Anthony Edwards had his cell phone in his hand as he sat down to do his post-game press conference after a Feb. 3 win in Detroit last year. He had led the Minnesota Timberwolves in scoring with 25 points on 9 of 21 from the field and was evolving as a player before our eyes.
“Hold on,” he said with a knowing smile. “Y’all don’t ask no questions yet. I’m trying to put an order in.”
“Where are you ordering from?” a reporter asked.
As Edwards finished his order, he said, “I love Minnesota, y’all. I love Minnesota, man. Hope y’all love me back.”
Edwards could do no wrong. He had gone from a flawed but preternaturally athletic player in the first half of his rookie season to a budding star. Then he turned it on in Year 2. He developed touch on his shot and bullied defenders to get to the rim. His thunderous dunks cranked up the decibels in Target Center to jet engine levels.
While many of Minnesota’s stars struggled in the playoff spotlight, Edwards ascended. He drove winning in the Memphis Grizzlies series, averaging 25.2 points per game, even in a losing effort. Any time anxiety started to muffle the Target Center stands, he’d hit a three or dunk the ball to shake loose a deafening cacophony of cheers.
Nobody blinked an eye when he said he felt like Black Jesus after a 40-point effort against the Portland Trail Blazers last January. Of course, he felt that way. Prince may have been baptized in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, but Edwards almost certainly could have walked across it.
Edwards looked poised for a third-year breakout this season. He avoided the sophomore slump and had playoff success. No man who says he feels like a deity lacks confidence. Chris Finch knew what he had in him. The biggest issue for Edwards seemed to be if and when he’d take the mantle from Karl-Anthony Towns as Minnesota’s No. 1 star.
Finch made his opinion on that clear in the offseason.
“I don’t get a sense that it matters at all,” Finch told Ryen Russillo in an offseason podcast when Russillo asked him if it matters to either player whose team it is. “I think KAT has, well, I know KAT has embraced Anthony. Anthony understands the value of playing with a guy like KAT. He also knows KAT is the best player on our team. KAT understands that he needs help. All great players need great players around them.”
That was true when they recorded that podcast in late June, a couple of weeks before Minnesota’s blockbuster trade for Rudy Gobert. It remains true now. While Edwards probably has more upside, Towns consistently gives the Wolves more steady production on a nightly basis.
Towns also has the benefit of being the incumbent. The Timberwolves drafted him first overall in 2015. It was Flip Saunders’ last signature move before his tragic passing. But with that longevity has come baggage. Many national pundits and some fans see Towns as an empty-stats player, someone who puts up numbers but doesn’t drive winning. His poor rim protection and overly-emotional reaction to NBA officiating don’t help his cause either.
Fortunately, his loyalty to Minnesota has won him over with many people locally. And, even if Edwards eventually ascends to become the Wolves’ best player, Towns would be a great complement to Edwards’ slash-and-kick game. But Edwards has to become a definitive No. 1 to supercede Towns because of Towns’ stature within the organization, and he can’t become that until he plays more consistently. Therefore, the Timberwolves have acted with Towns foremost in mind, and it may be to Edwards’ detriment.
As Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez continued to take over a larger ownership stake from Glen Taylor, they have infused money into the team. In the offseason, the Wolves hired Tim Connelly away from the Denver Nuggets. Excitement hit a crescendo when the new front office pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Utah Jazz. Gobert is the yin to Towns’ yang. A defense-first, offensively-limited player to complement Towns, the generationally-great scoring big who struggles defensively.
The Timberwolves also retained D’Angelo Russell, despite his poor performance in the playoffs last year. Russell is a scoring guard who should be able to generate offense off pick-and-rolls with Towns and Gobert. He’s also one of Towns’ best friends. While Russell struggled against Memphis, he was vital in Minnesota’s play-in win over the Los Angeles Clippers, and his play is electric when he’s on.
Still, Edwards will get fewer touches when he plays with a guard who takes a high volume of shots, especially in crunch time. In October, he said he plays better with a smaller lineup. That may or may not be true, but Edwards hasn’t taken that third-year leap yet. He’s had great games, but he isn’t consistently the player he was in the playoffs last year. And, to be fair, the team has been built around Towns, not him.
If Towns remains Minnesota’s best player, it’s going to be hard to move on from Russell, let alone reverse the Gobert trade. He’s close with Russell and Gobert fortifies the interior defense. But suppose Edwards is consistently a 25 point per game player, continues to improve his defense, and definively becomes the Timberwolves’ superstar. Then bringing in a new point guard to run the offense and going smaller is easier to justify – should the Wolves need to.
Edwards has some things to work on as well. His homophobic Instagram video, which he apologized for, turned some fans against him. He’ll have to win them back if he wants the universal acclaim he once had, let alone be the voice of the team. Towns expressed some consternation about Edwards’ diet earlier in the year. And in an early November game, Edwards’ body language was poor on a play he wasn’t involved in.
Are any of these crushing indictments? Hardly. But Edwards isn’t as infallible as he once was. Then again, he doesn’t need to be. He just has to be great, and everything will work out. Nobody in Timberwolves land cares if Edwards occasionally eat McDonalds, so long as he puts up 25 and loves the land of 10,000 lakes in the dead of winter.