Timberwolves

Can Anthony Edwards Become the Next Dwyane Wade?

Feb 24, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards (1) goes to the basket past Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the second half of an NBA game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

“His name is Dwyane Wade,” Anthony Edwards said on ESPN, weeks before the 2020 NBA draft. “I look on the TV and say I can be that guy or better than that guy.”

Before entering the league, Edwards looked at himself and saw greatness. He saw in his ability the opportunity to reach heights as high as Wade, one of the best ever to do it. Those are big expectations to set for yourself, but Edwards does not lack confidence as we’ve seen this season. Surprisingly, his self-comparison was “confirmed” — if you can call it that — by Wade himself on Feb. 17 when he gave props to our young Ant as a guest correspondent on TNT’s Inside the NBA.

Wade says here that he thinks Ant has all the tools to be even better than he was. If Wade is correct and Edwards can reach that level, he may be the player to finally lift the Minnesota Timberwolves from the franchise’s perpetual mediocrity. Some fans would say misery, but I’m trying to be moderate here.

This idea of Ant being a generational talent sounds nice, but I’m not sure I should take Wade’s valuation of talent as gospel. I took the opportunity to check in on Edwards’ season so far to see how he’s doing compared to Wade during his rookie season.

Before I do that, though, I want to note that their congruous physical profiles are the first, visual call for comparison. According to NBA.com, Wade was 6’4” with a 6’11” wingspan and played at 220 lbs. Ant? 6’4”, 225 lbs with a 6’10” wingspan. Like Wade, Edwards shows a knack for using his 40-inch vertical to slam on defenders in tremendous fashion.

Ant currently lacks some of the length that Wade possesses, but he’s only 19, and there is a chance that Edwards could grow to be even bigger. Aside from their physical profiles, how do their statistical accomplishments early in their career stack up? Here is a side-by-side of Wade and Edwards through 35 games of their career:

The start of Wade’s rookie season was, without a doubt, better than Edwards. But Wade came into the league at 21 after two seasons at Marquette, and his game was much more developed at the time. Wade was immediately placed in the starting lineup as a combo guard, and much of the offense was run through him.

Ant comes into the league having turned 19 in August with a game that lacks the same polish as Wade’s. He plays with a true point guard on the floor with him at all times and was coming off the bench until late January. But we’ve seen a steady rise in Edwards’ production since moving into the starting lineup on Jan. 29th.

Now that the ball is in Edwards’ hands more often, we are beginning to see the Wadian flash to his game. His points, rebounds, assists, and shooting percentages have all risen over the past 18 games. It seems like Ant is starting to figure things out. He is taking care of the ball as he continues to stake out a bigger role as a playmaker in the offense, and his assist-to-turnover percentage during this 18-game stretch is an impressive 8.6%.

Edwards’ assist-to-turnover ratio in this same stretch is 2.35:1, which in this small sample bests any such ratio that Wade posted throughout his career. Assist-to-turnover ratio is a common way to get a sense of how a player takes care of the ball, but, personally, I like to look at the ratio between assist percentage and turnover percentage (Ast%:Tov%) and compare that to a player’s usage percentage. I think that gives a better idea of how a player is performing in the context of his team instead of just a raw number.

For example, Tyus Jones’ 6.9:1 assist to turnover ratio in 2018-19 (shoutout Kyle Ratke) was historic but did not accurately represent his play in any actual basketball context. Using that raw number, one might think that Tyus had one of the greatest passing seasons of all time. But his usage percentage was 14.1%, which means that even as the point guard of the second unit, very little of the offense was running through him. His passing was free from mistakes, yes, but the volume and opportunity were limited, so his impressive 3.14:1 Ast%:Tov% came in a limited sample size. For example, last season LeBron James had one of the best passing seasons in the past five years with a 3.25:1 Ast%:Tov% on 31.5% usage.

Because Edwards is only dishing out 3.3 assists per game, it’s more beneficial to look at how many of the team’s assists he is contributing while he’s on the floor. As a starter, Edwards has posted a 1.81 Ast%:Tov% on 24.3% usage. If that trend continues, it will be significantly better than Wade’s 1.45 Ast%:Tov% on 25% usage during his rookie season. Even though Wade was averaging 4.5 assists, the efficacy of Edwards’ passing is proving to be one of the best parts of his game.

The hope is that as he continues to grow as a primary playmaker in the offense, his efficiency as a passer sustains. Here’s the rub, though: Edwards can’t score efficiently. A bad shot is just as bad as a bad pass, especially for a team that ranks 29th in fastbreak points allowed per game.

The particularly frustrating thing about all of this is that Edwards’ inefficient shot selection exists within an excellent shot profile. Edwards is taking 69.6 percent of his shots either at the rim or from 3-point range, which is great in today’s NBA. The problem here is that Edwards is taking a lot of off-the-dribble 3s. According to Synergy, he is shooting just 26.1% on all shots off the dribble.

Wade played in a different NBA, so he took far fewer 3s than Edwards, but Wade was incredibly efficient at the rim, 65.5 percent over his career. Wade also drew fouls at a much higher rate than Edwards. Even in Wade’s rookie season, his offense was much more efficient than Edwards’. Here is a comparison of their rookie seasons FG% across the floor.

If Edwards hopes to be a star in this league, he’ll have to figure out how to operate in the midrange and draw fouls at a higher rate. Until Edwards can score efficiently, there is no hope for him even to begin to scratch at that Wade glass ceiling, much less break through it.

But, again, Edwards is young. He’s got all the tools to become one of the best players in the league; he’s just got to put the puzzle together. The Timberwolves need Ant to figure it out. Otherwise, we may be in for another long and frustrating journey with a No. 1 overall pick. Here’s hoping that Edwards is more Wade than Wiggins.

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Feb 24, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards (1) goes to the basket past Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the second half of an NBA game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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