Justin Jefferson has seen Anthony Edwards play in person, and Edwards has often been at his best when Jefferson is sitting courtside. Last year, the Minnesota Vikings’ star receiver saw Edwards drop 30 points on the Los Angeles Clippers in the play-in game. This year, Jefferson was at a game where Edwards scored 23 points against the Dallas Mavericks. He also witnessed Edwards hang 29 on the Memphis Grizzlies in the game where the referees sent Ja Morant home early.
After the officials ejected Morant from the Grizzlies game, Edwards turned to Morant’s dad, who was sitting courtside next to Karl-Anthony Towns Sr., and repeatedly told him, “I’m the truth.” Jefferson witnessed their exchange. Jefferson has watched Edwards rise to the occasion. Like Jefferson, Edwards is at his best when the lights are brightest, and the pressure becomes palpable. On Monday, I told Jefferson that Edwards uses Jalen Ramsey, the Los Angeles Rams’ star cornerback, as his player comp. That Edwards sees himself as a football player on the hardwood, a physical force to be reckoned with.
Jefferson chuckled and said he sees it. At the very least, they both talk a lot of trash.
Edwards has earned the right to let his opponents have it, though. Unsurprisingly, a charismatic player who has used postgame press conferences to order McDonald’s and deify himself has something to say on the court. He leaned into the bit when he played Kermit Wilts in the Adam Sandler movie Hustle. But Edwards rarely overextends himself. He was probably hungry after beating the Detroit Pistons last year, and he had to feel like he was walking on water after scoring 40 points in Portland. He almost always backs up his talk.
Even though he’s cemented himself as a franchise player amid Minnesota’s bout of poor injury luck, Edwards might be an All-Star snub this year. “I feel like I’m an All-Star,” he said. “But I guess a lot of people don’t. That’s cool. I ain’t trippin’, man. I just want to get to the playoffs.” Unfortunately, that’s not a certainty this year. The Wolves are hovering around .500 and sit on the Western Conference bubble. They could secure the fifth or sixth seed and get a playoff series. But they could also end up in the play-in game or miss the playoffs altogether.
Edwards has done what he can to keep the Timberwolves afloat. He’s asserted himself since Karl-Anthony Towns went down, committing to play on both ends of the court. Towns suffered a calf injury in a loss to the Washington Wizards on Nov. 28, and Edwards scored 29 points in front of Jefferson in the next game against Memphis. Edwards is averaging 25.1 points in the 24 games since Towns got hurt. He still can improve his transition defense, but Edwards has become a stout one-on-one defender.
The Timberwolves have always built their roster around Towns. Former GM Gersson Rosas traded for D’Angelo Russell because he’s one of Towns’ best friends. Tim Connelly executed the blockbuster Rudy Gobert deal in the offseason because Gobert offset Towns’ weaknesses. Towns is a generally-great shooting big who struggles defensively; Gobert scores near the basket and protects the rim. And while we haven’t seen much of Minnesota’s two-big experiment this year because of Towns’ injury, it didn’t appear to be working earlier in the season.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s Towns-centric moves have taken away from Edwards’ strengths. Russell is a scoring combo guard who often looks to create his own shot. Towns and Gobert clog the lane when they’re on the court together, preventing Edwards from attacking the basket. Russell’s presence was less of a concern when Edwards was a young, unpolished player. But Edwards would benefit from playing with a more traditional, pass-first point guard. Furthermore, Edwards appears to be able to play with Towns and Gobert individually, but the Wolves aren’t shelling out max money to their bigs to have them sit for half the game.
This season has been a letdown a year after the Timberwolves won 46 games. They seem stuck at .500 and lack the energy Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt brought every night. Edwards, 21, still has room to grow, but he became Minnesota’s star in the playoffs. He averaged 25.2 points in the six-game series. Towns averaged 21.8 points but frequently was in foul trouble. Russell was the only Wolves starter with playoff experience and averaged 12.0.
Edwards drives winning for the Timberwolves. Like Jefferson, he has been at his best when Minnesota has needed him to be. The Vikings were a .500 team the past two seasons, and they would not have won 13 games without Jefferson’s heroics this year. Jefferson is often at his best in the biggest games. He embraces the spotlight without overextending himself. He may see a little bit of Jalen Ramsey in Edwards when he’s sitting courtside. But, hopefully, he sees a little bit of himself in Edwards, too.