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What Anthony Edwards Can Do To Improve

Former No.1 overall pick Anthony Edwards has played less than one full month of basketball games. Let’s read too much into what we’ve seen so far.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The unknown is what makes high draft picks exciting and concerning. That is especially true for the 2020 NBA draft class. Not only are these guys teenagers, they went nine months without playing basketball. There was no summer league, months of workouts, or a full training camp to help acclimate them to the league. Before they learned all their teammates’ names, they were putting their jerseys on for their first games. That’s tough.

It seems like fans get antsy every time LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman do something. Ball had a triple-double by making shots that are normally out of his range. While Anthony Edwards has had his moments, good and bad, it is worth remembering that each player taken in the top-3 is supposed to be good. They are going to have moments and best not to get too high or low until there is a better sample.

Through the first 10 games of Edwards’ career (this was written prior to last night’s... whatever the hell that was), we’ve seen flashes of brilliance. The rookie seems to have a nose for the basket and his shot looks promising, although he has struggled from outside. Edwards also looks like a capable passer. It’s not like Edwards looks like a lost cause. There is something there.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Envisioning Edwards’ Future

Did you know that if the draft was held in June, like normal, Edwards wouldn’t have turned 19 years old until August 5 of last year? Edwards is so young that he is nearly six weeks younger than top 2021 draft prospect, Cade Cunningham. Despite his youth, Edwards is somehow already 6’6’’ and 230 pounds.

Because of his size, Edwards is better suited than most rookies for taking contact. Edwards currently averages 2.1 free throws per game and has a free throw rate of .157. Given Edwards’ physical profile and basketball abilities, he should get to the line way more often. At Georgia, Edwards had a free throw rate of .338 and took 4.1 shots per game.

Asking Edwards to get to the line one more time per game on average doesn’t seem like a big ask. In fact, Edwards takes a greater percentage of his shots at the rim (34.3 percent) than anywhere else. He’s currently making 60.9 percent of those shots. Nearly 45 percent of Edwards’ shots come within 10 feet of the basket, making 53.3 percent of them.

(Note: Edwards is just 4-for-14 from 3-10 feet.)

Edwards has the skills to get to the basket and is effective once he’s there. His efficiency plummets as soon as he gets away from the basket. It feels like he bails out the defense with many of his jumpers. If he didn’t have the size or ability to get to the rim it would be one thing, but he has both.

Grabbing more rebounds and dishing more assists are also important, as is his defense. Those things may improve as his role (hopefully) grows on this team. Right now, it seems like the Minnesota Timberwolves want him as a bench scorer.

Who Does He Remind You Of?

Many of you are going to be unhappy with me for saying this. While watching the end of last weekend’s first matchup with the Spurs, I marveled at how DeMar DeRozan sliced through the defense for layups or kick-outs to open teammates.

DeRozan may not be a sexy name but he is a good player who has had a great career. You would like him to shoot more 3’s and play more defense, but he has done both at different points in his career.

Why do I bring up DeRozan? For one, at 6’6’’ and 220 pounds, he has a similar stature to Edwards. DeRozan is also among the top-10 in free throw attempts per game at 6.7 per game. Look at those clips, particularly the first one, and it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility Edwards could do the same things. His footwork already looks solid for a rookie.

A big difference with DeRozan is that he got to rim at a much better rate (.379) as a rookie than Edwards is. Obviously, Edwards’ season isn’t over but he has a way to go. What’s important is that it seems likely he could get there someday. A big part of Edwards getting to the line less often is that he takes 43.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Few players are going to consistently draw fouls from out there.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Harrison Barden/Getty Images

Rookie DeRozan attempted .031 percent of his shots from distance compared to Edwards. Contrastingly, DeRozan hoisted 31.3 percent of his shots as rookie from 16-23 feet, far more than Edwards from the same range (0.06 percent).

This isn’t to say Edwards should cut out 3’s like DeRozan did, but he could show a similar level of discernment as DeRozan does now. DeRozan takes 2.6 treys per game and makes just under 40 percent of them. His 3-point rate of .173 is a career-high in his 12th NBA season.

Edwards doesn’t yet have the benefit of efficiency outside the paint yet, so foregoing some of those contested treys in favor of drives to the basket could help him improve as a player. Not everyone needs to be Klay Thompson, but Edwards seems like good enough shooter to consistently knock down good looks.

Many Ways To Develop A Prospect

While DeRozan started 65 games his rookie season, Edwards was been the spark off the bench. It’s clear that Edwards has the green light with the second unit. With DeRozan, he was sixth on the team in field-goal attempts per game. Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh, Hedo Tukoglu, Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon were higher than DeRozan in the pecking order.

Having that level of competition can be good. There is certainly something to be said for a player having to earn their shots among a roster of established veterans.

The problem is Edwards doesn’t have that infrastructure. The Timberwolves are the league’s youngest team. With Towns game-to-game, the team needs Edwards to make up some of that offense. So, we have 6-for-19 shooting nights from him and there will be nights he goes for 26 points.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley can’t play 48 minutes to take all the shots, though they may want to. Having a perimeter creator who can get to the rim and the foul line, especially in Towns’ absence, will be huge. Those high-percentage looks are valuable.

Edwards can still develop well in this role. The pitfall he wants to avoid is not growing enough in other areas. There are 450 players in the NBA and nearly all of them can get their own shot. What Edwards is going to do when that shot isn’t (and even is) falling will be important. Lockdown you man, set up a teammate, crash the glass, or whatever else it takes to impact the game.

When you consider that DeRozan was 20 years old and the youngest player on the team, it reinforces how much the Timberwolves are asking of Edwards. Edwards is playing about 25 minutes a night and is asked to help shoulder the scoring load already. That’s a big assignment considering his Bosh is on the mend from a wrist injury.

Is the DeRozan comparison perfect? No. Is DeMar DeRozan what you want from a No.1 pick? Probably not. Yet, if a DeRozan-type player is who he becomes on the way, that’s probably closer to the expectation. You could go extreme and say Edwards could be a Dwyane Wade type, but that's unfair (especially right now).

The talent is clearly there with Edwards but it’s clear he is young and inexperienced. He’s going to have good and bad nights — just like Ball and Wiseman — for those reasons. What matters is that he shows improvement not just over this season but over the coming seasons.

If Edwards becomes the best possible version of himself, that’s going to be a great player. For now, refining his shot selection, getting to the line more, and learning to impact the game in non-scoring ways are things he can do to improve.