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The Minnesota Timberwolves are gravitating to one of the league’s brightest stars, whose distinctive dazzle is shining a bright light on a franchise that has lived the majority of its existence in pitch black.
Anthony Edwards has brought sunshine to a place with impenetrable wall clouds, renewed passion for a generation of NBA fans that have lottery odds memorized, confidence to a team perpetually shaking in fear, and restored hope in a future that takes fans’ mind to a place they’ve never let it go.
On Saturday night at Target Center, Edwards showcased every reason why Wolves faithful is incensed at his exclusion from mainstream All-Star conversations, all while going against his primary competition for the final Western Conference selection — Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox.
But Edwards said that wasn’t on his mind during the game.
“I just know my team needs to win so I’m going to go out there and do everything that I can do to help us win. I don’t care if he’s an All-Star or I am. Whatever it is, as long as my team is in the playoffs, I’m good.”
After scoring eight points in the first half, the former No. 1 overall pick knew he needed to impose his will on the game.
“I know we come out slow in the third quarter, so I try to put it on myself to come out with some energy and try to put (in) a couple of baskets,” Edwards told reporters in the locker room postgame.
“I know my shot’s going to come. I know I’m not really worried about me not getting the ball. I know it’s going to come. My teammates do a great job of finding me,” Edwards continued. “I know the rhythm of the game and Finchy going to do a great job of making sure I touch it. So, I’m not really worried.”
And boy, did it come.
Edwards scored 16 of his game-high 34 points in the third quarter, driven by a trio of makes from beyond the arc and a pair of impressive scores that required him to isolate and profit.
He scored those 34 points on 14/21 shooting (66.7%) and attempted only two free throws.
Perhaps more impressively, none of those points came at the rim. It’s a testament to the different ways he can dominate opponents, whether it’s living in the paint or using his ever-growing jumper to stretch thin defenses already on its heels.
Edwards shot 5/7 from 3 on Saturday, taking his 3-point percentage in January up to 39.7% on 8.1 attempts per game. For reference, that’s on par with 3-point numbers this season for Donovan Mitchell — who is widely regarded as one of the best on-ball shooters in the NBA. A big part of Ant’s jumper becoming a weapon is his spot shooting; Edwards is shooting 44.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s this season, a big jump from his already good 41.3% mark. It’s especially valuable in transition when the game demands him to rise to the occasion and send the crowd into a frenzy.
“Finchy made a great point that I shoot the ball at a high clip on catch-and-shoot. ... He let the team know and they put emphasis on trying to find me in catch-and-shoot,” Edwards said. “So, they’ve been doing a great job. I’ve been doing my part and knocking it down.
“I feel like I can’t miss right now to be honest. I don’t want to jinx myself, but right now, I feel like I just can’t miss. I put a lot of work in, man. So, I’m happy it’s showing.”
Everything becomes easier for him when his jumper is on the money. It makes the defense come to him, which allows the third-year guard to read what he sees and pick it apart. He credited Addi Walters, a video associate for the Wolves, helping him do so.
“For sure,” Edwards said in response to question asking if he is learning more about defenses and where his teammates are on the floor. “Before every game, Addi sends me the plays, the defense. So, I just watch how they play and I know how they’re going to guard me. If I get hot, put two on me. Maybe they put two on me off the jump, so just reading the game pretty much.”
When they come up to run him off the line, Edwards has more frequently been turning to his mid-range game to make defenses pay, whether it’s getting to a step-back or a turnaround out of mid-post-ups. His confidence in that part of his game is growing exponentially as the season progresses.
“It makes me a lot more dangerous, man, because like I said, they got to respect it. And I’m going to take them. As long as they give them to me, I’m going to take them,” Edwards told Canis Hoopus about how his mid-range game makes him a more dangerous scorer. “So, I’m going to keep making them and they’ve got to respect it. It makes me a lot more dangerous.”
Anthony Edwards in the win over SAC tonight— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) January 29, 2023
Anthony Edwards's last 12 games...
Anthony Edwards full season stats
Edwards’ confidence has never been higher. Whether you’re in the arena or watching from home, his command for the game is tangible. You can feel he believes he’s the best player on the floor.
“Tremendous. Each year I’ve been with him for all three years. So each year you’ve seen him grow. The confidence is on a different level. He knows what he’s doing. He knows when he wants to do it, why he wants to do it, he even knows what spots he wants to get to,” Naz Reid said postgame about Ant’s growth this year. “So, I mean, the confidence is crazy. the way he’s grown from rookie year to now, and how young he is and how much time he has left. He’s gonna be crazy.”
That confidence was on full display as Edwards went shot-for-shot with Fox in an impressive “game within the game” that certainly had some juice to it, as the two battle for the coaches’ vote and the final All-Star spot in the West. Fox outscored Edwards 21-10 in the fourth, but Edwards got the last laugh.
There’s no questioning that Edwards’ teammates response to his efforts as a leader is inspiring their confidence in him and, in turn, himself. Edwards is the life of the party in the locker room after games; he talks constantly. Whether it’s poking fun at his teammates, gassing them up after big performances, or just simply sitting at his locker, you can feel his presence.
While Rudy Gobert was interviewed by Bally Sports North’s Lea B. Olsen, Edwards interrupted the interview to start a “RU-DY, RU-DY, RU-DY” chant to encourage a buzzing crowd to shower the big man with well-earned appreciation for an excellent performance. Gobert can’t hide how much it means to him.
“It means a lot, it means a lot. Everything I do on the court, I do it to win. For me to have people, especially teammates ... understanding that, obviously it means a lot,” Gobert told Canis Hoopus about that moment in the locker room. “I think the more we understand each other the more we understand that we’re here to accomplish something, the stronger our connection is going to be.”
All of this from a kid who is just 21 years old and nearly a decade from his prime. He’ll be out for blood again on Monday in a rematch with Fox and the Kings.
De'Aaron Fox throws down a monster poster on Rudy Gobert only for Anthony Edwards to drain a game-clinching 3 on the other end.— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) January 29, 2023
Wolves will win it in an incredible ASG vote showcase.
Ant: 34 pts, 10 reb, 6 ast, W
Fox: 29 pts, 6 ast, L
Those two are back it again on Monday
D’Angelo Russell’s ascension into becoming one of the league’s most efficient guards over the last 25-plus games is nothing short of incredible. Since December 1, D-Lo is averaging 20.5 points on 49.6/44.1/93.1 shooting splits, 5.9 assists to 2.7 turnovers, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals across 34.4 minutes per game across 27 contests. His 44.1% 3-point accuracy ranks eighth in the NBA among players with at least five attempted 3s per game, while his 93.1% free throw mark is third among qualifying players that average at least three attempts.
He turned that up to 10 on Saturday night. Russell scored the Wolves’ first six points and 12 of their first 17 behind a 4/4 start from behind the arc.
Why stop there?
Russell proceeded to make his first seven 3s of the night, all of them in the first half, in which was an incredible display of shooting maneuvering around screens and in spot-up situations. Instead of letting a heater consume his attention and impact, D-Lo then proceeded to help get Edwards involved in the third quarter after Ant had a slow first half. As I mentioned earlier, Ant returned the favor with 16 points in the frame.
“He’s a great point guard, man. He’s great,” Edwards told Canis Hoopus. “He’s getting a lot better with being able to just get off of it sometimes. He lets me know when to get off of it. He reads the game, he knows the game. He helps me out a lot. Our relationship just keeps growing, so I’m happy.”
D-Lo finished with 25 points on 8/14 shooting, including 7/9 from deep, and six assists across 37 minutes.
The 2019 All-Star is playing the best basketball of his career at a pivotal point both for him personally and the Timberwolves. Set to become an unrestricted free agent following this season, Russell is unquestionably raising the price tag on his next contract thanks to stellar offensive play alongside a scoring engine in Edwards and a dangerous pick-and-roll partner in Gobert. Given how he’s playing and that there’s no firm timetable for Karl-Anthony Towns’ return from a right calf strain, the Wolves simply cannot afford to trade him before the deadline and risk Edwards not having the support he needs to carry this team as far as he can take it in the playoffs.
In-and-out dribbles. Poster dunks. Timely 3s. Floaters. Nimble agility. Touch at the rim. 265 pounds of sheer dynamic.
What more can you say about a guy who continues to be a generator during power outages capable of charging an entire crowd with enough juice to sustain until Edwards takes over? After a poor first stint, Reid scored the Wolves’ final 10 points over the last 3:06 of the third quarter to repel a charge from a mixed Kings’ lineup and hold his team’s lead at nine entering the final frame.
“I just felt like I had to bring some type of energy in second half whereas I was in foul trouble in the first half. And a lot of guys on the bench were helping me, you know, Nate, Jaden, Kyle, a lot of guys were helping me, telling me to stay positive,” Reid said. “Once we get out there, they’re gonna need me so I just thought to bring my best energy that I could.”
From there, Reid detonated.
NAZ REID SENT METU TO THE GRAVEYARDpic.twitter.com/aTi1IP4gzj— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) January 29, 2023
Reid scored four of the team’s first five points of the quarter before handing the reins over to Edwards and Russell to close things out for a much needed win over another Western Conference playoff team. The poster dunk factory finished with 14 points in just 13 minutes of play.
A Dynamic Defensive Duo
The Timberwolves may have the league’s top wing and interior defender combo in the NBA with McDaniels and Gobert. When they take the floor together, Minnesota becomes uniquely equipped to slow down just about any kind of offense, especially one driven by a wiry guard and a big that prefers to do his work in the paint.
Fox and Domantas Sabonis combined for 52 of the Kings 110 points — above their combined nightly average of roughly 42.4 — but it didn’t feel like they dominated the game at any point. Fox had eight points on 2/11 shooting entering the fourth, while Sabonis had 16 and 8 through three quarters. The Kings’ All-Star caliber duo combined for 24 points in the fourth, but it felt like it was too little too late, as neither had a response for Edwards’ third quarter explosion while it was taking place.
McDaniels adeptly navigated screens early in the game to prevent Fox from getting any clean looks, and contested Fox’s shots when he was able to get them off. Although the Seattle native struggled to keep the former Kentucky star in front of him while in drop coverage in the fourth quarter, some of that can be attributed to tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back. McDaniels contained Fox well for most of the game, which allowed his teammates to stay home on shooters. Partly as a result, the Wolves held one of the top 10 shooting teams in the league to 9/33 from 3 (27.3%).
Gobert did a wonderful job forcing Sabonis to either take contested looks, earn second chances on the glass (when Gobert’s teammates should’ve rebounded it), or kick the ball back out. He contested very well, committed only two fouls in the game, grabbed several contested rebounds in traffic, and completely negated Sabonis’s post-up game.
Edwards feels like everyone now knows and appreciates how Gobert impacts the game.
“Just the little things. I said on the bench today, I seen a guy go in and look at Rudy and have a wide-open layup. And Rudy just stabbed at him, and he threw it and Rudy stole it. Like him present in a game just affects a lot of people, so it’s great to have him.”
The Wolves will run it back with the Kings at Target Center on Monday at 7 PM CT. You can catch the game on Bally Sports North.