Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards has ascended further into the NBA’s elite this summer, all without stepping foot on an NBA floor.
Edwards has assumed his new role as Captain America in Team USA’s pursuit of gold during the 2023 FIBA World Cup run as he poured in an efficient 34 points on 11/21 shooting overall while also going 4/8 from downtown and converting all eight of his free throws en route to completing a comeback win over the Team Germany on Sunday.
“He’s unquestionably the guy,” Team USA Head Coach Steve Kerr said after practice, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “You can see he knows it. But now the team knows it, and I think the fans see it. He genuinely believes he’s the best player in the gym every single night. And he’s such a dynamic young player. I think he’s taking a leap.”
Edwards beginning to put the league on notice (including players such as Jayson Tatum and LeBron James), coupled with his on court skills and his charisma, has the makings of a future face of the NBA that can transform the Wolves into a formidable contender for the foreseeable future, now that he signed a five-year extension that keeps him in Minnesota until 2029.
Man cooking!! That boy— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 20, 2023
Ant gone have a big year coming up— Jayson Tatum (@jaytatum0) August 20, 2023
Edwards, at just 22 years of age, has this unique blend of being a freak athlete that can truly be a lethal two way player. He can finish above the rim, shoot from anywhere, handle the ball, and play make, while also being able to pick up an opposing team’s best ball handler and create pressure.
Although Ant Man has received the well-earned high praise he’s been getting lately, he has certainly come a long way. In a pre-draft workout with the Golden State Warriors, Dubs Head Coach Steve Kerr (who is also leading Team USA) called Edwards out on his lack of work ethic and intensity during the workout, telling him that he wasn’t working hard enough. Teammate Karl-Anthony Towns has called out his lack of focus on dieting and taking care of his body, which is an NBA player’s most valuable asset.
“You ain’t working hard enough.”— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) June 6, 2022
Steve Kerr’s brutal honesty during a pre-draft workout helped push Anthony Edwards to another level. pic.twitter.com/CmKEBMcdYv
“I’m still not really into it (basketball),” Edwards said. “I love basketball, yeah. It’s what I do.”
While those comments were overblown and at times weaponized as confirmation bias, they did raise questions that followed Edwards into the NBA.
Looking back upon it now, a lot of the comments regarding the statements are laughable but I can’t fault anyone for thinking what they did in the moment. This Reddit thread regarding that interview and that statement will be something to look back upon fondly for a long time, but it adds to Edwards’ history and the hope he has instilled in the Timberwolves fan base and organization.
Edwards playing for Team USA while being surrounded by such an incredible pool of player talent and coaching knowledge is going to be invaluable, and it is going to unlock another step in Ant’s development, which will directly benefit the Wolves.
The Timberwolves do not have an easy schedule to begin the season. They will open play with eight of their first ten games against teams that were in the play-in or the playoffs. The Wolves were also inconsistent throughout last season; while they earned a respectable 25-22 record against teams that were above .500, Minnesota squandered it with a 17-18 record against opponents below .500.
Playing for Team USA will ensure Edwards stays in shape and comes out of the gates firing, which will undoubtedly help his team find a rhythm, and ultimately start stacking wins, sooner. Outside of his actual play this summer, being around championship-winning coaches in Kerr, Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra and Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue, and an elite college developer in Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few is super important. Among them, they’ve coached great players such as Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard to name a few with championship pedigree. The stories that Team USA coaches can pass down about their current and former players' work ethics and daily habits will be invaluable for a young player like Edwards.
Looking at his actual play, the biggest weakness Edwards left this prior season needing to address was his playmaking. Edwards drew a lot of double teams last year and wasn’t necessarily a great playmaker, as he averaged a 1.33 assist to turnover ratio compared to the league average of 1.79.
While Edwards mainly led the comeback against Germany being an unstoppable scoring force offensively, his playmaking in the fourth quarter was not something to be taken lightly. Not only were the right decisions being made, they were made quickly. Making these quick decisions will help everyone get better looks this upcoming season for a Wolves offense that became stagnant far too much in 2022-23.
Being able to swing the ball quickly and getting the ball to the open man is a huge step in Edwards’ development, and he put it on full display during USA’s big run to retake the lead and eventually pull away with a win.
With a projected four-man lineup of Mike Conley, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert that Edwards will share the floor with majority of the time, all of those other four guys will see a direct benefit from an increase in his playmaking and improved decision making.
Playing for Team USA will also keep Edwards in game shape for the season. His athleticism has always been heralded, much to the point that national broadcasts were making note that he was not dunking the ball and opting to play below the rim. It was a celebration when he made his first dunk of the season. For someone that has such an impressive dunk reel, it was noticeable that Edwards wasn’t as springy as he can be.
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By getting this time around coaches that demand excellence in terms of effort level and constantly finding ways to improve his game on the court, Anthony Edwards is unlocking another key step in his development. The All-Star and the Timberwolves will see earn more wins, more home playoff games, and more respect because of it, and in the future, Edwards’ run with the Stars and Stripes could be seen as a major inflection point in franchise history.