Fourth-year Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards has injected something the fanbase hasn’t had in a long time — hope.
Along with a vision of sustained success that will be full of career accolades at an individual level coupled with team success, there is a real tangible grasp of Edwards taking the Wolves to the promised land; now, fans can realistically imagine Edwards hoisting a Larry O’Brien and watching a banner go up into the Target Center rafters for the most devoted of fans and future generations to look upon fondly as time continues to pass.
Becoming decorated player always in award conversations takes time in this league. The NBA is so dynamic and things can change at the drop of a hat. A massive unexpected trade or free agency signing can swing the odds against the field and have a team look like a juggernaut on paper. A derailing injury can take what looks like a promising season and flip it upside down. One of the most prominent examples is when Kyrie Irving and James Harden both suffered injuries in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Brooklyn Nets held a 2-0 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks, looking well on their way to going back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Once both Irving went down and Harden was playing hobbled, the Bucks were able to come back and win the series in seven games on their way to becoming NBA champions. Many NBA fans believe if Irving and Harden stay healthy, the Nets win that series.
Another great example is when Kevin Durant went down with an achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals. At the time, the Toronto Raptors were leading 3-1 in the series and Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Game 6. If Durant and Thompson stay healthy, paired with Steph Curry and Draymond Green, who knows what could have happened.
Edwards is on a path to NBA stardom, but let’s compare him to some of the games current greats and where they were at in their fourth year in the league to remember just how long it takes to win and be in the upper echelon of the NBA.
Take the controversial career of the greatest pure scorer the world has ever seen in Durant. He was the main offensive catalyst for an Oklahoma City Thunder that went to the NBA Finals in 2012 when paired with Russell Westbrook and a young Harden, who came off the bench. It took him five years to make his first Finals appearance, and that was with Westbrook and Harden, who were complemented by Serge Ibaka and other great role players.
At this point in his career, Durant was named rookie of the year for his 2007-2008 campaign, was a three-time All-Star from 2010-2012, was the league’s scoring champion over that same time frame, was selected to the All-NBA First Team three times, and he sprinkled in an All-Star game MVP. By year four, KD was stamped as one of the league’s elite, but it took time. He became an All-Star in year three, similar to where Ant is now.
As great as Durant was from an individual standpoint, he did not win a championship until he paired up with future first ballot Hall of Famer Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors in 2017. It took 10 years for Durant to win a ring, and even then it took him joining the greatest regular season of all-time and the greatest shooter of all-time to accomplish that.
Speaking of Curry, let’s take a look at his career. Curry was plagued by ankle injuries early in his career, including a surgery on torn ligaments in his right ankle in 2010, which cut his rookie season short. He had another surgery in 2012. Curry was honored with All-Rookie First Team in 2010 but didn’t make an All-Star team until 2014 — his fifth year in the league. So Edwards has him beat by two years in that department.
Curry also didn’t earn an All-NBA selection until that same year, and he did not win a championship until his sixth year in the league, when Thompson and Draymond Green really came into their own and helped completely revolutionize modern defense in the NBA. Another case of a living legend where things had to take time to summit the mountain and accomplish the crowning achievement of becoming a champion.
The common theme here is that it takes time to reach that pinnacle of a ring. Let’s take an even deeper dive into other stars. LeBron James is the arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, and he has many players beat in career accomplishments. But he’s also an extreme outlier. By his fourth year, he had earned two All-NBA Second Team selections and one All-NBA First Team nod. He was a three time All-Star, and won an All-Star game MVP in 2006. Similar to Durant, despite his individual greatness, LeBron couldn’t win that elusive title until he paired up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, two other Hall of Fame players.
Nikola Jokić is the man who bounced the Wolves out of the first round in last year’s playoff series when they went toe-to-toe. He didn’t make his first All-Star Game until 2019, which was his fourth year in the league; Jokić did not earn an All-NBA honor until that same year. Edwards is looking to be an All-NBA player this year and would be on a similar pace. Jokić also had a long eight years until he won an NBA championship.
None of this is to say the Wolves can’t win a championship this year. They have a phenomenal coach in Chris Finch who has experience winning internationally and in the G League. They also have a phenomenal cast of players in Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, future Hall of Famer and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the best point of attack defender in the league in Jaden McDaniels, and Mike Conley directing it all. They are supported by Nickeil Alexander-Walker and veteran swiss army knife Kyle Anderson, and dynamic big man Naz Reid to round out the core eight.
I love the Wolves as much as anyone else, and I truly do want this team to win at all costs. There would be nothing better for a guy like Towns who has endured so much and poured his heart into this organization and state to be a part of the team that hangs its first banner. For Minnesota Mike to be cemented in NBA history as a champion and retire as a Wolf, for Gobert to be vindicated and prove he can be the defensive anchor on a championship team. It would be eternal bliss.
But these things take time. If the prior history of those greats mentioned above informs us of anything that may be coming in the future, Edwards and the Timberwolves are still a couple years away. That wouldn’t make the season a waste or a bust. Buckle up, this season has been one fun ride and it looks like it’ll stay that way, but it can all end in the blink of an eye.