine out of the Timberwolves’ 11 games this month. On the season, he is averaging 23.7 points on 45.7% field goal shooting, six rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.7 steals which are all career-highs.
The impressive thing about Edwards’ recent play is that he has managed to maintain his offensive output despite shooting only 42.7% from the field this month, down from his season average of 45.7%. The dip in his shooting numbers can be partially attributed to the extra defensive attention that he has received in the absence of Towns, but this kind of attention is likely to become the norm for the 21-year-old as he continues to mature into a bona fide superstar.
Edwards has managed to keep his scoring numbers up through his free throws. He has upped his free throw attempts to 5.3 per game this year from 3.8 and 3.9 in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, respectively.
What is even more encouraging is that he has made strides in his free throw percentage too. A career 77.6% free throw shooter, the 6’4 Edwards is hitting 90.0% of his free throws this January. This is crucial for his development since his drive-heavy game is conducive for drawing fouls and, if he can sustain this shooting clip, it will help him maximize the opportunities that he creates for himself.
The improved free throw shooting of Edwards was on full display in Minnesota’s latest win–a come from behind 128-126 thriller over the Toronto Raptors. Edwards shot poorly from the field, converting only five of his 16 field goal attempts, yet he still managed to score 23 points as he made 11 of his 12 free throws.
Furthermore, he also added seven assists which is another facet of his game where he has shown notable progress this season.
The reinvigorated play of the Timberwolves has improved their record to 23-24 which puts them in a four-way tie with the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers in seventh to 10th place in the Western Conference. They are only four games behind the third place Sacramento Kings though they lead the 13th seed Los Angeles Lakers by only two games.
It will not be easy for Minnesota to secure a spot in the play-in tournament for the second consecutive year, though if Edwards can persistently produce at this level, then they should have a legitimate chance. He may also generate legitimate buzz over the coming weeks for inclusion in his first ever NBA All-Star game if he continues to keep the Timberwolves in the hunt.
The eventual return of Towns, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks, should give Minnesota a boost as well.
Things may not be perfect for this Timberwolves team at the moment, especially when considering all of the draft capital that they gave up this past offseason to acquire Rudy Gobert, but the exciting play of the up-and-coming Edwards is a reason to hope that better days are on the horizon for this team.