A year in the NBA can do wonders for a young player.
In the right situation, he can gain experience and wisdom from a well-prepared coaching staff, while savvy veterans give the more hands-on experience and mentorship that are valuable especially given how tough the league can be.
Whether or not the Minnesota Timberwolves have the most conducive environment for player development remains up for debate, but Anthony Edwards continues to thrive and build on an otherwise solid rookie season. The 20-year-old has formed a potent trio with Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell and when all three play together, the Wolves are 18-11 on the season.
His progress and that of Minnesota were on full display in a 112-110 road victory over the New York Knicks. Edwards finished with a team-high 21 points, but his biggest contribution to the win was when he connected with Towns on the go-ahead basket.
Edwards understood that the right play in that situation was to give it to the person who would put the team in the best position to score and win the game. The first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft thus handed the ball to his fellow top pick from the 2015 NBA Draft, who took advantage of the soft defense by scoring and drawing the foul.
It will likely be a play that will get lost in the many events in his and the Wolves’ 2021-2022 campaign, but that play points to how Edwards can help impact the game beyond his unquestionable ability to score.
The following night, Edwards easily eclipsed the 20-point mark again against the Atlanta Hawks and was likely in for another big night, but his ejection with 5:57 left in the third quarter prematurely ended his night. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time as the Hawks were in the midst of a pivotal 25-7 run that carried them to a 134-122 victory.
Of course, Minnesota will first and foremost count on Edwards’ scoring as that was mainly why the Wolves selected him over the likes of LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman. Apart from having the center and point guard positions locked down with Towns and Russell, respectively, Edwards’ ability to get points in the paint and from the perimeter will only make things easier for his teammates. The way he mixes sheer power and finesse has made him a tough cover on offense, especially when he gets momentum off the dribble or in transition.
The former University of Georgia Bulldog can also take on some lead guard duties, and he has spent time at that spot this season aside from his usual perimeter roles and occasional foray as a power forward. This allows Wolves head coach Chris Finch to deploy lineups with multiple guards and with Towns’ ability to shoot, these can potentially be five-and-out lineups that can further stretch the floor and allow for more driving lanes.
The playmaking aspect of Edwards’ game will continue to be a work in progress, but the strides he has made belie the 3.2 assists he has averaged over his career. His drives to the basket will be more unpredictable especially with his growing tendency to find open teammates on the perimeter or inside the paint.
Edwards’ pass to Towns for the go-ahead basket against the Knicks won’t count as an assist, but Finch and the rest of the Minnesota coaching staff should continue to encourage this kind of playmaking activity, especially if it will give the 2020-2021 NBA All-Rookie First Team selection even better offensive opportunities in succeeding possessions. That level of engagement will also keep him focused and prevent unnecessary miscues that can shift momentum or prove costly in a close game.
To his credit, Edwards is not a defensive albatross and his nose for the ball extends to this side of the court. His 2.1 percent steal percentage this season is at par with his teammate Patrick Beverley and his effort has also contributed to the Wolves forcing a league-best 16.9 turnovers a game. The Atlanta, Georgia native won’t be assigned to primarily defend the opposing team’s best player, but he won’t be the main target of opponents when trying to exploit Minnesota’s defensive liabilities.
The maturation process continues for Anthony Edwards, but the early returns have so far seen positive developments in his scoring and in other aspects. His reputation as a scorer-first will likely remain, but the rest of his game is coming along nicely.