“The Minnesota Timberwolves whiffed on the first overall pick.”
“Anthony Edwards is an inefficient chucker who doesn’t contribute to winning.”
“The 19-year old rookie is just another good-stats-bad-team player.”
These tropes have been spewed for months now, and they continue to be a fabrication of reality. Sure, early in the season, these notions weren’t completely off base. Edwards had flashes of brilliance, but he was generally a losing player. He struggled to finish at the rim, had a problematic shot selection, and was a negative on defense. Like nearly every rookie in the history of the NBA, Edwards wasn’t a winning player.
As we rapidly approach the end of his rookie season, the national perception of Edwards has failed to change radically, unlike his game. Pundits are willing to acknowledge he’s been better as of late but continue with the played-out tropes that expose their lack of knowledge, roster, and situation. Like almost everything in life, context is vital.
It would be wonderful if Edwards ends up winning Rookie of the Year, but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really care. LaMelo Ball has been spectacular, and both are deserving recipients. What I do care about, though, is Edwards’ season being accurately and adequately represented. I freely admit that he struggled at the start of the season, but he’s done something all season that isn’t always consistent with rookies: he’s improved.
The argument against Edwards, besides the inefficient scoring, has been that both halves of the season matter. For some reason, though, those making this argument refuse to acknowledge Edwards’s post-All-Star break emergence, further exposing that they assigned the award back in January and haven’t paid a lick of attention to the Timberwolves since then. Honestly, I don’t blame them because the Timberwolves were painful to watch in the first half of the season; however, Edwards’s environment has drastically changed with an unequivocally positive coaching change and a roster that has returned to nearly full health.
In the pursuit of transparency, it would be remiss of me to ignore Edwards’s pre-All-Star break numbers. Edwards averaged 14.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. These numbers, on the surface, aren’t too shabby for a teenager. Unfortunately, Edwards shooting 37.1 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from three was less than ideal. To exacerbate the situation, Edwards’ true shooting percentage of 46.6 was well below the league average of 57.2, his effective field goal percentage of 43.4 was barely in shouting distance of the league average of 53.8, and his net rating of -8.3 ranked 394th among players who played over ten minutes a game.
Despite being a freak athlete who should put unrelenting pressure on the rim, Edwards was only shooting 48 percent inside ten feet. He was also shooting a ghastly 25.9 percent on pull-ups. While Edwards always projected to be a dynamic scorer, the role he was quickly thrust into was the worst-case scenario for him coming into the season. Edwards was given an irresponsibly long leash because of injuries. Before the All-Star break, Edwards only played in four games and a total of 21 minutes with both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell on the court. When you take the two best players off of any team, the roster is going to struggle. When you take them away from an inefficient rookie who needs guidance, the results, as we saw, can be disastrous.
The flashes were exciting, but the early returns were concerning. At this point of the season, everyone, outside of loyal Timberwolves fans, tuned out and wrote Edwards’s rookie story in pen. Thankfully, everything surrounding the Timberwolves changed.
The hiring of Chris Finch has certainly helped Edwards refine his offensive game. The frequency of Edwards’s shots within ten feet has increased by four percent, and the frequency of shots where he was tightly guarded (defender within four feet) dropped by three percent. These aren’t drastic changes, but they are a sign of growth and that Edwards is adapting from his bad habits.
The even more notable change to Edwards’s environment, though, was the return of Towns and Russell. Since the All-Star break, these three have shared the floor for a total of 265 minutes across 18 games. They have a plus-minus of 26, an offensive rating of 120.3, and a net rating of 4.8. Reintegrating two offensive dynamos like Towns and Russell will obviously help any offense, but Edwards has taken individual leaps as well.
Since the All-Star break, Edwards is averaging 23.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.4 steals. A teenager having that level of production is incredible, whether it is efficient or not. This is the point where all the pundits who tuned out two months ago break out their advanced numbers in a futile act of retaliation.
Since the All-Star break, a 34-game sample size, Edwards is shooting 45.4 percent from the floor on 18.7 attempts and 35 percent from three on 8.1 attempts. He also has a true shooting percentage of 56.4 and an effective field goal percentage of 53. For comparison, Paul George has a TS% of 59.8 and an EFG% of 55.7 on 17.6 attempts, and Khris Middleton has a TS% of 58.6 and an EFG% of 54.4 on 15.9 attempts.
For some reason, Edwards continues to be labeled a high volume, inefficient chucker when in reality it just isn’t the case anymore. His shot selection has improved, his decision-making has improved, his scoring efficiency has improved, and his impact on winning games has improved.
Edwards likely won’t win the Rookie of the Year, and that’s fine. What is unacceptable, though, is a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Edwards’s rookie season. Edwards has dealt with coaching turnover and significant roster absences. Instead of folding or being adversely affected, Edwards continued to improve. He never hit a rookie wall. He incrementally improved his game despite the tumultuous environment that only the Timberwolves could produce.
Before slandering Edwards’s game or spew nonsense of how he is undeserving of the award, understand the context. Realize how he was unflappable in a situation we’ve seen plenty of NBA vets cave to. Recognize that the inefficiency arguments are outdated and factually incorrect. Anthony Edwards is proving and showing his superstar potential. So, if you want to slander and diminish a teenager who plays his best with a chip on his shoulder and is built like a freight train from Hell, be my guest.