When the Minnesota Timberwolves won the NBA Draft Lottery last fall, there was a sense of reservation. The 2020 class was expected to be devoid of franchise players, and although the Wolves held the No. 1 overall pick, the expectation was that it was an asset that they could use as part of a bigger trade.
Although he only has 11 starts and 28 games under his belt, Anthony Edwards is not just a player showing the skills to be a perennial All-Star. He’s looking and acting like a player with franchise-changing potential.
Throughout their history, we’ve seen glimpses of a young player who has looked like he is about to change the trajectory of the franchise. Kevin Garnett became an MVP, but the Wolves have been teased by players such as Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, and Andrew Wiggins who became All-Stars but never became the type of player to lift a team.
The Timberwolves are starting to see the same on-court flashes from Edwards. Since becoming a starter on Jan. 27, Edwards has averaged 17.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. What started out as a promising sample size has turned into a modification to the offense. Edwards is becoming the Wolves’ primary playmaker.
A lot of Edwards’ recent success has come at the expense of Russell, who will miss the next four to six weeks after undergoing knee surgery. But the Timberwolves look like a better basketball team when the ball is in his hands.
The first glimpse of this came against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 14. Edwards scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but his impact went beyond the box score. He was executing a lethal pick-and-roll set with Towns that opened up the lane and gave Towns an opportunity to hit from long range.
Edwards was doing some of the same things while scoring a career-high 28 points against the Los Angeles Lakers two days later. On a night where Towns and Malik Beasley were the Lakers’ primary focus, Edwards thrived, setting up his teammates and even burying a 3-pointer in front of LeBron James.
His recent play shows the type of promise Edwards has, but it’s what he’s been doing off the court that has helped elevate his status.
During a postgame Zoom call after the Lakers loss, Ricky Rubio mentioned that Edwards “kept working” even as he came off the bench. When Edwards took his turn at the podium, he spoke with words that not only were uncommon for a 19-year-old but for the history of the Timberwolves’ franchise.
“[It’s] not even about me scoring a lot of points,” Edwards said. “Just being a close game and fighting the whole game and knowing we could have won the game if we didn’t make these little mistakes. … It’s about the team and going out there and not playing scared because they’re the defending champs. …That’s all I was trying to do.”
Edwards had a similar tone after the Toronto game when Rubio mentioned how he creates positive vibes. Once again, Edwards delivered an answer that was wise beyond his years.
“I feel like it’s my job to keep the spirit up because everybody’s older than me and I feel like I’m the life of the team,” Edwards said. “I just feel like guys like Ricky, he always gives me advice so even though he doesn’t think he’s shooting well, I’m happy he’s shooting the ball. I try to give everybody as much confidence as I can because if I believe in you so much, you won’t want to let me down or let the team down, so I feel like they try their best to make it.”
Comments like this indicate that Edwards has the kind of wisdom that could lead a locker room, which could come sooner than later.
With Russell likely out for the majority of the season after surgery, it’s possible that the Wolves will go another year without knowing how good the KAT-DLo pairing is. Although adding an explosive Edwards to the mix will help when the two are on the court, he may have to take over as the franchise player should KAT and Russell depart.
This makes everything that Edwards does more impactful during his rookie season. With Russell on the shelf, the Timberwolves will do everything they can to make sure they get the ball in Edwards’ hands. If he continues to develop, the Wolves may finally have the face of the franchise they’ve been looking for.