If the Minnesota Timberwolves want to go anywhere, it starts with the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Edwards.
“I think pretty much every decision we’re gonna make moving forward is gonna be with Ant paramount,” President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said during the team’s exit interviews.
In only seven more games played than the year prior, Edwards scored 400 more points and dished out 75 more assists while seeing a slight bump in efficiency. His mental processing of the game improved while increasing his usage.
Edwards also proved he could do it in the playoffs.
After a dud first game in the Wolves’ first-round series, Edwards dropped 41, 36, 34 and 29 points in four consecutive games while dishing out at least four assists against the eventual NBA champions Denver Nuggets.
He also drained this big shot in Game Four to push the Wolves to a win.
What Makes Him a Star
The most tantalizing skill Edwards has is his ability to get to the basket. This past season he finished 13th in total drives with 958.
At the same time, his jump shot has improved into a respectable counter to his drive. He can create space for his shot whenever he wants with an array of step-backs and his ability to decelerate.
You might also hear an “Ayeee” through the broadcast when he drives to the rack.
His full offensive repertoire was put to the test this season. With Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell (before the trade) and Rudy Gobert all missing time, Edwards was given the keys to a depleted roster for an approximately two-month stretch from December to January.
In that span of time, the team tasked Edwards with a high-minute load every night. He stepped up to the challenge and averaged 26.3 points, 5.1 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 steals and nearly a block per game.
That stretch of games exemplified the type of player Edwards is. He was highly productive on both ends of the floor, and his playmaking started to come along.
But the most important takeaway was his ability to galvanize the roster around him to compete.
“His voice in the locker room is growing and growing, and it’s great to see and much needed for this team. He’s got it in him,” Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch told the Pioneer Press on Dec. 2. “He’s an extremely likable teammate, everyone believes that when you have him on the floor, he’s going to do great things, and now he’s learning how to back it up with some words to help his teammates as well.”
With his talent on the court and as a leader, Edwards has a bright future ahead.
How Can Edwards Take the Next Leap?
Jaden McDaniels in his exit interview said watching Edwards sometimes is like watching Michael Jordan.
“Just the stuff he does is unbelievable,” McDaniels said.
Edwards has jaw-dropping highlights comparable to Jordan. They have similar slasher-type games and the blend of explosiveness and craft to finish over or past defenders.
At the beginning of Jordan’s career, he garnered a label for not utilizing his teammates. He overwhelmed opponents with sheer ability. However, once Jordan started to make the game easier for himself through Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, that’s when he found the most success.
By all means, Edwards is not a selfish player. He’s sometimes unselfish to a fault. But Edwards is in a similar boat as young Jordan. He leans into his natural talent for a majority of his production.
“Right now, he goes out there and legitimately just hoops,” Mike Conley said about Edwards. “For a 21-year-old to do what he does is super impressive. Once he learns the finer things in the game…it’ll be some trouble for the league.”
There are times when Edwards predetermines what he’s going to do as he catches the ball. He’s so talented and explosive as an attacker that a lot of the time he can get a step on his defender, but when he hits the next level of defense, he can get caught in a tough spot.
The next step for him is consistently reading the second line of defense and how opposing teams are shifting toward him. He’s shown the capability to read help and make high-level passes, but there are times he misses wide-open teammates in favor of a more difficult shot.
In this play, Edwards misses an open Conley on the perimeter.
The Finer Things
Devin Booker and Kevin Durant have unstoppable midrange games. Nikola Jokic’s touch and footwork confound the best defenders in the league. Luka Doncic’s ability to toggle playmaking and scoring makes defenses scramble.
Edwards doesn’t yet have that one area he leans into that can take his game to superstar levels.
He has a strong foundation with his ability to get to the rim at elite rates, but he is an average finisher (1.19 points per shot at the rim according to Synergy Sports, which ranks in the 44th percentile) and doesn’t get to the free throw line as much as you would like.
But with the track he’s on development-wise and the work ethic he’s shown, it’s a safe bet that he’s going to become a better technical player.
The best way for Edwards to take the next level as a player is to find ways within the offense to make life easier for himself, especially with the clunky double-big lineup or other limited spacing groups.
Finch likes his offense to be free-flowing with few set plays, but there might be a slight philosophical shift going into next season. In his exit interview, Finch talked about how the team needs “more attention to detail” when it comes to spacing and a “little more structure” meaning more play calls and directing the ball to certain players more often.
Edwards could majorly benefit from a bit more offensive structure to get him cleaner reads when he gets downhill.
For example, in the possession below, the Wolves are running a scripted play to start the game. Look at the spacing, and Edwards makes a skip pass to Kyle Anderson and creates an advantageous closeout.
The Wolves can’t script every play like this. However, if they can infuse better spacing into their offense, it’s going to allow Edwards to make more of these type of passes.
Coming into the season, it wasn’t completely clear who the top dog was in the Wolves' offense. Towns was coming off a strong offensive season. Russell was still in the picture. But moving forward, it appears the keys are going to be in Edwards’ hands.
In his first three seasons, he’s been a below 30% usage rate player. He teetered on the edge this season with a 29.9% usage rate. It’s still yet to be seen what a 30% plus usage Edwards could look like.
That version of Edwards could be the one the team sees next season.
What this season established is Edwards is on a strong path to superstardom and as a leader. The 2022-2023 season was another clear step in the right direction; the five-year, $207 maximum contract extension he’ll sign this month will both reward that step and bring expectations that will serve as a launch pad for what’s to come.