As I touched on in my last piece, Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards has improved on nearly every single statistical category in his fourth year in the league. His bolstered mid-range game has been the most impressive part of his growth when it comes to the shot-making, leading to an increase his points per game output and field goal percentage. But the playmaking strides he has flashed have been the most eye-opening development thus far in his fourth NBA season.
The year-over-year numbers tell an important story for Edwards; one that shows consistent improvement on the margins and one that is playing a large part in why Ant and the Wolves are off to a historic start this season. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick is currently averaging a career-best 5.0 assists, which is an improvement over the 4.4 per contest he recorded last season, the 3.8 in his sophomore season, and the 2.9 in his rookie campaign. Edwards’ playmaking may not grab the headlines because he isn’t making flashy behind-the-back passes or showtime lobs. But it’s a continued improvement in his basketball IQ, which has helped slow the game down for him, and thus allowed him to make the right read more often.
Sometimes, hitting singles and doubles are better than swinging for the fences. That has been Edwards approach when it comes to passing this season, it has been conducive for improved consistency as a passer. With his ability to score the ball, Edwards is going to be the center of attention for opposing defenses. The best thing about that though, is he has a ton of weapons around him and the more he learns how to get them involved, the more dangerous he’ll be as a player. Considering how lethal he already is on the offensive end, that’s a scary thought.
Karl-Anthony Towns is up to 50.2% from the floor and 41.1% from beyond the arc, while knocking down 91% of his free throws — on pace to join the NBA’s illustrious 50/40/90 club. Mike Conley is shooting a blistering 43.3% from three. Naz Reid is shooting 39.2% from 3. Jaden McDaniels is shooting 58.2 (!!)% from the floor and 38% from deep. Kyle Anderson is shooting 51% overall despite his refusal to shoot the long ball, and only knocking down 16.7% when he does pull the trigger.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker is up to 35.6% from downtown after a rocky start to the season. Troy Brown Jr. has turned it up as of late shooting 2-4 against the Memphis Grizzlies, 5-6 (3-4 from 3) against the Oklahoma City Thunder and 3-6 (2-3 from deep) against the Utah Jazz in his last three outings.
Edwards is going to garner the attention he rightfully deserves with the talent he possesses, and he has teammates that are more than capable to step up and knock down shots off looks he creates.
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These types of plays demonstrate where teams are willing to sell out on Edwards and attempt to limit him offensively. In this first clip against the Golden State Warriors, Ant is coming off an empty side pick and roll with Karl-Anthony Towns and his gravity has all five defenders with their feet in the paint leading to an easy kick out and an open three for Naz Reid.
The second clip is a prime example of the game slowing down. In a game that saw Jaden McDaniels get ejected and Rudy Gobert put into a chokehold before either team scored a point, the Wolves are up by one with the shot clock dwindling and the game still in the balance. It would have been super easy for Ant to force up a tough contested shot here, but instead he swung it to an open Conley in the corner to put the game on ice. This is a tougher pass but it isn’t done with flash and flair; it’s the right read in a major spot.
This next play shows Ant rejecting the ball screen at the top of the perimeter and easily getting by his defender. This forces Malik Monk to have to help one pass away to stop easy dribble penetration which leads to a NAW wide open three.
The fourth clip shows four Sacramento Kings defenders all focused on Edwards in transition. Instead of barreling down hill and looking to get contact, Ant again makes the right read and swings it to a wide open TBJ in the right corner who cashes it in.
And lastly, the below play shows a defender again needing to sell out on Edwards because of his offensive ability and it turns into an easy bounce pass to a rolling Gobert. Looking again at the clip and other defenders, John Collins begins to float away from KAT as the action unfolds which could have been another easy pass as KAT is only one pass away.
I cannot reiterate enough that none of these are extremely difficult passes. They are simple passes that are being generated because he is making the right read. His offensive gravity is what opens up these opportunities to create good looks for his teammates.
When the Wolves are in the playoffs, where each shot matters that much more, the game slowing down to the point that Edwards can make the correct read, no matter how simple or difficult, will be pivotal in a team looking to advance to the second round for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.