Anthony Edwards had a picture-perfect summer.
From dominating the 2023 FIBA World Cup for Team USA to unveiling his new signature shoe with adidas and a mural in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, this off-season couldn’t have gone any better for the 22-year-old. The NBA community has fallen in love with Ant, and for good reason. Not many players who only have three years of NBA experience under their belt have been able to accomplish what Edwards has.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been searching for a franchise cornerstone for the better part of a decade. The team has needed someone with that it factor who can not only lead them to consistent postseason success. Karl-Anthony Towns has been Minnesota’s closest player to fit that description. However, the Wolves struggled to consistently win under Towns’ wing due to reasons such as unsustainably in the front office and improper roster construction and continuity around him.
Because of this, many are now calling the Wolves Ant’s team, and rightfully so. It’s crucial that Edwards blossoms into a bonafide superstar with the Wolves, but it’s equally as important that his co-star takes some of the pressure off his back and shoulders a nearly equal offensive load.
This isn't new information, but the fact that the Timberwolves were still able to make the playoffs and not get swept against the eventual NBA champions after enduring all of this is crazy to me:— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) October 2, 2023
• Brought in a franchise-altering player
• KAT misses 52 games
• D'Lo traded for… pic.twitter.com/P8oYvQmUTq
Edwards was asked to do a lot of heavy lifting last season. When Towns went down with a calf strain that ultimately kept him sidelined for 52 straight games, it was Ant who kept the Wolves above water. During the four-month span without KAT, the self-proclaimed Black Jesus averaged 26 points, six rebounds, and five assists on 46% from the floor and 38% from deep in 36 minutes. Edwards thrived as his team’s number one option and made it clear that he could lead a team to the postseason, but if the Wolves hope to build on that success this year, it will be vital that Towns can stay healthy and return to his All-Star self.
Pressure is to be expected for a player in Ant’s unique situation. He just came off the best NBA season of his young career, dominated overseas in the summer, and is now drawing comparisons to a young Micheal Jordan. However, during Minnesota’s media day last week, Edwards was asked if he felt any added pressure heading into the year. His response was quick, with all the praise going to KAT.
“Nah, not at all,” said Edwards. “I got Big KAT, who’s a superstar. He is going to be one of the best players in the league this year. He’s going to take a lot of pressure off me. I’m putting a lot of pressure on him.”
Minnesota’s offensive rating last season was 112.9 when Ant and KAT shared the floor and 115.0 when Edwards was in and Towns was out, according to PBPstats.com. This means the Wolves produced better offense without KAT on the floor. That makes sense, as the team had issues operating both before Towns went down (getting used to sharing the floor with Gobert) and after he returned from injury (attempting to get all players on the same page).
Looking back two seasons ago, the Wolves did, in fact, produce better offense when both players were out there together. Here is a look at their on/off numbers from 2021-22:
Not only did Edwards and Towns have more time on the court two years ago, but the lineup was also smaller, with 6-foot-8 Jarred Vanderbilt being the team’s starting power forward. This allowed the offense to flow well and prioritize Ant and KAT on the scoring totem pole. Adding Rudy Gobert threw a wrench into things on a team-wide scale, which was to be expected. KAT’s injury and missing most of training camp due to an illness didn't help anything either. The three of them never had time to truly get on the same page.
When asked about figuring out how to play with his starting front-court, Ant’s answer again featured Towns as the answer.
“Man, KAT just shoots the piss out of the ball. It’s incredible to see. It’s incredible to play with somebody like him. Coming off screens, he’s popping every time, and Rudy’s rolling. It’s great. I think it’s going to be dynamic this year.”
Edwards did go on to say after this that he is normally looking for his own shot more than passing and that Mike Conley will do a great job finding Towns and Gobert in the flow. However, seeing more pick-and-pop plays between Ant and KAT can only produce healthy scoring options for everyone on the floor.
Rudy Gobert dunk, assisted by Karl-Anthony Towns + Anthony Edwards off staggered screens pic.twitter.com/uz40z6CUzc— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 20, 2023
The play above is one of my favorites from last season, as it had three possible options for a bucket:
- Ant pulls up from the mid-range if the defenders drop on the screens.
- KAT takes the triple if the defender doesn’t rotate over.
- Rudy slams it home after waiting in the restricted area
Seeing more plays like those — ones that can positively benefit all three players — should open up the team’s offense as a whole.
Re-establishing an offensive flow between Towns, Edwards, and the rest of the team shouldn’t be that difficult. Most of it will come naturally over time. In fact, the on-court fit seemed much improved during the playoffs. However, it would be a mistake if the Wolves asked KAT to take a step back offensively based on what he saw two seasons ago. Of course, the team no longer needs him to be the only scorer. Rather, they will need him to shoulder an equal amount of offensive pressure as Ant will carry. It’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelming hype around Edwards and lose focus of the big picture. However, basketball is a team game, and the Wolves won’t get anywhere of value if they rely on just one player.