Timberwolves

Anthony Edwards Is "Unquestionably the Guy" For Team USA

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

After going 5-0 in their exhibition games leading up to the FIBA World Cup, Team USA looks poised to make a championship run. In their final game against Germany, Team USA proved they could work together to fight back in a tough game. After trailing by as much as 16 points in the second half, USA went on an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter. They held Germany to 0 points for 6 minutes, left the gym with a decisive win over the toughest team they faced in their exhibition games.

These games have been especially exciting for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. We’ve gotten to watch our guy, Anthony Edwards, become unquestionably the guy for Team USA. He’s delivered, making big plays in times of dire need and scoring in ways no one else can. But it’s not just Wolves fans on the internet, bloggers, or analysts giving Edwards high praise. It’s nine-time NBA Champion and Team USA head coach Steve Kerr saying it.

After the game against Germany in which Edwards scored 34 points on an efficient 11 of 20 shooting, and led the comeback in the 4th quarter, Kerr had high praise for Ant. “He’s unquestionably the guy,” he said. “You can see he knows it. But now the team knows it, and I think the fans see it. … He genuinely believes he’s the best player in the gym every single night. And he’s such a dynamic young player. I think he’s taking a leap.”

Edwards has been impressive in all of the exhibition games, but the 34 points against Team Germany put an exclamation point on the run. He had several ridiculous highlight plays. He had a layup in traffic after weaving through four players swarming him on his way to the rim. Ant also had a couple(?) of impressive turnaround step-backs when it looked like he had no place to go.

But my personal favorite was when Ant got the ball on a fast break and leapt from in front of the free throw line off of two-feet. He soared like he was being hoisted by invisible wires above the 6’8” Daniel Theis for a slam. Only a handful of other players in the world could execute that dunk, but Edwards makes look effortless.

While Edwards has been a force on offense for Team USA, his defense has possibly been just as important to the team. His rebounding has been stellar too. Team USA is incredibly talented, but their primary rotation isn’t particularly big. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the team’s starting center. While he’s an incredible two-way player, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, he’s a lean 7-footer. Jackson often plays the 4 next to Steven Adams (who plays the 5) during the NBA season to help bolster the Memphis Grizzlies’ strength and rebounding.

Still, to get Team USA’s best players all on the court at the same time, it makes the most sense for JJJ to play the 5. That means they are sliding several other players up a position, too, and leaning into small-ball. For example, Mikal Bridges (6’6”) primarily plays the 3 and occasionally 2 in the NBA. However, he’s playing most of his minutes at the 4 for Team USA so that they can fit more of the talented guard and wing depth on the court at once. Similarly, Ant mostly plays the 2 in the NBA, but he has been seeing a lot of minutes at the 3 for Team USA.

Beyond just the talent on the team, the small-ball strategy makes sense. Kerr pioneered small-ball in the modern NBA. Or at the very least, he made it successful at a championship level for the first time, along with Steph Curry and the rest of the Golden State Warriors’ legendary core. Kerr has proved that a team can make up for its lack of size if it has an advantage in skill and shooting many times over.

However, the choice to play small-ball has increased the importance of Ant’s defensive role on the team. Not only is he one of the best on-ball defenders on the team, but Edwards is likely the strongest player of anyone 1 through 3 on the team. As a result, he can take on matchups with bigger guards and wings that most of the team cannot without getting pushed around.

Edwards even proved he can guard players who are the size of 4s during the game against Germany. He took on 6’10” wing Franz Wagner, who is probably Germany’s best player and an up-and-coming star for the Orlando Magic. Ant matched up with Franz a few times in the fourth quarter when the team was having a hard time covering him all game. Edwards finished the game with two blocks and six rebounds. He was a whopping +37 on the game. He had 18 points more than Jackson, the next closest player, meaning the team played great and won the minutes that Ant was on the court by a large margin.

As a hardcore Wolves fan, you may be thinking this is cool and all, but it sounds like a lot of things Ant did for the Wolves last season. People aren’t seeing a leap, they’re just actually watching Ant in depth for the first time, realizing how good he is, and trying to hop on the hype train by predicting something that was already pretty clearly going to happen. What actual leaps is he taking?

After all, this is the time of year when everyone is talking about who could take a leap next season. Or they’re on social media muscle and workout watch to fill their basketball fix in the offseason. At times, it can be hard to parse through what offseason hype is real and what is just created through boredom. However, with Ant playing for USA basketball, there is a substantial amount of evidence that demonstrates the areas he is growing in during the offseason. His individual training and time with Team USA may catapult Edwards into All-NBA status next season.

Ant’s ability to hit turnaround jumpers in the midrange is one of the things he’s showing that he didn’t last season. Last year, we may have seen Edwards hit a few here and there. But he is using it as a consistent part of his game in the international exhibition games, and having a ton of success with it. Last year, we saw teams begin to respect Ant as an offensive force. They started planning their pregame defensive schemes around slowing him down, rather than Karl-Anthony Towns or D’Angelo Russell.

As a result, Edwards saw opponents throw more double-teams and varied defenses at him last season. That required him to problem-solve on the fly and learn many new things throughout the season. Although he still had a lot of success breaking down defenses, any moves that Ant can learn that will help him get buckets when the defense is smothering him will only make him more lethal as a scorer.

The turnaround fadeaway is a classic move that many of the greats have had in their bag, and it’s great to see Ant develop it. It’s an extremely difficult shot. But it’s almost unguardable because of how much space the shooter can create for himself to shoot over defenders with a swift turn and fade. It’s also a move that Ant can repeat with great success, even when he’s heavily covered.

Additionally, as previously mentioned, Ant has been doing a great job at rebounding for team USA. That’s partially because he’s playing up a position because of the lack of size in Team USA’s rotation. However, it also appears as though he’s developing a better sense for when a ball is bouncing to a zone he can get to. It’s an extremely important skill for Ant to continue to develop.

He has all the physical tools to win 50-50 balls, and end possessions on defense that could otherwise turn into offensive rebounds for opponents. It is even more important in the context of the Wolves. The team had trouble rebounding last year despite playing big, ranking 23rd in rebounds per game.

Finally, and likely most importantly, Ant seems to be taking a leap as a leader. The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski spoke recently about Ant’s leadership style on KFAN:

He’s a guy who inspires people to follow him a little bit more like the really great ones do, and there can be guys who come into that situation and really try and take control, and their egos and their talents and all of those things are speaking for them. And you might see some people look at them and say, ‘Man, who’s this guy?’ I’m as good as he is, whatever.

But the way that Ant kinda operates with his teammates, the way that he responds to coaching. The way that he kinda respects the game. That is the sort of intangible quality that makes a player go from star, All-Star, superstar to franchise player.

It’s easy to see that Ant has a magnetic personality, and that he provides energy to his Wolves teammates with his competitiveness and positivity. However, it’s incredibly exciting to hear that his leadership has translated to Team USA, too, where there are tons of accomplished young players and future All-Stars.

The fact that his peers from all over the NBA view him as “the guy” on their team, and he only recently turned 22, is truly remarkable. It speaks volumes to how bright his future in the NBA is and how inspiring he is as a player. The fact that Kerr said it also makes it even more remarkable. It’s going to be a blast to watch Ant play with Team USA, starting with their first game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Aug. 26 at 7:40 AM.

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Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Edwards finished the best season of his NBA career, achieving individual and team success. He made the All-NBA second team after averaging 25.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, […]

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