There are roughly 30 games left in this year’s shortened NBA season, and the Minnesota Timberwolves are still dead last in the standings despite the progress they’ve made since Chris Finch took over. They are 3-4 in their last seven games, and despite having $40 million worth of salary not playing with Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell out, they seem to have really taken some big steps since the All-Star break.
One big reason for their recent success is rookie guard Anthony Edwards. In the last 10 games, the former Georgia Bulldog is averaging eight more points and two more rebounds than his season averages while only playing five more minutes per game.
Ever since coming into the league as a 19-year-old, Edwards has welcomed the pressures of the NBA. He’s found an extra gear under Finch; however, in the past couple of weeks, Ant has been more efficient and finds himself as a key piece of the Wolves’ offense.
The big question now becomes what Edwards’ role will be when Minnesota has a fully healthy roster — if that day ever actually comes. With Beasley and Russell each having averaged 16 shots per game earlier this season, it’s obvious Ant won’t be able to shoot as often as he has been. He’s averaging 22 field goal attempts per game this month.
We know Edwards will continue to be an important offensive piece for the Wolves. But to get close to the 24 PPG he’s been putting up in the last 10 games, the potential Rookie of the Year will have to become more efficient with his touches.
Recently Ant has utilized his muscular frame to get to the hoop and has started taking shots closer to the basket. In each of the last 10 games, Edwards is averaging 7.7 shot attempts in the restricted area or the half-circle in the painted area below the basket. Interestingly enough, that number would rank Edwards fifth in the league if it represented his entire season. Zion Williamson and Giannis Antetokounmpo are among the league leaders in restricted-area shot attempts, an indication that Edwards’ aggressive playing style will lead him to success and better efficiency.
“He is a load. Reminds me a little bit of Zion,” Finch said when asked about Ant and his 6’4”, 229 lb frame. “He has this incredible explosiveness and powerful body, and it’s tough to handle against mismatches, against switches.”
Edwards is still very raw. He only played one year at Georgia and has a ways to go to truly find his rhythm in the NBA. Luckily for Ant and the Wolves, it’s the perfect time to experiment. Nobody expects Minnesota to win this year, and maybe more importantly, fans don’t want them to put together a winning streak all of a sudden because they would be more likely to lose their draft pick.
Another silver lining in this throwaway season for Ant is that he gets to see what it’s like to be a major scoring threat on a team. It’s been mostly The Karl-Anthony Towns and Edwards Show as of late, and teams are game-planning defensively for the rookie as a focal point in the Wolves’ offense.
Recently, Ant became the first teenager in NBA history to score 100 points in a three-game span. After a 42-point performance that helped Edwards set the record, the Phoenix Suns decided to make a member of Minnesota’s supporting cast beat them. They held Ant to 4-18 from the field, and he finished with 11 points.
“I gotta be better,” Edwards said after that disappointing outing. “I gotta finish better. I gotta find a way when there’s no way.”
Ant doesn’t make excuses and is self-critical, a good sign given his age.
Finch has somewhat an embarrassment of offensive riches on his hands when Beasley and Russell come back in the lineup. Minnesota will have arguably three All-Star-caliber scorers, and after the recent news of LaMelo Ball’s injury, the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year on their roster. However, there’s only one ball to go around. In a perfect world, Minnesota’s four playmakers would each attempt 16 shots per game — or their current average this season.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, that’s basically impossible as they play a 10-man rotation and average around 91 shots per game. The good news is that Minnesota has nothing to lose this year. If all goes as planned and the Wolves field a healthy roster at the beginning of April, Finch and his staff will have 24 games to answer some franchise-altering questions.