If the International Olympic Committee was to ever allow one person to compete in every Olympic event, that person should be Anthony Edwards. Basketball, baseball, football, ping pong, tennis, swimming, trashcan ball (please let this be an Olympic sport), whatever you need him to do, he’s apparently your guy. As entertaining it would be to watch Edwards try sports he’s likely never even heard of (Dressage? Fencing? Rhythmic gymnastics?), he could actually help the struggling men’s basketball team in Tokyo.
Team USA opened the 2020 Olympic Games by losing to France, 83-76. The not-so-dreamy team is living in a nightmare that even beating Iran by 54 points can’t pull them out of. Kevin Love and Bradley Beal were forced to drop out before the tournament began, and Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Devin Booker all arrived in Japan late. The team was so desperate that they had to call JaVale McGee to fill in and save the day. That’s a dark place to be in.
Anthony Edwards led a U.S. select team that included Timberwolves teammate Naz Reid and was called in to scrimmage Team USA in Las Vegas before heading to Tokyo. Some called for Ant to replace Bradley Beal when he dropped out. Unfortunately, Edwards sprained his ankle in Vegas and wasn’t able to play. Unfortunately, Ant can’t infuse Team USA with his boyish charm this summer, but the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award may have just stamped his name at the top of the list of young stars vying to make their Olympic debut in Paris three years from now.
Much of Team USA’s current roster will likely age out of competition in three years. Five players, including Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, will be 34 or older in 2024. Of the remaining six rostered players, it is hard to imagine Jerami Grant, Keldon Johnson, and a nearly 33-year-old Khris Middleton on a future Olympics roster. That leaves Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Bam Adebayo, and Zach LaVine as the backbone of Team USA.
The NBA is chock-full of young talent, so wowing the coaches and winning a spot on the team will be no easy feat for a kid who turns 20 next week. Zion Williamson, Trae Young, and Donovan Mitchell were finalists for the team this spring. That doesn’t even include other young stars like LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and others who will likely be in the mix for Paris.
Things will need to break exactly right for Edwards to represent his country, but he’s got a lot going for him. For starters, he’s good at the whole basketball thing. He averaged 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game in his rookie season. Keep in mind that he didn’t know where he’d be playing until a month before the season, dealt with a pandemic, had an awkward mid-season coaching change, and was missing his veteran teammates for a good chunk of the time. At 6’4”, 225 lbs., Edwards has the perfect body to deal with the extra physicality usually seen in international basketball.
Edwards is also one of the most likable young players in the league. With his megawatt smile and easy charm, it should be easy for him to win over Team USA coaches and decision-makers. Fans have already fallen for the Georgia native and can’t wait to see him on the global stage. The people of France will probably hate him, but other internationals in Paris or watching the games at home will likely have a new favorite player when the Olympics are over. Think Charles Barkley in Barcelona in 1992, except not a dick.
Some might worry that a player who is currently a teenager is too young to be in contention for a spot on Team USA in just three years, but the Olympics have increasingly become a young person’s game. Edwards will turn 23 during the Paris games and will have already played four seasons in the NBA. Seven of the 12 players in 2004 were younger than Ant will be in 2024, and only one (Dwight Howard) was younger in 2008. Anthony Davis was only 19 in 2012, every player in 2016 was at least 24 years old, and only Keldon Johnson is younger this year. Age is just a number, and if Edwards makes a star leap in the next three years, it won’t matter how young he is when it comes to building an Olympic roster.
To ensure his future roster spot on Team USA, Edwards will have to make a few adjustments to his game over the next three years. Ant’s biggest weaknesses are his 3-point shooting and lack of defensive awareness. His pedestrian 32.9% shooting from three during his rookie year is a solid platform to start on. However, Chris Finch and Co. will need to work on his shooting form and decision-making going into Year 2. Right now he’s an inefficient scorer, which doesn’t exactly embody the essence of international basketball.
It’s probably fair to chalk up Ant’s defensive lapses to a crazy-short offseason and playing through a pandemic as a rookie, but his defense still needs to improve. He consistently lost his man and gave up easy backdoor layups and uncontested jumpers. It’s not exactly a requirement to be a lockdown defender in order to get selected for the team (see James Harden), but it would require him to vastly improve on the offensive end to make up for it. Anthony Edwards has the length and athleticism to become a good-to-great defender someday; it’s up to him and Finch to figure it out.
The biggest roadblock for Ant to become a member of Team USA might not even be Ant himself, it could be this year’s team. It’s entirely possible that this year’s shorthanded squad disappoints and misses out on a fourth consecutive gold medal. If that happens it could cause a ripple effect across USA basketball. Similarly, when they lost to Argentina in the quarterfinals in 2004, anything but gold could mean 2024 becomes the “Redeem Team Vol. 2.”
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and a slew of other NBA superstars joined forces in 2008 to remind the world that the United States still kicks ass. Could that happen again in 2024? If names like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant (again), James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, or Steph Curry are feeling patriotic and pissed off, it could create a logjam on the roster, and some talented youngsters might miss out on Uncle Sam’s revenge tour. It’s in Edwards’ best interest (and all of ours) to root like hell for the team in Tokyo so he can take his turn in 2024.
Anthony Edwards should be in the mix for a spot on Team USA in 2024, and he should take the opportunity in a heartbeat if he’s offered it. Representing his country on the biggest stage in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he’ll never forget. If he doesn’t get the call, maybe he’ll have to lobby the IOC to add trashcan ball to the games in 2028 in Los Angeles.