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Anthony Edwards was a widely-panned No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he’s already putting some concerns to rest.
The Minnesota Timberwolves had the first overall pick in this year’s draft after winning the lottery, but of all the teams with top picks, they seemed like the poorest fit for that spot.
Among the consensus top three draft prospects, they decided only one really made any sense for them. They didn’t want to draft LaMelo Ball because D’Angelo Russell plays the same position, and they wanted no positional overlap. The Timberwolves didn’t want to draft James Wiseman for the same reason, and Wiseman didn’t want to go to Minnesota and play the same position as Karl-Anthony Towns anyway.
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That left Anthony Edwards as the only logical option of the trio, other than a trade which is a risky proposition for any team not looking to get fleeced in their position (looking at you, Philadelphia 76ers and Markelle Fultz).
The Timberwolves did indeed draft Edwards, but there were concerns. He had some red flags in college at the University of Georgia regarding how much he actually loved the game, his shot selection was notoriously poor and you never knew from one game to the next whether you would get Anthony Edwards’ best effort.
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Of course, college performance doesn’t always translate to the NBA. That goes both ways, mind you. Generally speaking, a college standout will reach the NBA only to be entirely overmatched for at least their early days. The players are bigger, stronger, faster, smarter and better coached than even the best they had faced in college, and the learning curve is gigantic.
While Edwards surely is going to have some catching up to do on the learning side of things, he’s got the physicality down pat and he has top tier NBA size already. At just 19 years old, he’s 6’5″ and 225 lbs and is a force of nature in the making.
Some of those early concerns have already been assuaged by Edwards’ play. He’s off to a roaring start, averaging 16.5 points per game on shooting splits of .542/.375/1.000 and has only turned the ball over once on above-average usage of 23.6 percent.
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Edwards may well have been disengaged at Georgia and the scouting reports were spot on. Maybe that had something to do with the way he feels about basketball, or more likely he simply wasn’t into the whole deal of playing for a mediocre squad with players whose names he would scarcely remember a couple of years later.
For those who were concerned about Anthony Edwards’s translation to the NBA, those worries were certainly not unfounded. However, in his first two games, it looks as though he’s adapting wonderfully to the NBA game. He’s also getting to stretch his wings in a low-pressure environment on a team that will need to overachieve in order to make noise in the playoff picture, and he gets the best of both worlds by also getting to learn from a legitimate superstar in Karl-Anthony Towns.
It’s ok to have been iffy about Edwards, but he’s on the right path with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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Through three regular season games, the Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t failed to live up to their usual roller coaster ride of expectations. So far, they’ve provided a banquet of emotions; blending the tender meats of an opening night comeback win over the Detroit Pistons with the sweet dessert of a rollicking underdog triumph over the Utah Jazz. However, in true Wolves fashion, they had to mix in some Brussels sprouts, those coming in the form of the 36-point shellacking at the hands of the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Perhaps the most peculiar delicacy at the entire feast has been tracking the first footsteps of Anthony Edwards. Even after securing his place at the top of the tree on draft night, Ant-Man was scarcely hyped like the usual first overall pick. Whether it was his hot-and-cold season in a losing program at the University of Georgia, his overblown and, usually, out of context pre-draft comments, or the fact he was drafted by the ever-underwhelming Timberwolves, Edwards ceded the bulk of the national media coverage and primetime highlight packages to his draftmates LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman.
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This Anthony Edwards interview is straight comedy
(via @Timberwolves) pic.twitter.com/t4X33K6ePF
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 24, 2020
However, in the minuscule three-game sampling that we’ve got to nibble on, the 19-year-old has been far from an unwanted side dish. He hasn’t just been palatable, for long stretches his game has been delicious. Through just 76 minutes of professional basketball, he has demonstrated the entire thrills and spills nature of the Anthony Edwards Experience. As will likely be the case for the entirety of his career, the conversation engulfing Edwards begins with his scoring punch and, in particular, how often he gets to the rim and how well he finishes when he gets there.
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The biggest condemnation that stemmed from the 6-foot-6 combo wing’s freshman season with the Bulldogs is that he settled far too much. Despite being an overwhelming physical presence, Edwards attempted just 30.8 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim, connecting on a very nice 69 percent of said attempts. With elite touch, size and movement capabilities, scouts, coaches and pundits alike urged Edwards to cut down on the contested mid-range and 3-point shots.
Through his first two NBA outings, the wins over Detroit and Utah, he had upped his at-rim frequency to 33.3 percent, according to NBA.com. For reference, Luka Doncic (30.1%), Bradley Beal (27.9%) and Donavan Mitchell (21.1%) were among the plethora of dominant scoring wings that failed to cross that one-third volume threshold last season.
Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images
Regression to some sort of mean is likely coming, it’s still way too early to be using these kinds of stats as ironclad evidence, but there is no taking away how impressive his mindset has been thus far. Playing against physical presences like Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant of the Pistons or the Jazz’s staunch defense anchored by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and stout post defender Derrick Favors, Edwards had all the excuses in the world to lean on his jumper and shy away from inside contact. He didn’t — he ran headlong into it and embraced every bump and bruise along the way.
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The best part? The unflinching mindset didn’t come at the expense of efficiency. Small sample size be damned, the fact that Edwards shot 87.5 percent at the rim in his first two NBA games is nothing short of spectacular. Ant has a rare blend of talent, physicality, athleticism and ingrained scoring mentality, a secret herbs and spices that, when measured out and blended correctly, serve a devastating cuisine for an opposition defense.
The first sequence we’re going to focus on seems tame on the surface, but at a deeper look it’s is a little dollop of that special sauce Edwards possesses. It begins with the hesitation crossover, the fact it’s not a snap-your-ankles move might mean it lulls you into thinking it’s meaningless when really it’s the most crucial building block of a defender’s nightmare. By faking left and crossing over back to his right, Edwards gets Jazz forward Royce O’Neale leaning the wrong way with his upper body and transferring his weight backward instead of forward (or sideward) with his feet and lower body.
This move needs to be singled out individually, because this is the foundation of the entire drive. With that fairly unassuming crossover, Edwards has put in motion a chain of events that leaves O’Neale very little chance to finish the play with a win.
The Jazz forward is a very handy defender and, to his credit, he doesn’t let the side-to-side move and burst out of it best him immediately. He regains some semblance of balance and slides his feet well to get back in Edwards’ vicinity. This is where the rookie’s complete outlier strength comes into play. He uses O’Neale’s eagerness to get back into his airspace against him, putting a subtle but demolishing shoulder into his defender’s midriff, sending the 27-year-old careening backward for six straight steps. O’Neale makes one last-ditch attempt to jimmy the ball out of the rookie’s hands, but Edwards has that thing gripped in his immovable mitts like Charlie with the Golden Ticket.
Once he’s seen off the defender’s best efforts, it’s time for the top-tier body control and touch to kick in. There isn’t an unfathomable amount of body contortion here, just like the touch needed isn’t at the level that Edwards can produce when he is really strutting his stuff, but he needs to get the ball up from well below his waist while still adjusting his balance and kiss it off the glass with a feathery touch. He does that, and he makes it look a lot simpler than it is.
That wasn’t his only mouth-watering finish in the Utah win. In fact, it wasn’t even the most impressive one. More than the technical ability it takes to put Rudy Gobert on his heels, bamboozle him with the tornado spin, and stop on a dime for the bucket, it’s the gall to commit to that move without a moment of hesitation. The nous to recognize that he has the big man backing up and in the basketball version of the fetal position. The confidence to finish it like he was still playing against a freshman from Austin Peay State University.
That’s what Edwards can do to competent and seasoned defenders. What he’s able to produce against lesser competition seems unfair for someone his age. He may be a 19-year-old rookie with less than a month’s worth of game time under his belt, but Ant-Man is already far too big, strong and technically sound for a lot of wings to check.
The pirouette — which is quickly becoming a staple of his scoring package — and finish you see below made the rounds on social media, and we should expect to see plenty more of it as Edwards’ career unfolds. Again, the finish is a cocktail mix of everything the former Bulldog has in his cupboard — made to look easier than the previous clips by the slower mental and physical recognition of Detroit’s Svi Mykhailiuk.