I was wrong about Anthony Edwards.
After watching Zion Williamson soar through the air at Duke only to become king of the layups and the most blocked player in NBA history; I was worried that Edwards otherworldly college athleticism wasn’t going to translate to the pros. And as a raw prospect who relied heavily on that athletic advantage who said himself he’s “not really into basketball”, I worried he would fizzle out before developing due to a lack of passion.
I was wrong on both fronts; Edwards athletic talent not only translated but exceeded all expectations while his competitive fire and ability to adapt his game to the modern NBA have him head-to-head with LaMelo Ball in the rookie of the year race. But more than that, Edwards is proving Minnesota right in believing they had a franchise cornerstone superstar when they selected the Georgia Bulldog #1 in the 2020 NBA draft.
In an era of shooting and players getting smaller (Zion excluded, dude is Shaq-esque force of nature) watching a big body fly through the air and deliver dunks on this magnitude on a regular basis from a young superstar is a throwback for the fans who remember a time before the majority of players were more worried (and rightfully so) about their three point shot than their ability to put bigger players on posters.
But even the analytics will tell you, a dunk is the best shot in the NBA. And Edwards excels at being able to use that “shot” to his advantage.
I mentioned the three point shot earlier and while Anthony Edwards clearly hadn’t spent years honing his like some of his draft class peers, he clearly has understood the value of the three point shot and using it to stretch the floor since his college days as a Bulldog. As a freshman Edwards was putting up over 7 attempts from behind the arc at 29% so while he was willing; he wasn’t necessarily effective.
But getting those reps in was just the tip of the iceberg on the work he was putting in on being able to knock down the long range shot from NBA range. I liked his willingness to get his shot up but the percentage had me worried that with the further distance and better defenders we were years away from seeing it as a weapon in Edwards’s arsenal.
Seeing Signs of Efficiency Shooting from Deep
Edwards has proven me wrong on that front as well though; continuing to shoot more than 7 three point attempts a game. Even more surprising, he’s shooting 30% on the year and 32% since becoming a starter; better than his marks in college. And with only 32% of his three point attempts being of the catch and shoot variety, Edwards has been using his ball handling ability to create shots for himself that are helping him break defenses already in his rookie year.
Assuming the trend continues upward, Edwards is going to be one of the most effective long range shooters in the league at using it to open up the rest of his game; much like Julius Randle was able to do this year with the Knicks.
Not only is he one of the most explosive dunkers in the game to go along with his developing perimeter shot; he’s also one of the best in the league already at slowing down after getting an advantage driving on his man and using his deceleration as a weapon. Feeling his man going full speed Edwards will all of sudden be a step and a half behind his man and already rising up for a floater or layup. You can see the growth in his game and the attention to detail from Edwards in the clips below; he wasn’t doing this in college.
Both the ability to slow down and finish and using the iso stepback three both remind me of James Harden as if Edwards has been trying to emulate those in his own game. Given that Harden is probably the most talented scorer I’ve ever seen and a lot of it relies more on technique than athletic ability, if a specimen like Edwards can become even 75% of technically sound as Harden to add to his eruptive leaping talents we will likely be looking at an all-NBA caliber player alongside Karl Anthony Towns.
He’s been an above average playmaker when he’s had the ball with a willingness to try and make difficult passes when he sees defenses helping too much off their men when he drives the lane. While not putting up big assist numbers, the advanced stats for playmaking are a little more friendly with him being above average at high value assist per game, passing to open teammates, and his scoring gravity at drawing attention.
And one of the new favorites of the analytics community, box creation, has him in the 80th percentile (A- rating) for creating open space for his teammates to get wide open looks.
A Work in Progress Defensively
Defensively, Edwards has struggled with the speed and veteran savvy from a lot of players in the league like most rookies typically do. Overeager and overaggressive, Edwards often gets himself out of position and finds his athleticism just not quite enough to make up for the mental mistakes and gives up more quality looks than you’d like.
The effort on that end is there though and is evident with having 10 games with at least 3 steals this year shows not only that effort but being able to disrupt passing lanes and contribute on the defensive end while he gets more comfortable being a solid cog in on that end on a nightly basis.
With LaMelo Ball back for the Charlotte Hornets and looking to have an impact on a playoff run I don’t expect Anthony Edwards to win the Rookie of the Year award. However, the growth he has already shown as an NBA player to go along with his refreshing personality and competitive drive to be the best are all great signs for Minnesota Timberwolves fans.
I may have been a few months late to the bandwagon but I’m claiming my seat on the Anthony Edwards and bright future Timberwolves bandwagons and can’t wait for the rest of the NBA world to come on board.
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