Do the Wolves Need To Slot Ant Into Smaller Lineups?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

After the Minnesota Timberwolves’ overtime win over the Utah Jazz on Oct. 21, a reporter asked Anthony Edwards about getting an extended run with the smaller bench unit. “The smaller we go,” he said, “the better it is for me.” Edwards’ response sent shockwaves through Timberwolves fans. Many questioned why the Wolves traded for Rudy Gobert this offseason if Ant prefers smaller lineups that he can operate in. Edwards is a franchise cornerstone and appeared to be on a meteoric rise.

It gets more complicated when you consider the amount of dysfunction the Wolves have had early this season. Offensively, they have had difficulty finding cohesion with the starting unit, which has a net rating of -11.6 thus far. That’s despite ranking top-five in the league in five-man lineup minutes.

The cohesion has simply not been there, but Edwards also has lacked consistency. Edwards has not looked the same game to game while still averaging near identical scoring stats and splits to last season. Teams are heavily contesting his ability to get to the rim and finish consistently by giving lots of helpside to the on-ball defender.

Edwards is more scrutinized this season because he is going into his third NBA campaign and the team is relying on him to continue to improve. Edwards and Gobert need to figure out how they can play together, and they need to do it quickly. I look directly at the pick-and-roll potential between the two. Ant should be able to create more space off the dribble for either a shot vs. drop coverage or to open up others if teams try to blitz him.

That is a tough assignment to figure out overnight, though. In the past two seasons, we have seen that Ant is developing his basketball IQ because he started laying organized hoops later than most prospects. Plus, it’s a tall task for any young player to make reads in the PNR and develop more playmaking. Below is a thread of clips that show even without Gobert on the floor, teams still help heavily on his drives and potential skip passes.

It is all deeply rooted within the flow of the offense or lack thereof. Rudy and Ant have not been a good pairing, but the starting unit as a whole has been worse. What’s creating the stagnancy? The Wolves have not attacked things much outside of their usual, slow halfcourt offense. Minimal ball movement, off-ball movement, and even screen usage have been on display leading to long possessions with minimal success.

Ant has shot 42% of his shot attempts at the rim, an improvement from his last two seasons – 39% and 37%, respectively. He is also getting shots more frequently around the rim. On top of that, he is shooting 64% on these rim looks on 78 attempts through 11 games. Statistically, KAT is the best offensive isolation player on the team this season, but Ant is getting the most touches in this play type, per nba.com. He is still top-15 in frequency with 4.3 possessions a game, scoring 0.94 points per possession in these situations.

Much of it seems to be developing into his game. In the example below against the New York Knicks, Edwards has the paint open and limited help defense, but he elects for a 3. His miscue seems to happen when a quick decision, and it will take time to develop.

While it is easy to be critical of Ant during this tough spell for the team, especially when he is vital to success, it will only make his job easier when things begin to iron themselves out. Across the league, a majority of teams are still figuring things out. Remember, the Wolves took time to iron the team mentality out last season after a very rough start and tough losses.

If the Wolves are going to be successful, they must maximize their players’ strengths, which requires more creativity from coach Chris Finch. He must put Ant in better situations to find his way to the rim, thus opening up his shot and playmaking potential. The clock is ticking.

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