A turbulent regular season has come to an end for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Many things did not go as planned, but one core expectation that survived the six-month storm of leg, hand and ego injuries: the previously scheduled ascension of Anthony Edwards.
The fun discovery of the week for me was seeing that Ant finished the season sixth in the league in total points with 1,946. That feat felt a bit lost in the shuffle of our routine Timberwolves pity party most of the year. So let’s shine a light on it here!
A1’s athletic ability on both ends of the floor has been exhibited clearly in huge moments all season; yes, plenty of times he’s been a ball-stopper in the dog days of the second or third quarter, trying to shoot his way into a rhythm from beyond the arc — but he’s also bailed out bad team stretches with electrifying defensive efforts that lead to highlight offensive plays and momentum swings.
Strides are still available for Ant to make within Head Coach Chris Finch’s offensive designs, especially when it comes to getting others involved when the defense collapses on him in the paint. Edwards averaged just 0.8 assists on 12.3 drives per game, according to NBA Stats. That’s 23rd among 29 players who played 65 or more games and had 10 or more drives per game, barely ahead of other patented probers DeMar DeRozan, Jalen Green, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Zach LaVine and Paolo Banchero.
Beyond that flaw, though, is a player learning to use his defender against him. Edwards has become an elite bad closeout attacker, spacing away from the ball and “showing” his shot slowly before utilizing that insane first step to leave a rotating player in the dust.
It starts with Ant’s outside shooting. He’s become an extremely reliable three-point marksman off the catch in 2022-23. That garners respect from opposing defenses now more than ever. No longer can they forego closing out to him on a skip pass or outside a Karl-Anthony Towns double-team. That’s where his burst and patient shot fakes come into play.
The video above is just a small sample of the smart decisions Ant has made this year attacking the rim on kick-outs and flyby shot contests. He’s not simply predetermining his path for creating a shot as a rookie might do; he’s reading the defender’s feet, hips and hands to optimize his scoring angle.
The numbers back it up. According to Synergy, Ant shot 150 spot-up 3-pointers this season at a 44% clip. That’s down nearly 20% in volume from last year, when he attempted 185 of them and connected on 38.9 percent. As a result, he’s shooting 53.5% on two-pointers stemming from 114 spot-up catches — which is a full 50% increase from last year when he only took 58 twos off of spot-ups! Improving your percentage on threes at less volume and simultaneously doubling your two-point volume at a strong percentage on that same play type is pretty impressive.
Such a drastic shift in shot profile from a seemingly one-dimensional category (catch and shoot three-pointers) indicates an incredible mark of growth from Edwards in the halfcourt offense. Adding Mike Conley to the fold certainly helped this progress in the last eight weeks, giving Ant some room to breathe off the ball and let Mac-11 dish to him on pick-and-rolls. Jaden McDaniels, Taurean Prince and Kyle Anderson have all been impressive distributors off the dribble this season for Ant, too.
I still wouldn’t put it past the first-time All-Star to begin Tuesday night’s play-in by jacking every semi-open trey he finds. But as the game settles in, his newfound trademark ability to develop a “slow read” shot fake on a kick-out pass and blow by the rotating defender is going to be what gets him in a great rhythm. It’s already made him an elite scorer, among the NBA’s best, at just 21 years old.