Much like Draft Night 2009, Ricky Rubio seems to be the popular topic among Timberwolves fans in 2020. That’s not a knock. Rubio has been a longtime fan favorite and there hasn’t been much for fans to be excited about since his departure.
Somewhat lost in all this euphoria is the fact that the Timberwolves had the first-overall pick in the draft. As we know, the team chose Georgia guard Anthony Edwards — he’s far from a sure thing, but still worth talking about. If that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think of Edwards as a Timberwolf is nervousness or excitement, you are feeling something.
The questions surrounding him are extremely valid...
“Will he shoot?”
“Can he defend?”
“Does he even like basketball?”
Shooting and defense are things teams can teach, to a degree, but a player who lacks effort is concerning because that’s solely up to them. No veteran mentor or assistant coach is specifically in charge of simply simply motivating any player. It’s up to the individual player to engage themselves night in and night out — and not everyone is up for that type of challenge. While I’m cautiously optimistic with Edwards for these reasons, I’m eager to see what he does. At 6’5” and 230 pounds, he has the physical tools to play defense. His foot work in the lane is pretty good and seems like a decent player.
The first selection in the 2020 NBA Draft this past Wednesday night left me with several thoughts regarding the pick, so let’s break down the biggest ones:
Anthony Edwards is not Andrew Wiggins
My second season as a credentialed media member was Wiggins’ rookie year. Over the roughly 5.5 years from then until the team traded him, I was there for many of his post-game interviews and media days. When people compare the two players because of their effort issues, it doesn’t quite add up to me. I can’t pretend to know either Edwards or Wiggins personally, but their public-facing personalities seem very, very different.
Wiggins was always respectful, but very soft-spoken. His answers were just long enough to answer your question, which is fine. Like Edwards, Wiggins says the right things but seldom backed those words up. Who knows if Edwards will but he’s young enough and should be motivated. Edwards’ personality seems a little bolder and more natural than Wiggins.
This isn’t a knock on either player as a person. While they may share a common red flag, it’s important to remember they are different people. While both players are young, Edwards has even more time to improve his reputation.
Edwards does watch basketball, just not casually
Earlier this week, Edwards drew headlines for saying “he can’t watch basketball” and went on to rave about his enjoyment of football. It’s easy to be taken aback by these comments but the more you read of the article and watch him breakdown his own film, you see what he means.
In a film breakdown with ESPN, you see how Edwards can recall various scouting reports off the top of his head. He identifies why what he did was good or bad and what he could have done differently. You don’t learn these things without putting in your time watching film. If he simply means he’d rather watch Thursday Night Football instead of Inside the NBA on Thursday, that’s okay.
Despite not watching much basketball for fun, Edwards clearly impressed the Timberwolves brass during private workouts, as evident by this latest (and greatest) reporting from our own Jon Krawczynski:
For now, those are only possibilities, the kind of best-case scenario wishful thinking that permeates draft rooms across the league this time of year. But more than anything Edwards did in that practice gym during the one-on-one visit, it was a decision he made that really caught Rosas’ attention. As the workout started, Edwards’ trainer included some shooting drills with midrange jumpers mixed in.
“He stops the workout and tells the trainer, ‘Minnesota’s system is different. We’re not taking those shots today,’” Rosas said. “That was him on his own, unprompted. He gets what we’re doing here. He values what we’re doing. That’s what excites us. He’s a young guy who needs a lot of support, needs a lot of development and needs more experience. But he’s an incredibly intelligent young man who understands what’s going on and he’s willing to work to be a very special player in this league.”
Edwards also likes basketball
I’m aware these last two thoughts are not comforting reactions to a team’s draft choice. They could very well be proven wrong over time.
One thing became clear in Edwards’ post-draft interviews: he’s been in the gym working on his game — a lot. He said that once quarantine hit, he could focus entirely on basketball. One aspect Edwards said he’s worked on is his catch-and-shoot ability.
Tom Crean, his college coach, added that while Edwards may not sit around casually watching basketball for hours on end, you can likely find him in the gym for hours working on his game. Of all the players Crean has coached throughout his career, he says Edwards was one of the few who would go back to the gym after games.
Early morning at the office. pic.twitter.com/xmG2F4FXyF— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 20, 2020
Obviously, the proof will be in the pudding here. It’s clear when someone has or hasn’t put in the necessary work. Hopefully the extra time Edwards has had the past eight months to work on his game will become apparent over time.
One of Edwards’ heroes is Jimmy Butler, who once spent a month carrying a football everywhere and even played catch with Kyle Rudolph at U.S Bank Stadium when he arrived in Minnesota. No one questions Butler’s dedication because we see his effort and we know that he’s working on his game. Yet, when people think you’d rather be playing football and you don’t care, it’s going to take time to overcome that reputation.
Edwards’ honesty is appreciated but...
One amazing thing about the draft process is how often Edwards admits he hasn’t always played up to his potential because his effort level has been inconsistent. On Wednesday, he told assembled media that he knows the importance of giving his all each time on the floor and that it’s what the great ones do.
Honesty and self-awareness are nice, but it’s amazing his media coach hasn’t drilled it into him to not casually confess to not always trying. The reputation is already out there and repeating it doesn’t seem to help the player and even the team. Instead, talking up the things he does that refute those negative beliefs could be beneficial.
Edwards actually wants to be in Minnesota
This may come as a surprise but most of these prospects didn’t grow up watching Kevin Love in a Timberwolves uniform dreaming of playing at Target Center. However, many players warm up (no pun intended) to the city once they have lived here for a while.
This isn’t the case with Edwards, who stated many times that he’s ready to get in the building and get to work. Edwards specifically mentioned Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Josh Okogie, Malik Beasley, Jarrett Culver and Ricky Rubio as reasons for his eagerness.
It sounds like Rosas and Ryan Saunders wooed Edwards in the interview process, comparing the meetings to a college recruitment. The team laid out their vision for Edwards year-over-year and what they thought he could do. Being able to visualize the team’s plan energized and motivated him even more, he said.
Edwards enters with less pressure
Normally, the first-overall pick bears the burden of being the face of the franchise. That won’t be the case for Edwards with Towns and even Russell in Minnesota. There’s no doubt Edwards will still have high expectations that, fairly or unfairly, come with his draft slot. As long as he and the team are improving as the season goes on, that’s likely going to be a successful season for the team.
Can Edwards play small forward?
It was the summer before Derrick Williams’ second NBA season. Williams was telling anyone who would listen that he was going to play the 3 or small forward position next season. Then-coach Rick Adelman was asked on television what he thought of Williams playing at the 3 next season.
Adelman’s answer? Something along the lines of “How should I know, he’s never played the position before” in a way that sounded like “I don’t know why he’s so confident about this when he’s never done it and seems like a bad idea.”
Bringing this back to Edwards, he felt confident he could play at spots 1-3 if he had to. I didn’t watch enough Bulldogs basketball to know where Edwards played on the wing, but that’s college, and the NBA is going to be a different story, at least right away.
Edwards definitely ran the offense when the team’s starting point guard went to the bench, but Adelman may have left one other nugget of wisdom relevant to Edwards wanting to branch out already. Adelman was adamant in Williams rookie year about not moving him around too much and playing him primarily at one position to focus his development.
The Wolves may be wise to do the same with Edwards and build confidence in one role before advancing to another.
Edwards can envision a good fit with Towns and Russell
You almost always want to draft for best player available rather than fit. The Timberwolves were fortunate to select a player who could be both with the first-overall pick. This could save the team (and the fan base) a lot of grief.
Edwards spoke enthusiastically about his fit between Towns and Russell. He says that his time at Georgia taught him to play without the ball, a likely skill he’ll need in Minnesota. Crean made this a point of emphasis from day one and it may certainly pay off for his former recruit.
He’s already envisioning pick ‘n’ roll and pick ‘n’ pop plays with Russell and working as a cutter with Towns. This is a great thing since you can never have too many ball handlers. Being able to play off-ball reduces the potential for the logjam the Timberwolves have in the backcourt.
We won’t have to wait long to see Edwards
Hope is never more bountiful than media day or after the draft. It’s wise not to get swept up in sweet-sounding quotes that don’t amount to much more than lip service. The good news is we will see Edwards on the floor sooner than later with training camp beginning in less than two weeks.
There are certainly red flags with Edwards, but there are also many reasons to like the pick, too. While it sounds odd to say about a No.1 overall pick, Edwards was really the home run swing in the 2020 draft.