Timberwolves

It's Time For Ant To Take Control

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like a promising young player takes a third-year leap every year. Ja Morant, the most recent case, made huge strides last year, jumping up nearly 8 points from 19.1 per game to 27.4. Everyone expected Morant would improve, but few predicted Morant to improve as much as he did.

While Morant coasted on the tailwinds of his improvements to the MIP award last season, Anthony Edwards was busy too. Although his points per game only jumped two points, his efficiency was what truly showcased his special abilities. Ant improved 3% from the field, and 3% from three, something most analysts thought he was incapable of coming out of college.

Edwards’ improvements created evidence of his potential ceiling, and Morant’s season left hope of what Ant could become. Ja’s athleticism and play style are similar to Edwards, making him an excellent example to compare Ant to. Comparisons aside, it’s up to Edwards to take matters into his own hands and take that third-year jump.

So far, Edwards hasn’t made a bona fide third-year leap, and his averages remain similar to last year. This year, Edwards is averaging 22.9 points on 46% shooting while collecting 5.7 rebounds and dishing out 3.8 assists. Although Edwards is averaging one more point on better efficiency, it still pales compared to the 26, 6, and 5 type of player many were projecting him to become.

But what can he do to spark his jump?

Become more consistent. Edwards ranks 13th in most 25+ points games in the league this year, yet drops five places to 18th in the leading scorers ranking. In some games, Edwards shows flashes of being a 25+ point per game scorer, yet in other games, he fails to score more than 20.

Looking at box scores, one of the main factors of his inconsistency is his 3-point percentage. It’s been somewhat of an off-year for his 3-point shot so far, shooting 2% worse than last year’s mark. His .345 average leaves him as the 100th-ranked 3-point shooter in the league. But Edwards has the 22nd-most games, shooting 33% from the three.

Those games are vital to his success from a scoring standpoint. In those 13 games above the 33% mark, he’s averaging 26.8 points on 48% shooting. While the efficiency is likely a little too high to reach consistently, the points per game show Edwards’s true scoring potential. 33% isn’t some crazy mark either; it’s actually below his average. If Edwards can remove his outliers, he can become one of the better sharpshooters in the league.

However, scoring isn’t the only aspect of basketball; it wasn’t the only aspect Edwards needed to improve. Edwards came into the year saying he was ready to guard the opposing team’s best player, and he hasn’t. Although Jaden McDaniels has been Minnesota’s primary point of attack defender, it’s mostly because of scheme fit. Still, Edwards hasn’t exactly shown out in that facet.

An increase in playmaking would open up so much for the Wolves, yet Edwards hasn’t taken that jump either. His assist numbers are the exact same as last year, but his turnovers are higher. The eye test matches the stats. Too often, the Wolves move the ball well for multiple possessions in a row, just for Edwards to iso into a three. And although these may work and certainly have their time and place, Edwards needs to be better at picking out those moments.

Although Edwards has had a slow start in terms of a third-year jump, he has had some tough circumstances that have to be factored in. Edwards is learning an entirely new system with the two-big concept the Wolves run. And that same system isn’t exactly favorable for a player with such special driving ability. Gobert and Towns clogged up the paint for Edwards, who famously was criticized for having a low number of dunk attempts to begin the season. But Edwards now ranks second in the league in dunks by a guard and has worked through those less-than-perfect conditions.

With Karl-Anthony Towns out, Edwards will have more spacing on the floor. Although Towns’ injury is unfortunate, it could prove vital to Edwards. Towns’ projected recovery time for his calf strain is 4-6 weeks, which is anywhere from 13-20 games. In those 13-20 games, Edwards needs to show out, not only for the team’s sake but also his. If he can break out during these games, it will help him be more comfortable once KAT returns.

If Ant’s first game without KAT showed us anything, his third-year jump may be coming. Edwards finished with 29 points, 5 assists, 5 blocks, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals in by far the complete game of the year versus the Memphis Grizzlies. It was easily the most dominant Edwards has been in one game when you consider every aspect, and even more when you look at his late-game heroics. Being in a close game down the stretch with Memphis and taking over like he did, closing out the Grizzlies with 7 points and an assist. It was by far his most dominant look this season and probably of his career.

Edward’s third-year jump hasn’t hit full force yet. But after putting an unusual start to the season behind him, Edwards may be able to jump-start his projected third-year leap. With Karl-Anthony Towns out, the Timberwolves desperately need him to take that leap. Not just scoring but defensively and playmaking as well. When Towns is back, it may be a different story. But right now, it’s Ant’s time to take control.

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Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ryen Russillo went long on Anthony Edwards on his latest podcast. He started by discussing Edwards in his intro and didn’t hold back. He’s worried about Edwards’ […]

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