Can Ant Make the Leap From Great Rookie To Great NBA Player?

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson (USA TODAY Sports)

Since the moment Anthony Edwards stepped on camera pre-draft, he’s been poised to be a star. For non-college basketball heads, our introduction to Ant was this video:

Ant has a lot of quotable media moments, but for me, calling Jim Carey’s The Mask Mr. Applehead is an all-timer. I still laugh every time I think about it. I loved that quote so much, in fact, I got CnD NBA Show co-host Dylan Carlson a custom Mr. Applehead North Star jersey for his birthday.

The point is, like most of the Wolves’ fanbase, I too have taken to Anthony Edwards the human. He is charming, eccentric, confident, and seemingly unafraid to be his authentic self at all times. It feels like Ant is a player Minnesota fans can get behind, and he appears to be excited to be Minnesota’s star.

Although he seems to have a lust for life, all the joie de vivre in the world doesn’t necessarily equate to winning basketball games. If Edwards is truly going to be the next great Minnesota sports star, he’ll need to achieve the same level of success on the court as he has in front of the camera.

Luckily, there have already been promising returns. Much ado has been made about his post-All-Star break performance where he put up 23.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. When it was all said and done, his 19.3 points per game lead the rookie class. His phenomenal rookie year fell short of winning literal Rookie of the Year, but I’ve heard that award is overrated.

Outside of trading for Ben Simmons, it seems that Edwards will have to make a leap for the Wolves to take the next step forward. Can we expect him to continue his upward trajectory? Or was his rookie season just a flash in the pan? I took a look back through the annals of basketball history to see if there is historical evidence that can give us a hint as to how good Ant might be.

There are two essential questions I want to answer here:

  1. What does history tell us the odds are that Anthony Edwards reaches his potential?
  2. What is the chance he takes a leap in his sophomore season?

When I started to go back through the years, I quickly found it incredibly difficult. An initial search on Stathead.com let me know that there have been 4,586 players to play in the NBA. I couldn’t possibly comb through all that data. I’m only one man. So instead of doing that nonsense, I checked out the careers of Ant’s rookie year statistical comps to see what I could glean.

Real quick before that: I thought I would share that the 4,586th player listed on Stathead’s list of every NBA player ever is, miraculously, a Minnesota Timberwolf. Trevor Winter played five minutes in one game back in 1999. Good on ya, Trevor.

I ran a search for every player in NBA history who averaged at least 19 points per game during their rookie season. I was surprised to find there have only been 62 players to reach that mark in their first season. Of those 62 players, 28 of them are currently in the NBA Hall of Fame. Next, I accounted for players who are currently playing and have a good chance of making it into The Hall. Using Basketball-Reference’s Hall of Fame probability, I added Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James, who all have over a 50% chance of making the Hall of Fame. That brings the total to 33 out of 62 players in or on their way to the Hall of Fame after averaging at least 19 points per game in their rookie year. That’s over half — 53% to be precise.

Now I’ll get a little more specific. I narrowed the field to hone in on players who are most comparable to Ant. Not only did Edwards score a lot, but he also had the ball in his hands often. He led all rookies in usage at 27%. Adding a usage floor of 27% eliminates players whose rookie year was before 1977, which allows for a more comparable game of basketball to the one that is played today. Additionally, this gives a better picture of rookies who were leaned on by their teams the way that Ant was leaned on by the Wolves.

There are 20 players on this list. Fifteen of them went on to make at least one All-Star game. As you can see from this list, Ant shares this benchmark with some of the best young players in the league right now along with some of the greatest players of all time.

I’m not saying that Ant is going to be the GOAT, I am saying that he is off to a very good start.

But who cares about what Ant will do in the long run, is he going to be good next year?

I looked back at 15 years of draft history and pulled the top three scorers from each season to see how those rookies performed in their sophomore seasons. If you’d like a closer look, you can find my spreadsheet here.

This was very promising. I collected data for 45 players and only eight of them did not improve their scoring production in their second season. However, two of the largest dips in production that I found were by Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams. If you recall, MCW and his unhinged ROY campaign came right as the Philadelphia 76ers officially pulled the proverbial plug and went all Hinky-Dinky on us. His scoring acumen was a result of endless opportunity more than actual skill. Okafor, on the other hand, was caught in the wake of Joel Embiid as he splashed onto the NBA scene like a speed boat driven by a drunk Cameroonian.

No qualifying rookie improved their scoring more from year one to year two than Trae Young (+10.5). Rudy Gay (+9.3) and Luka Doncic (+7.6) had the second and third highest improvements respectively, so admittedly, it’s a kind of a mixed bag.

To the point, overall, the numbers look positive for Ant. I figured, hell, let’s see if I can predict Ant’s stat line next year. I took the average second-year improvement for all 45 rookies to get a composite improvement score.

Points Rebounds Assists True Shooting %
16.06 4.95 3.71 53.08
18.52 5.28 3.85 54.27
+2.46 +0.33 +0.14 +1.18

If Anthony Edwards follows the sophomore season trend, we can expect season stats that look something like this:

Points Rebounds Assists True Shooting %
21.8 5 3 53.5

The average improvement is slight. But Ant finished last season on a tear, which gives me hope that he can exceed this prediction. The sky’s the limit for Ant. For his sake, my sake, and for yours, I hope he reaches it.

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