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2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Senior Men’s National Team v Germany Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

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Anthony Edwards Continued His Rise to Superstardom in USA’s Win Over Germany

Edwards scored a team-high 34 points en route to leading a 16-point second half comeback in USA’s final FIBA World Cup warmup exhibition game in Abu Dhabi.

Anthony Edwards took the basketball world by storm over the weekend with yet another show-stopping performance in an exhibition game leading up to the FIBA World Cup. The young Minnesota Timberwolves’ star finished with 34 points while shooting 11-21 from the floor, 4-8 from three, and 8-8 from the line. Edwards also added six rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in the 99-91 win over Germany. Yes, it’s just an exhibition game, but Edwards seems to be making the superstar leap that we’ve seen from so many others before when they embrace their first USA Basketball experience.

When we think about the all-time great shooting guards, it’s easy to envision how they blended their physical gifts to create a lethal scoring arsenal. Edwards seems to be making that leap currently. Edwards hasn’t been a stranger to enormous scoring outbursts in his career, but they haven’t always been due to his surgical three-level scoring ability. Instead, they typically consisted of his unrelenting will around the rim and a hot hand from outside. While we’ve certainly seen flashes of a developing mid-range game, his play with this USA Basketball team is the first time we’ve seen prolonged execution and versatility by Edwards in this area of the floor.

Aesthetically, Edwards’ game against Germany was a vintage performance by a superstar shooting guard. He used his size and strength advantage to post-up smaller defenders, and he used his speed against the bigger ones. The way that Edwards consistently created and knocked down shots in the mid-range with his fadeaways, shot fakes, foul drawing, drop steps, and shoulder feints was reminiscent of names that feel irresponsible to evoke. However, I won’t begrudge or dissuade you from letting your imagination and excitement run wild because God knows mine has.

While Edwards’ inevitable scoring improvement has caught the masses’ attention and will be the spark plug that skyrockets him into the upper echelon of the league, it isn’t the most important development in his game. Instead, what has been impossible to ignore in Edwards’ play has been his obsession with doing the little things, the dirty work, the stuff typically deemed unworthy of superstar’s attention.

There were plenty of instances last season where Edwards was caught with his hands on his hips while a play was run for someone else or caught sleeping on a rotation or completely disinterested in rebounding. In these exhibition games, Edwards’ mindset has changed significantly.

When we look at his offensive game, the on-ball stuff, especially the scoring, will get the most attention. Rightfully so, too, given that that skillset is typically the determining factor on a player’s ultimate ceiling. We know what the scoring is and can continue to grow into.

The more intriguing development, in terms of producing winning basketball, is Edwards’ improved decision making, adjusting to the speed of the game, and creation for others. It is astounding how much quicker Edwards is making decisions with the ball. When the defense collapses on his drives, he knows exactly who to kick out to. When the defense sends a double, he isn’t panicking. Instead, he stays calm and makes the proper decision whether it be immediately passing out or turning on the jets to blow past them or using an escape dribble to draw the defenders further out before passing to a teammate.

In the pick-and-roll, Edwards showed very few issues in reading the coverage. If the defense went under and dropped, Edwards pulled up for three. If they blitzed him, he accelerated around the help defender and attacked the rim. If they dropped and went over, he attacked the mid-range and countered whatever defensive rotations came. For Edwards to ascend into the true offensive hub category of NBA stars, the decision making and creation for others had to improve, and it certainly seems to be doing just that.

The evolution of Edwards’ offense hasn’t stopped there, though. One of the hardest things for players who have always had the ball in their hands to develop is how to play away from the ball. In his first three seasons, Edwards’ off-ball movement and effectiveness was lacking at best. Against Germany, we saw yet another example of how much he’s improved away from the ball. Edwards is constantly moving without the ball, whether he’s setting screens, cutting, or relocating off of his teammate’s drives. When he tried to post up and didn’t get it, he quickly relocated. The possession after possession after possession stretches of him just standing in the corner are quickly disappearing from his game. If he can carry over this willingness to move without the ball to the Timberwolves season, it will open up a plethora of opportunities for their offense.

This newfound grit in Edwards’ game shines the most on the defensive end. Against Germany, Edwards spent most of his time defending Franz Wagner. He also spent most of his offensive possessions being guarded by Wagner. By taking the toughest assignment, Edwards continued to show his commitment to the defensive end of the floor that we saw begin to blossom last season.Wagner finished with 17 points on 6-16 shooting overall and 2-8 from three. While Edwards tended to pick up Wagner on most half-court sets, he also picked up Dennis Schroder at the point of attack in transition. Edwards wasn’t perfect on defense, but he was very good overall. His combination of strength and speed presents tremendous versatility.

He also proved to be much more consistent with his rotations as the low man, which included a block on a lob to Daniel Theis. Hell, he was even boxing out and initiating contact when rebounding. As Edwards continues to grow his defensive ability and consistency, the Timberwolves can significantly lessen the defensive load on Jaden McDaniels. This should not only (hopefully) help keep McDaniels out of foul trouble but make the defensive assignments and workload for everyone else that much easier.

Against Germany, and for most of these exhibition games, Anthony Edwards has looked like the next burgeoning NBA superstar. He’s taken over games from an offensive standpoint while also executing on defense. What’s most encouraging, though, is that Edwards’ stellar performances haven’t simply been hot shooting nights. Instead, he’s parlayed his improved fundamentals and habits into production we don’t typically see from players his age. Edwards must carry this growth into the FIBA World Cup and into next season to truly make the superstar ascension we’re craving, which is a tall order. However, based on everything he’s shown up to this point in his young career, the uncertain is quickly evolving into the expectation.