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Austin Rivers: ‘Anthony Edwards Will Lead the League in Scoring.’

During a Summer League segment for NBA Today, former Wolves guard Austin Rivers says his best bet for the upcoming season is that Anthony Edwards will lead the league in scoring. Is is actually possible for that to be accomplished?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves
Anthony Edwards showing emotion after a made shot in the third quarter during the Timberwolves second play-in during the 2023 season at Target Center
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards is entering his fourth year in the league, and it is clear that he is the franchise cornerstone. President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly signaled as much when he said that any decision the organization makes “moving forward will be with Ant paramount” and other players around the league such as Indiana Pacers guard Bruce Brown saying “Ant is up next” and that “(Ant) was one of the toughest [players in the league] to guard” on the Run Your Race podcast. Current free agent and former Timberwolves reserve Austin Rivers also said that Edwards will be the league’s leading scorer for the upcoming season.

Being the leagues leading scorer is no easy task. It requires a lot of talent and consistency on a night in and night out basis with hardly being able to miss a beat in a grueling NBA schedule. Is it something that Edwards can accomplish this year, and is him becoming the leagues leading scorer something the current team needs to make it to the next level?

In the three years that Edwards has played, the offensive output has increased every year. This past season the Wolves star finished with 24.6 points with shooting splits of 45.9% from the floor, and 36.9% from 3-point range and 75.6% from the free throw line. This was also the most efficient season on the offensive end for Edwards as he posted a career best 52.8% effective field goal percentage.

Edwards has the makings to continue to be an elite scorer in this league for many years and he certainly proved it in the playoffs against the eventual NBA Champion Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2023 Playoffs. He averaged 31.6 points on 48% shooting overall, 34.9% from beyond the arc, and 84.6% from the charity stripe.

He finished 16th in the league for scoring this past season, and when comparing his percentages to everyone above him on for regular season scoring, Ant shot more efficiently from the floor than all but one player, in Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young. Edwards recorded a clip better than 10 of his counterparts from beyond the arc, including comparable engine scorers Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox. He was also better converting free throws by percentage than three of those above him in scoring, including Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić.

When just comparing the stats as raw objective numbers, the lowest hanging fruit for Ant to up his scoring would be knocking down more free throws on a consistent basis. For a guard who can shoot it at an above average, almost elite level from the floor, some of those skills should translate to the free throw line over the next few years. Edwards knocking down 75% of his free throws isn’t a horrible mark, but it certainly can be improved upon and will absolutely improve his scoring marks as he earns more respect from officials.

45% overall from the floor isn’t also too bad, but when comparing players with similar play styles, such as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Gilgeous-Alexander, their marks were better than Edwards’ clip by an average of 3.16%. That percentage number seems small in comparison, but when it becomes annualized over an 82 game season, that is another bucket that takes the scoring average from 24.6 to 26.6 and that would place him into the top 10, tied with Jaylen Brown.

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

While Edwards has a ton of charisma and swagger, he has yet to win over the refs. Young players notoriously have to ‘earn their whistle.’ Edwards’ total number of trips to the line has increased every year since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2020, and with him becoming a top-tier talent in the league, that trend should continue. In similar vein, Gilgeous-Alexander has seen a similar career trajectory where his free throws attempted per game has increased every single year.

The biggest disparity between Edwards and the rest of the league’s scoring elite is free throw attempts. In comparison to all of the 16 players above Edwards in scoring, 13 of those players are getting more opportunities at the line than Ant, and 15 of those 16 are making more free throws on a per-game basis. It’s a simple case of other players getting more opportunities, and converting on those opportunities. Edwards will continue to expand upon his game and be able to draw more favorable contact that will lead to more free throw attempts, and will begin knocking down free throws at a higher conversion rate as well.

Outside of the free throw line, Edwards has a couple spots where he is steadily above league average when it comes to shooting the ball. According to this Shot Zones map from the NBA, Ant is elite on left corner threes, midrange left lower wing to lower corner shots, and from the top of the key from downtown. Almost every other zone has him at either below or well below league average. Looking at other players, such as Jayson Tatum and Zach LaVine, they have similar shot zones where they are elite in a couple areas, while also being below or well below league average in a few others. It again points to the one common disparity, the free throw line. As mentioned earlier, Edwards will get to the line more, and will knock down more opportunities leading to a positive correlation with higher scoring numbers.

Anthony Edwards shot chart for the 2022-2023 regular season
Shot chart for Zach Lavine during the 2022-2023 regular season
Shot chart for Jayson Tatum during the 2022-2023 regular season

To answer the question of whether he actually will be the league’s leading scorer, he won’t, but not because he can’t. The roster and how it is currently constructed has way too much depth and versatility in it for Edwards to have the sheer scoring volume required to be the NBA’s leading scorer, which is a great thing.

If we break down the starting lineup alone, there are too many talented people who can put the ball in the basket at efficient levels. Mike Conley is going to lead this team on the offensive end, and he has had a full offseason to learn Head Coach Chris Finch’s offensive system, and he can shoot it from outside at a very respectable 38.5%. Rudy Gobert is going to unlock more offensive scoring with getting better looks at the rim with Conley feeding him in the pick and roll; All-NBA big Karl Anthony-Towns is going to be back for a full season at 100% after missing 51 games in the regular season due to a Grade 3 calf strain; and defensive menace Jaden McDaniels will return and continue great strides he made on the offensive end, especially in the midrange, to build on top of his exceptional defense.

Getting more in-depth with the bench unit, Swiss Army Knife Kyle Anderson is going to find himself feeding others on offense, as he is a great connective player when running the offense who can also score at a decent clip against the right matchups. Naz Reid will once again be a shot in the arm offensively and boasts a dangerous skillset Finch will turn to as a weapon off the bench and for spot starts when the either of the starting front-court players is out. Not to mention that newly acquired free agents Troy Brown Jr. and Shake Milton will share some of that offensive load off the bench as well.

If Edwards does become the NBA’s leading scorer, it would likely be the result of one of three possible scenarios.

1) He either becomes absolutely unstoppable and gets to the line at an absurd rate

2) He becomes more selfish and calls on his own number to the detriment of his teammates

or 3) The Wolves miss a sizable share of scoring due to injuries that sidelines ancillary bucket-getters for a considerable amount of time

It also begs the question: would Edwards capturing the league’s scoring title be a good thing for the Timberwolves? Unless he does so by way of insane shooting efficiency, the answer is no. This team will operate best when players are able to thrive in their respective roles.

Gobert lurking in the dunker spot and thriving as a diving big in the pick-and-roll with Conley will be important, as will Edwards leaning on another 25 points per game scorer in Towns to space the floor and lessen the burden placed on the 21-year-old. Adding versatile and growing scorers in Reid and McDaniels to the mix will also make it more difficult for defenses from going all-out in attempting to take Edwards out of the game. Edwards utilizing his teammates’ talents will create spacing in which others can thrive, and ultimately make his life easier when he plays against single coverage more often as a result.

While Anthony Edwards can absolutely one day become an NBA Scoring Champion, incorporating his talented teammates to score how they are most comfortable will better support the team’s success, both in the short term and long term.