Timberwolves

It May Take Time For Ant To Live Up To His Defensive Ambitions

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, Anthony Edwards established he’s shooting for an All-NBA nomination. To do that, Edwards is gonna have to defend the opposing team’s best guard every night.

Being an All-NBA defender might be a bit too much a bit too soon, but Edwards has consistently been ahead of his progression curve for most of his career. Plus, the Wolves would be wise to develop Edwards into an elite defensive guard. As the league shifts towards a more perimeter-based game, the importance of an elite defensive guard that is also a scoring threat is at an all-time high.

Edwards’ large frame and athleticism make him the perfect candidate for a defensive transformation. Edwards has been working to turn what was considered a negative in his game in college into a positive in the NBA.

For Edwards to become that elite defender, both he and the Timberwolves coaching staff must be on the same page. While Edwards currently possesses all the intangibles to become an elite defender, he still has a few things to work on. It’s up to the Wolves coaching staff not to give up on him after one bad stretch.

Similarly, Edwards has to show the coaching staff that they have faith in him for good reason. If Edwards is still struggling halfway through the season with a ready Jaden McDaniels behind him, it may be time to pull the plug on the experiment.

I don’t believe that will need to happen, though. Edwards has all the ability to become the defender he warned of. He’s already shown some of those elite reps against Luka Doncic and Ja Morant, which was some of the best defense he’s played in his career.

Although Luka isn’t the most athletic player, he’s still one of the offensive threats in the league. With just under two minutes to go in a one-possession game, Chris Finch tasked Edwards with guarding Luka. Edwards uses his athleticism to get over Dorian Finney-Smith’s high screen. He’s quick enough to stay in front of Luka, bothering his shot enough to force a miss.

This next clip versus Morant highlights why Edwards has such high potential on defense. Ja is the best athlete in basketball, period. His quickness and bounce make him nearly impossible to guard, but Edwards is one of the five or six players that can stay in front of Morant consistently.

The Wolves will be a good team, but they’ll be a great team if they can perform in the clutch. If Edwards can guard opposing star players like this in crunch time, the Wolves could win upwards of 60 games this season.

The two good reps above are nice. But if Edwards wants to be an all-NBA defensive player, he needs to do it against the best guards in the league every night.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander reminded him of that on the Wolves opening night. Shai had himself a night, scoring 32 points while going 12-23 from the floor. Not all those points fell into the hands of Edwards, though. Shai was only being guarded by Edwards for 9 of his points, shooting 80%.

Although the efficiency is a bit concerning, it was the first game in a completely revamped defense, miscommunication, and miscues inflated the efficiency of Shai this game.

Seeing Edwards start the game guarding Lu Dort was a little disappointing. But as the game went on, Edwards got more and more reps versus SGA. Once he got a couple underneath him, he could defend at a high level.

The play was a pretty impressive display of athleticism and defensive prowess against Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai led the league last year in drives per game and is one of the most dangerous players in the league while driving to the basket. 

Not only was Edwards quick enough to stay with him throughout his drive, but he was also able to decelerate fast enough to have a chance at a contest. After SGA’s ball fake, he usually had enough breathing room to take a fadeaway comfortably. However, Edwards’ quick leap to the ball took up that room.

Edwards also had a couple of bad reps.

Shai beat Edwards on the drive like this a couple of times throughout the night, which is strange considering Edwards’s natural quickness. But it was the first game of the season. While those types of reps are concerning, I wouldn’t expect them to continue throughout the season, especially as he develops better rhythm with Rudy Gobert helping on defense.

Edwards seems to lack consistency last year and in his first game. But if the Wolves stay patient with Edwards’ development, he can become the all-NBA defender he wants to be.

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