Anthony Edwards Isn't the All-Star We Wanted Him To Be

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a disappointing season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Twenty-three games into the season, fans and the players were not expecting them to be 11-12, outside the top 10 in the Western Conference. Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to be a night riddled with frustration as if the existential struggles the Wolves were facing as a basketball team were manifesting on the court. After the game, Chris Finch was dismayed by the Wolves’ lack of “mature effort” on the court.

Maturity takes a long time to develop, though. With Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for the next several weeks, it’s up to Anthony Edwards to act as the de facto leader of this team. Not only will he have to take on the scoring burden, but he must be a spiritual and emotional ballast for this team as it navigates a tough stretch of schedule without Towns.

Tim Connelly and Co. bet on this type of development when they traded for Rudy Gobert this offseason. Pairing Gobert, 30, with the burgeoning star fast-tracked his timeline in a way that, frankly, I don’t think he was ready for. Edwards hasn’t taken the third-year leap that so many were expecting, but the expectations put on him weren’t fair.

Edwards hasn’t leaped into the MVP conversation as Ja Morant did in his third season. Nor is he yet to firmly cement himself as an All-Star lock early in the year. But there are some signs of improvement. He’s shown a slight increase in shooting efficiency, as his true shooting has bumped up to 56.8%. That efficiency uptick has led to 23 points per game, a career-high in scoring. These slight increases don’t necessarily indicate a leap, so to speak. However, it seems like he is gaining more comfort with the NBA game and understanding how to get his shots.

While there are positive signs, the uglier elements of his game often stifle his development. Edwards showed some of the defensive prowess he showcased in the playoffs last year. However, his performance has not lived up to that level, as he’s often been caught inattentive or unaware on the defensive end. Although he has increased his efficiency, Edwards is shooting 46% from the field, 34.5% from 3-point range, and only 76% from the free-throw line. Ultimately, despite any development we’ve seen from Ant, he is not impacting winning at a high enough level for this team to be a contender in the West.

Beyond his development on the floor, there have been factors at the organizational level that have stunted his ability to impact winning. Trading for Gobert was never a move to help maximize Edwards’ game. The Wolves targeted Gobert to help cover up Towns’ weaknesses as a rim protector. Conversely, sticking Rudy down low has made things harder for Edwards. He’ll have to continue to figure out the geometry of the floor when Gobert is on so he can get to his spots.

Here’s Edwards’ shot chart before Rudy got ejected on Saturday night vs. after.

Edwards is trying to step into a leadership role. He’s seemed to be more vocal this season, and it seems like he’s trying to hold himself accountable for his impact on the team. The real question about Ant’s leadership ability will be whether or not he can light a fire under his teammates. Last year, Patrick Beverley brought dynamic leadership to Minnesota. His hardline leadership that demanded a lot from his teammates helped elevate the Timberwolves to be more than the sum of their parts. So far this season, the Wolves are playing much worse than their talent level, and the lack of leadership is apparent.

But leadership is more than the words that one says. Leadership comes in the form of showing up, doing the work, and leading by example. Ant has undoubtedly had some foibles in this area. He posted a video on social media this summer in which he made homophobic comments. He came into the season out of shape. And he hasn’t shown up on defense. That’s not to say that Edwards hasn’t shown up at all because, in many ways, he has. He’s had some big moments this season and is the team’s leading scorer.

Ant is undoubtedly still figuring out how to lead a team in the NBA. Usually, he’s got Towns to share the load of leadership, but right now, it’s up to him. Edwards also has the added weight of the Gobert trade on him every night. He didn’t ask for the pressure, but when the Wolves made that move, they put it on him. Gobert is under contract for four years, which means Ant has four seasons to figure out how to get this team to be a force in the West. That’s a much faster development timeline than last season, so he’s got to kick things into gear to meet the massive expectations.

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