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Anthony Edwards Is Showing Significant Improvements In Larger Role

The Timberwolves rookie is putting together his best month so far while playing more than ever.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Young players are wildly unpredictable. Anthony Edwards is no exception.

On Tuesday night, Edwards put up 28 points in a loss to the Lakers. The following night, Edwards had just eight points on 15 shots in another loss to the Pacers. This week has certainly been a “two steps forward, one step back” stretch for Edwards. Yet, Edwards’ February play has been encouraging after a rough January.

Edwards has averaged 16.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 10 games this month. Each of these figures are more than he has averaged in either December or January. He’s currently outperforming his season averages in these categories.

There is no doubt Edwards is playing more. His 32.9 minutes are six minutes more per night than he played in his first two months. However, that is not necessarily why his production is better. Edwards’ 23 percent February usage rate is his lowest to-date. Producing more while using fewer possessions is a good sign.

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

What Has Been Different About Edwards?

One of the biggest things that stands out is his playmaking. Edwards dished out just 35 assists in his first 19 career games. He already has 34 in February in half as many games. Sure, his teammates could just be hitting more shots by chance but that may not be the only reason his assists are up.

Edwards showed a desire to look for open teammates early in the season but wasn’t quite comfortable in the role yet. It’s hard to know month-to-month where his turnovers come from on Basketball-Reference, but he’s cut them down from 2.1 per game in January to 1.2 per game in February. Not all of those are passes, but he’s playing more minutes while cutting down his usage and turnovers.

Doing other things besides scoring is going to earn a player minutes even when his or her shot isn’t falling. When Edwards was 3-for-15 from the field on Wednesday, he still had five rebounds, four assists, and only one turnover in 39 minutes. Edwards is probably not playing that many minutes if all he’s worried about is his getting his shots up.

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Edwards’ Shot Selection Is Back On-Track

Speaking of shots — it seemed like Edwards realized early in the season that few players could keep him from the rim. After a while, defenses figured out he wanted to drive, noticed his poor 3-point shooting, and made him settle for jumpers he didn’t want to take. This is when Edwards arguably looked the worst he has all season.

Edwards actually hasn’t stopped trying to get to the basket. I’ve understandably seen some observers complain about Edwards shying from contact, but it’s probably hard to see the upside in taking contact when you’re not getting the calls. This has anecdotally made Edwards more adept at avoiding contact and finishing.

Here are a few interesting Edwards scoring and shot selection trends:

  • 56.4 percent of Edwards’ shots were 2-pointers in December but rose to 59.2 percent in January to 61.5 percent this month.
  • More 2-pointers means fewer 3-pointers, as Edwards went from 43.6 percent of his shots coming from beyond the arc at the start of the season to 38.5 percent in February.
  • During Edwards’ “Rookie Wall” in January, he was scoring just 38.2 percent of his points in the paint. Comparatively, he scored 46.7 percent of his points in the paint in December and 48.8 percent in February.

Right now, the more shots Edwards gets in the paint, the better. The Lakers gave him a lot of good 3-point looks on Wednesday and he drilled five of them. That’s great and he should continue to take those types of shots going forward. But Edwards has been at his best when he’s getting to the basket. He’s still not taking many free throws, which is a shame because he’s an 80-percent free-throw shooter so far.

It would also be good to know exactly how beneficial Karl-Anthony Towns has been for Edwards. Packing the paint against the Timberwolves is difficult when Towns is out there stretching the floor and taking attention from Edwards. We saw especially in the Lakers game the open lanes Edwards had while Towns fired away from outside. The fact that the early numbers on Towns and Edwards together are decent is encouraging.

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Player Development Is Rarely Linear

The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves had a rookie of Edwards’ status, at least from a draft slot standpoint, was Towns. Towns didn’t have the valleys Edwards has but prospects like that are truly rare. Most players will struggle and make you question everything about them.

For Edwards, these first 10 games of February have been increasingly encouraging. The shot selection looks better, he’s scoring more overall, and making more plays for teammates while committing fewer turnovers. All of this while playing starters minutes for the first time in his career.

No, it hasn’t been perfect but Edwards has taken a massive step in the right direction so far.