Anthony Edwards should be getting ready for March Madness. Having turned 19 years old in August, Edwards is six weeks younger than Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, a candidate for first overall pick in 2021. While one of these players is prepping for the tournament, the other is growing as an NBA player.
If you checked out on the Minnesota Timberwolves (no judgment) early in the season, Edwards has improved each month he’s been in the league. Through six games in March, Edwards is averaging 28.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.
Against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, Edwards put an exclamation point on this hot streak in a big way. The former no. 1 overall pick dropped 42 points, nabbed seven boards, and dished three assists. He is the third-youngest player to have a 40-point game. Combined with Karl-Anthony Towns’ 41-point performance, this was just the second time two Timberwolves each scored 40 points in one game in franchise history.
There were many things Edwards did in his performance in Phoenix that he was not doing in December or January. Maybe it’s him growing into his game or Chris Finch has quickly unlocked him, but either way Edwards is far removed from the player he was at the beginning of the season. Let’s look at a few of the plays that stood out from his big game on Thursday.
Defenses figured out early on that Edwards wanted to drive the ball. The adjustment was to press up on him to force him to take a contested 3 or pass. Surely but slowly, Edwards has adjusted and figured out what to do in these situations.
Mikal Bridges knows Edwards will shoot this, especially with a few feet of space as he catches the Rubio pass. Bridges, a good defender, winds up forcing Edwards to use Towns’ screen on Dario Saric. Now, Edwards gathers a head of steam as he turns the corner to drive baseline for the dunk.
(Note: Jae Crowder makes a business decision here and gets out of the way. The veteran takes no chances of winding up in an Edwards Top Shot.)
A Running Back Turned Shooting Guard
Did you know Anthony Edwards played running back as a football player? Based on the way he uses Naz Reid’s screen like a blocker, you could have guessed that. Anyway, the use of the high screen here is great for allowing Edwards to gather momentum into the open lane.
Making Towns’ Life Easier
One of the early criticisms of Edwards was that he was too focused on scoring. This wasn’t an invalid critique since Edwards’ non-points counting numbers were underwhelming. Edwards often tried to make plays for teammates and seemed to try to make the right decision. Yet, he would do things like initiating a dribble hand-off with Ricky Rubio at the 3-point line with three seconds on the clock. The intention was there, but the timing was wrong.
In the above clip, Edwards begins in isolation against Bridges before Chris Paul helps from the corner. As Edwards probes the defense, DeAndre Ayton also helps over. Edwards has nowhere to go but sees Towns now open for the 3-pointer.
When Edwards is rolling, he makes Towns’ life much, much easier. In another play, Towns rebounds an Edwards miss, is immediately swarmed by two Suns, but Edwards runs to the basket to get the pass for the easy bucket. Other times, Towns may have had to rise up over two defenders because his teammates would stand on the perimeter. When you have two great players, they should work together to ease the other’s burden.
Making It Happen For Himself
Remember when Anthony Edwards had effort concerns? Edwards’ effort has not been an issue this season. Players who fall asleep without the ball don’t do things like this. Edwards follows the play and remains in a position to affect the play. He’s rewarded with an open pass and enough room to launch for a dunk.
Edwards did things like this many times. It seems like he understands what other young players often don’t — you have to go get the ball. NBA teams won’t always call plays for a player and the best players know to put themselves in a position to receive the ball anyway. If Edwards can continue this level of activity, he can make a difference in the league.
Eager For What Comes Next
The fun thing about Edwards at this stage in his career is not knowing what will happen next. Edwards has worked his way up from a young reserve off the bench to surefire NBA starter. Sure, his defense needs a ton of work and the team still owns the worst record in the league, but one step at a time.
What’s evident is Edwards already has NBA skills and tools and is steadily improving. It feels like the sky is the limit for the player who set and broke his own career-high in scoring in the same week. The last time the Timberwolves had a young guard this dynamic may have been Stephon Marbury. Edwards’ performance in Phoenix may have been only the beginning.