For Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, the sky is the limit. His inconsistent rookie numbers or his team’s shortcomings may suggest otherwise, but Edwards is genuinely an exceptional talent.
After narrowly missing out on the 2021 Rookie of the Year trophy at just age 19, Edwards enters his sophomore season with much to prove. With a captivating off-court personality and a rare combination of physical gifts and IQ, Edwards is unique. And it’s this uniqueness that makes his potential so exciting.
The keys to Edwards’ potential are his physical gifts. He leaps out of the gym with a 39.5-inch vertical, a trait best illustrated by his incredible poster versus the Raptors this season.
He’s also stoutly built at 6’5″ and 225 pounds. He uses this powerful core to bump defenders off balance on his fierce drives to the hoop. He’s so strong that many capable guard defenders struggle to contain him due to their lack of size.
Ideally, the counter to Edwards’ strength is to shadow him with a bulkier wing. But against these wings, Edwards overwhelms them with his lightning-quick burst and acceleration. In some cases, he even looks like an NFL running back plowing through open space as he quickly bulldozes defenders to the hoop with his strong body and tight handle.
Bringing it all together is Edwards’ flexible and relentless lower body. Occasionally reminiscent of Dwyane Wade, Edwards gets incredibly low to the ground on his drives, maximizing his momentum and change of direction towards the hoop.
His physical tools already make him a matchup problem for defensive game plans. And as he rounds out his game and brushes up his shot selection, there’s no telling what Edwards could do as a scorer.
Feel for the game
Many players boast elite physical gifts like Edwards, but only a fraction have the instincts to utilize these tools in an NBA setting.
Frankly, it’s rare for someone as physically gifted as Edwards to have such a robust feel and awareness for the game. In year one, he showcased spurts of high IQ decision-making, particularly as a slashing ball handler.
Edwards flashed a knack for elite spatial recognition as a rookie. He regularly read driving lanes out of the pick and roll or in transition, subsequently bolting to the rim before help arrived.
As the year progressed, he also made better use of his mid-air talents. Instead of mindlessly rising for improbable finishes, Edwards added some finesse to his interior scoring game. He displayed great awareness and processing speed as he glided to the rim, contorting and weaving his body around multiple defenders to find unique finishing angles in a split second.
His relentless motor, confidence, and aggression came in handy on these drives, as well. Edwards has no problem challenging even the best of defenders, a trait that will take him a long way. He’s a physical beast with a fearless demeanor.
Although he developed into a capable starter by the end of his rookie year, Anthony Edwards’ NBA career started poorly. Before the all-star break, he posted a stat line of 14.9/4.0/2.5 on a woeful 46.6% true shooting (37.1/30.2/80.5 splits).
As an inexperienced 19-year old, Edwards underwent his fair share of growing pains early in the season. He struggled to make easy reads as a ball-handler and rushed many of his unpolished finishes at the rim. As a result, some even began to question whether the Timberwolves made a mistake in drafting Edwards.
But things changed. After the all-star break, Edwards’ stat line ballooned to 23.8/5.3/3.4 on a healthy 56.7% true shooting (45.4/34.9/76.2 splits). This statistical jump included a 9-game stretch to finish the season where Edwards posted 26.8 points per game on 65% true shooting.
By the end of his rookie campaign, Edwards grew into an entirely new player. Among other things, Edwards’ refined decision-making fueled this sudden improvement.
His aforementioned feel for the game took off in this late-season surge as he grew more confident in an on-ball role and drastically improved his shot selection. Namely, he made better use of his natural talents by replacing ill-advised jumpers with efficient attacks at the rim.
The increased rim pressure showed up in the stat sheet. After the break, Edwards averaged 4.0 more points in the paint and got to the line an extra 2.7 times per game, both of which boosted his scoring stats tremendously.
The passing took some time to develop, but Edwards made strides there too. Specifically, he utilized an occasional drive-and-kick game to hit shooters when he got downhill to collapse the defense. Once his scoring gravity improved, his playmaking flourished simultaneously.
Potential next to Karl-Anthony Towns
Edwards’ Timberwolves have won just two playoff series in their underwhelming 33 years as a franchise. In addition, recent history hasn’t treated them well, either. They boast a poor 35.7% win percentage in the last three seasons, with one of the main culprits being the lack of a dynamic co-star to complement young big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
Luckily, Edwards’ high ceiling makes him an ideal candidate to fill that void. Moreover, the prospect of him developing into an elite perimeter creator grows even more enticing when considering he’ll have a premier offensive big man to work alongside.
Historically, most strong offensive bigs reach their apex when an elite perimeter weapon complements them. For example, Shaq had Kobe & Wade, Stoudemire had Nash, and Kareem had Magic & Oscar.
Will Edwards ever reach the levels of those perimeter stars? It’s unlikely. Yet, the concept still applies. Big men and perimeter creators work together like peanut butter and jelly.
As Edwards grows, he’ll benefit Towns in ways that the 25-year-old center hasn’t experienced in years. Most of all, he’ll draw loads of defensive attention through his rapidly improving scoring, opening up one-on-one opportunities for Towns to exploit.
Stylistically, the duo fits well together, too. On top of Towns’ scoring prowess, he’s an exceptional passer who thrives at finding cutters out of the high post. Coincidentally, Edwards ranked in the 88th percentile in scoring efficiency on cuts to the basket.
His speedy and timely cuts are the perfect match for Towns’ standstill passing. In total, Towns assisted Edwards 55 times in 2020-21, a number that should skyrocket as the duo spends more time coexisting and developing chemistry.
Perfect situation for growth
Minnesota also serves as a perfect opportunity for Edwards to grow on his learning curve. For starters, he won’t be overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations at such a young age. He wasn’t thrust into the center of the spotlight or burdened by a win-now environment.
Yet, at the same time, Edwards has already earned more than enough control of the offense to take on healthy amounts of reps and experience. After coach Chris Finch took over on February 21, Edwards immediately became more empowered within the Minnesota offense. His usage rate rose from 25.1 to 28.3, an increase extensively responsible for his second-half outburst.
Based on the drastic improvements he made as a rookie and the up-and-coming environment of the Timberwolves, there’s all the reason in the world to believe Edwards is on track to reach all-star status within the next few years. Minnesota serves as the perfect situation for him to make that jump.
Heading into year two, Edwards is already a budding star. His early improvements won’t be going anywhere and he’s here to stay.