It was no question for NBA draft scouts that the 19-year-old college superstar Anthony Edwards was uber-athletic. However, they were uncertain about his three-point shot and ability to defend at the NBA level.
Nearly two full seasons into his NBA campaign, Edwards has dispelled one of the two concerns.
Ant knocks down 34% of his threes. This season, Edwards has shown off his impressive shot-making ability, knocking down 10 threes in one game. That stood as a franchise record until Malik Beasley bested it with 11.
Edwards has already put the three-point critics to bed. Now he’s quieting the murmurs from the defensive crowd. He has forced those who questioned him to lower their voices with his defensive improvements.
Using his athleticism and length to bother opponents, Edwards is averaging 1.5 steals per game this year, 12th in the league among active players.
Edwards explained his premier stealing skill by stating, “I just try to guess where he’s going before the dribble. Nine times out of ten, I’m right.” An impressive skill for someone his age.
He’s made being an elite defensive present a personal mission, often asking Finch to defend the team’s best player.
Based on his postgame interviews, it may be the part of his game he takes the most pride in. Edwards and Russell held a joint postgame interview following a 109-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 25th.
“You gotta tell the world you clamped,” Russell added.
“1st team all defense tonight, for sure,” Edwards responded.
McCollum ended with 15 points on 5-15 shooting. As DLo said, Edwards clamped.
McCollum’s offense isn’t the only offense Edwards has hindered this year either. Ant took it upon himself to guard Ja Morant in their second matchup of the year. Ja ended with 20 points on 7 of 25 shooting.
The last two possessions of the Feb. 24th Grizzlies-Wolves game were a case study on how Ant’s athleticism bolsters him into his own category of defenders. Everyone knows that Morant is one of the game’s most explosive guards. Not many can stay in front of him off the bounce, but Edwards can.
On the second to last defensive possession for Minnesota, Anthony Edwards shut down Ja Morant resulting in a poke-away:
Again on the last defensive possession. Ant bothered Ja’s three-point attempt enough to force an airball:
It’s clear Edwards strives to hit the all-defense mark. He believes in himself, but he also has the trust of his peers.
Chris Finch expects him to be one of the best two-way players in the league, a tall task with the volume of high-end defensive talents in the league today. Finch isn’t the only one taking notice, either.
On the J.J. Redick‘s podcast, Patrick Beverley had the highest possible praise for the young guard. “You got a chance, brother. You got a chance to be Michael Jordan.” Beverley values defense as much as any other player in the league. MJ was one of, if not the greatest, two-way player of all time. Therefore, Beverley has high expectations for Ant.
So how has Ant perpetrated this newly-renowned defense?
It all relates to the athleticism he possesses. He can use his stronger and quicker body to stay in front of players your average guard couldn’t.
The clip below from Wednesday’s 125-116 loss is a perfect example of Edwards using his length and strength to give opposing players fits on the offensive end. Edwards gets a hand on the ball when Devin Booker tries to cross him over, forcing Book to carry the ball, which resulted in a turnover.
That clip wasn’t even the best example in the past week. The play below against Luka Doncic is maybe the best defensive possession I’ve seen Ant play, especially considering the caliber of player he’s defending.
Not only does Edwards completely avoid the high pick-and-roll set by Dorian Finney-Smith, but Ant is also athletic enough to sidestep and keep pace to stay in front of Luka. It’s a tragedy that this possession did not end in favor of the Timberwolves after the rebound went long and into Jalen Brunson‘s hands.
As we near the playoffs, it’s essential to look at how referees tend to call games in the postseason. Whether it’s the playoff atmosphere or the fear of controlling the game, refs have always swallowed their whistles during the playoffs. It takes much more contact to draw a foul, which could benefit Edwards.
Chippier guards often elevate in the playoffs. Their grit allows them to combine their physical intangibles with the refs’ lighter whistle to amass more steals and all-around tougher defense. Guards like Marcus Smart, Eric Bledsoe, and Beverley all elevate that bulldog mentality in the postseason.
Ant’s frame, length, and quickness add to a pesky on-ball defender. Fans have started to see the improvement in his defense. Edwards can easily be Minnesota’s X-Factor on the defensive end if he can get better leading into the playoffs.