When the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Anthony Edwards with the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, there would be an acclimation process. As a 19-year-old with no game action since February, his learning curve was going to be steep, but the Wolves felt like they had the veterans around to give him the time he needed to develop.
However, as they sunk to the bottom of the Western Conference standings, Edwards’ education has been jumpstarted with a move to the starting lineup. After three games, he has made an impact for the Wolves, even if it hasn’t shown up in the win-loss column. As a result, Edwards has shown flashes of his game that should have fans excited not only for the rest of the season also but for his future.
He’s shown the ability to score. The rookie out of Georgia has shown glimpses of this during his time as a reserve, which spanned the first 17 games of his career. The issue wasn’t his ability to create scoring chances but rather his ability to finish.
Edwards was 9-for-31 (29%) on attempts within three to 10 feet, and was inefficient overall, shooting 35.5 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent from three. But by taking an inefficient approach, he was able to show flashes of what he could become, including a 26 point outburst against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 7.
He also had his share of struggles, shooting 19 percent from the floor during a five-game stretch between Jan. 10 and Jan. 22.
Edwards eventually snapped out of the funk. After a 25-point effort on Jan. 25 against the Golden State Warriors, Edwards made his first career start two nights later in a rematch in San Francisco. Although the change has resulted in only five extra minutes on the floor, the biggest difference is who Edwards is playing with.
When Edwards was a reserve, he played with several young players who had yet to make a mark in the league. While Jaylen Nowell, Jayden McDaniels, and Jarred Vanderbilt have played better lately, they’re not shooters like D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, who command attention.
This has freed up the floor for Edwards, who has taken full advantage with his shot. In the three games since coming into the starting lineup, his field goal percentage has drastically improved. He’s now shooting 46.3 percent from the field, 47 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been allowed to spot up and shoot, fill it up while creating instant offense on the perimeter.
But that doesn’t mean that Edwards has stopped going to the rim. In his 23-point performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 31, Edwards got the ball on the perimeter and slashed his way to the rim. With more confidence and better floor spacing, he’s been able to connect on shots three to 10 feet from the basket.
He’s a proven scorer, he had 10 or more points in 12 out of his 17 games as a reserve, but he’s improved in other facets of the game since becoming a starter.
With Beasley and Russell commanding attention, Edwards has taken the opportunity to be more aggressive as a rebounder, pulling down 4.5 boards a game in the starting lineup compared to 2.8 off the bench. This creates put-back chances at the rim while also allowing his teammates to get involved.
His passing is also something that has been on display since entering the starting lineup. As teams cave in on Edwards to contest shots on the outside or when he drives to the basket, he trusts his teammates to hit a shot. This is something he didn’t have playing with the reserves or during his time in Athens. As a result, he has nearly doubled his assist numbers from 1.6 off the bench to 2.8 as a starter.
This scenario played out a couple of nights later in a rematch with the Cavs. Edwards works off a screen from Ed Davis and gets to the rim but defers at the last moment with a pass to an open Josh Okogie, who hits the three-pointer and gives Edwards an assist.
All of this has made the Timberwolves’ offense more effective when Edwards is on the floor. He is posting an offensive rating of 118 points per 100 possessions, and they should be able to create even more opportunities when Karl-Anthony Towns returns.
He will have to perform better defensively to become a reliable starter. But if Edwards can carry over the play from this small sample size, he has the capability of being an impact player who should be part of the Wolves’ long-term plans.