Timberwolves

Ant Is One Step Away From Fully Unlocking His Potential

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always felt like Anthony Edwards was destined for success. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 draft has infiltrated the national media sphere. All of his charismatic interviews, unbridled confidence, and big-play tendencies have escaped the usually private Minnesota media sphere. Now, the rest of the NBA feels it too.

After his exhilarating FIBA World Cup appearance, general managers around the league voted Edwards the most likely player to have a breakout season. He was also fifth in players GM’s would most like to start a franchise with, tied for third in best shooting guard in the league, and the third most athletic player. Everyone around the league knows how good Edwards is now.

Some of the numbers are arbitrary but many fantasy companies, like ESPN, are projecting Edwards to score upwards of 28 to 29 points per game this season. Their reasoning for the projected jump is simple: He put on a show at the FIBA World Cup, scored 24.3 points per game last season, and has it.

There’s so much focus on what makes Edwards great and how it’ll help him reach the upper echelon of players. But it’s just as important that he addresses his weaknesses. Every player has them. Shielding those weaknesses or minimizing their impact on the game can help any player improve.

Edwards has developed into a plus three-point shooter, versatile defender, and a solid distributor (52nd percentile Passer Rating per CraftedNBA). He’s still a slightly inefficient scorer (41st percentile True Shooting). However, much of that stems from the quality of shots he takes. His 77.2% career free throw shooting is good, not great, which contributes to his lower True Shooting. At the same time, free throw shooting is the key to unlocking Edwards’ potential.

Last season, Edwards made 60.9% of his shots within five feet of the basket. He was comparable to stars Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (60.3%), Ja Morant (60.2%), and Damian Lillard (61.7%). He can use his strong frame as a shield against defenders, but it may be in his interest to use it more as a battering ram. Edwards gets to the line much less frequently than that trio.

Gilgeous-Alexander shimmy and shaked his way to 10.9 free throw attempts (FTA) per game. Lillard and Morant were close behind with 9.6 and 8.1 FTA per game. Morant’s high-flying tendencies predispose him to more free throws. However, Edwards attempted only 5.3. It’s not even that he took significantly fewer shots at the rim. He attempted 7.2 shots within five feet compared to Gilgeous-Alexander’s 8.2, Morant’s 8.1, and Lillard’s 6.0.

Edwards scores within five feet like those three; he just doesn’t supplement that scoring with trips to the line as they do. And he may need to if he will join them in the top ranks of NBA guards.

True Shooting and free throw shooting are the only things holding Edwards back. Outside of getting to the line more, it’s what he’s done with his opportunities there so far that is cause for concern. He has the talent to find open shots in spaces that others couldn’t dream of creating. The problem is he just hasn’t shown the same level of ability to knock those shots down.

Edwards has yet to fully cement himself in either the mid-range or three-point levels. His 38% and 35% conversion rates from the short and long mid-range were good for the 40th and 41st percentile in the league, according to CleaningTheGlass. He shot non-corner threes at a 36% rate, which was 61st percentile. For someone who took 19.5 shots per game last year, efficiency is the only route to improving his scoring totals.

That’s where free throws come in. Edwards is at a crossroads. He’s improved as a shooter in each of the past three seasons, but how much growth is left? He could continue to develop, or he could alter his style of play.

Edwards has plenty of room to grow in how he plays. Gilgeous-Alexander, Morant, and Lillard are all prolific drivers. Gilgeous-Alexander and Morant were the top two players by drives per game last season, while Lillard wasn’t too far behind (ninth). Edwards was 33rd.

As a ball handler in pick-and-rolls last season, Edwards shot 48.1 eFG%. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 50.8%, Morant 47.2%, and Lillard a stellar 56.7%. If he cannot develop into a better shooter to boost that number to Gilgeous-Alexander or Lillard numbers, Edwards could undoubtedly go a long way in drawing fouls.

Gilgeous-Alexander, Lillard, and Morant were first, third, and fourth in the league among guards at drawing fouls out of the pick-and-roll. With Shooting Foul Frequencies of 15.8%, 15.1%, and 14.8%, they were too much to handle for opposing defenses. Edwards was 19th with his 10% rate. In an offensive set that could very well make up a large portion of his touches, Edwards could improve at manipulating defenders into fouling him.

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Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

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