At some point during Wednesday night’s Minnesota Timberwolves game, it became clear that the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t have a prayer of guarding Anthony Edwards.
The Pelicans, mind you, boast plenty of perimeter defenders ranging from good to elite in caliber, including one of the absolute best in Herb Jones. It didn’t matter. Edwards scored a game-high 37 points on 25 field goal attempts, damn good efficiency despite receiving the majority of New Orleans’ defensive attention.
It wasn’t the jumper — Edwards made four of his 10 3-point attempts — or any fancy ball handling maneuvers that drove home the futility of the Pelicans’ efforts, though. It was the fact that nobody on the roster — and increasingly fewer players in the NBA, for that matter — could keep Edwards in front of them when he decided to get to the basket.
Edwards’ stretches of unstoppable scoring came during the times he wasn’t settling for jumpers. Unsurprisingly, he was 7-of-11 on field goals when attacking the rim and 5-of-14 on jump shots for the night.
He got the ball rolling with rim attacks, which were two of his three made field goals to start the night. Seven of his eight shots from the 4:45 mark in the second quarter to 9:46 in the third were rim attacks. He went five-of-eight during that stretch, and the rhythm he built helped him to make two straight threes immediately thereafter.
In contrast, he went jumper-heavy during the transitions between the first two quarters and the final two quarters. Combined during those times, 12 of his 14 shot attempts were jumpers, and he went 4-of-14 from the field.
This game exemplified better than any that Ant getting downhill is the best thing for his jump shot efficacy. It was also a great showcase for his improved ability to read and orchestrate the game.
Most impressive was the way Edwards controlled pace — namely, by speeding it up to a tempo only he can reach. On multiple occasions, including his blistering finish to the second quarter, he pushed the ball forward to get easy looks when the unsuspecting Pelicans weren’t set in their defense yet.
That these looks didn’t come solely on all-out fast breaks is encouraging. We know Edwards is dynamic enough to knife through any defense that isn’t fully organized. The key is that he recognized when he had his chances even in pseudo-transition, when less explosive players would think better of driving into the teeth of a defense that could collapse on them.
Edwards also did well to be opportunistic in the half court. He was quick and decisive when he saw a lane available to him; he almost seems too eager in the third clip, fumbling the ball in anticipation before looping around Jones and finishing with touch over Jonas Valanciunas.
Whether he’s probing with his dribble or attacking a closeout on the catch, Edwards’ first step is just deadly. It’s at least one of the five best in the NBA right now, and it means there’s always the chance he can get something going toward the basket, no matter how stagnant the possession has been to that point.
One more added benefit of Edwards’ unstoppable driving is trips to the free throw line. Six of his 10 free throw attempts came off rim attacks where he didn’t show the slightest flinch when taking contact. (His split of the double team in the second clip made me lean back in my chair and chortle when I saw it live, by the way.)
The best scorers in the league get a significant share of their points from the line. Edwards’ capability for breaking down the defense should be a ticket to plenty of whistles as he learns more tricks of the trade.
It’s hard to ask Edwards to repeatedly push himself into the paint, where he already doesn’t get a favorable whistle, over and over again while he’s the sole offensive star with Karl-Anthony Towns out. That style is physically draining and will leave him with bumps and bruises. It’s also the biggest advantage Minnesota has, its only game-breaker.
This isn’t to say Edwards needs to cut jumpers out of his game completely. Rather, this is a request to limit the extended periods of games where he allows the defense a breather and takes himself out of rhythm by only hoisting jumpers.
It’ll be difficult and demanding, but the more Edwards puts pressure on the basket, the better the Wolves will be.