In case you didn’t know, the Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t exactly the healthiest team in the NBA during the 2022-23 season. They were far from it.
What started with an extended period of time without Karl-Anthony Towns snowballed into Kyle Anderson being in and out of the lineup, Rudy Gobert missing time and generally being less than 100% even when he played, and players available off the bench fluctuating on a nightly basis. It forced the Wolves to play the game a different way every night — something that, by December, seemed to be pretty commonplace.
One of those things was the rise of Anthony Edwards as the primary ball-handler in a more spaced out offense sans Gobert and Towns around the mid-December mark. It peaked when the Wolves put up a 150-point, franchise record-setting offensive explosion against the Chicago Bulls on December 18, a game in which Edwards had 37 points and 11 assists, and a more catch-and-shoot ready D’Angelo Russell nobly played Robin with 28 of his own.
Russell, in his own right, had been having some issues figuring out the flow of the Wolves offense with the newly-minted Gobert, and the birth of “Point Ant,” with multiple dazzling performances, had fans wanting the third year wing taking the reigns of the offense in a full-time capacity (similar perhaps to Donovan Mitchell had in spots with the Utah Jazz).
There were times it looked brilliant, and times it was catastrophic. But just how much is right balance does this entail in Edwards’ next leap, and at what point is he better helped by playing off?
POINT: We Need More!
The 2023 All-Star’s playmaking has been on display from a pretty early stage in his career. Outside of the early days in which Edwards was still trying to figure his shot out, his game naturally allows for him to find open shooters by collapsing defenses.
Anthony Edwards thrived as the Wolves’ PG vs. PHX, showing off the offensive versatility.— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 29, 2022
Ant had 27 points + 10 assists, the result of his brilliance as a:
- drive-and-kick passer
- scorer + passer in ball-screens
The Ant-led offense was tough to contain.
It’s the reason he has chemistry with Naz Reid that’s unable to be missed when they play on the floor together. The above-mentioned Chicago game is one of these examples in which Reid’s chemistry with Ant was on full display. Another stellar outing came against the Oklahoma City Thunder on October 23, when it was Edwards and Reid that saved the day at Paycom Center in a back-and-forth third quarter to completely put the game away.
I bring Edwards’ chemistry with Reid up as an example of, along with Karl-Anthony Towns, a way in which his style of play frees up opportunities for others when he has ball movement on his mind. His offensive rating with Reid on the floor was 114.3. It was 112.2 with Towns. It was rocky with Gobert; I think it gets better this year (more on that later). The immediate building block for “Point Ant” is creating off of his strengths, whether it’s finding open shooters, or an open Gobert off a screen.
Another prong of the pro-”Point Ant” argument is the essential nature of having another guard on the floor with a proven acumen of catching and shooting. As we saw Edwards’ proficiency in running the point increase during the season, it was a linear relationship of the willingness of his backcourt mate to catch and shoot.
Russell said shortly before being traded that he had been playing off the catch at some of the highest volume of his career. He averaged 4.5 catch and shoot attempts in January last season, above average of his last two seasons at 4.1. On those 4.5 January attempts, D’Lo shot a blistering 43.9% from three. Perhaps it had something to do with his running mate dishing it to him?
Now to Mike Conley. Conley played on less volume overall, and averaged just 2.8 catch and shoot attempts per game with the Wolves. He picked up where Russell left off in efficiency, however, shooting 46% over 24 regular season games with the Wolves.
Mike Conley catch-and-shoot 3, created by the Anthony Edwards PnR + excellent ball-movement pic.twitter.com/tKX14sqDnW— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) February 14, 2023
It’s clear Ant’s presence as a playmaker does great things for the people around him in shooting the basketball effectively, and Conley’s reduction in volume and shooting effectiveness allows Ant to slide into this role further and take full center stage as the heliocentric element of the Wolves offense.
COUNTERPOINT: Point Ant Detracts Edwards’ Off-Ball Development
The common thread here is that Edwards with the ball in his hand is absolutely electric and any way it can happen more is a good thing. But I think the most underrated part of his game that Edwards has the opportunity to grow in is his off-ball offense.
We saw viral clips of Edwards standing with his hands on his hips when there wasn’t a play designed for him or he wasn’t going to touch the ball. More was made of those than there should have been, but I think Edwards’ consistent inactivity off the ball wasn’t enough of a storyline. And moreover, how much increased activity could help the Wolves be more dangerous offensively.
Anthony Edwards is clearly not a fan of this play call from Chris Finch. Stood the entire possession in the corner with his hands on his hips, not for the first time this year pic.twitter.com/J5gMAcFaP6— James Plowright (@British_Buzz) November 26, 2022
Edwards was sixth in the league overall in minutes played, and dead last on the Wolves in cut frequency. It’s not like Ant was ineffective on cuts either; he shot 82% on field goals off of cuts, and scored on 78% of all of his cut attempts. That’s WILD. Was that because it was just that effective, or because of the novelty of the cut for Ant? It could be a little of both, but it’s certainly an area of opportunity to grow. When Jaylen Nowell cuts more, that becomes more of a concern than something to brush aside.
Besides, two of Ant’s most prolific posters of his career have come off of cutting.
Don't let Gabe Vincent playing well in the playoffs distract you from the fact that the Timberwolves have Anthony Edwards— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) May 20, 2022
(and that this was the worst foul call of the season) pic.twitter.com/6aYYVsMNA4
I think you can get the best of both worlds here.
The other aspect of Ant playing off the ball a little bit more is his continued success in catching and shooting. Ant was second on the team in catch and shoot three point percentage behind Mike Conley, with a 41.7% mark.
Anthony Edwards catch-and-shoot 3, assisted by Mike Conley pic.twitter.com/oAUBqq4gfr— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 15, 2023
This isn’t an advocation to take the ball out of Ant’s hands, it’s to give him the ball in different ways for him to continue to develop his game and round out areas of his offense that are clearly areas of opportunity.
The common denominator is the collective league-wide encouragement and cheerleading of a presumptive 22 year old face of the NBA to take the next step. How he gets the ball in his hand is rather minute. We’ll just sit back and watch.
This poll is closed
We Haven’t Gotten Enough
I’d Like To See More of a Balance