Timberwolves

Is Anthony Edwards the Next Jayson Tatum?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Pundits and fans have compared Anthony Edwards to dozens of other NBA players in his two-and-a-half years in the association. Since he took on the burden of being the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, NBA sickos and casuals alike have tried to think of the perfect shooting guard comparison.

Some were very flattering. Many people, including Edwards and Dwyane Wade, have compared the 21-year-old to a young Wade. Others believe that Edwards resembles Donovan Mitchell. It’s easy to see why the way Ant attacks the rim and can score at will in his third season.

Other (mostly early) comps were not as flattering. There was a lot of Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith talk going around when Edwards was coming out of college. The unflattering comparisons were due to his questionable decision-making, interesting shot selection, and hot-and-cold streaks in his one year at Georgia. Thankfully for Wolves fans, Ant has already put those poor comparisons to bed as he’s worked his way into the All-Star conversation in Year 3.

However, there is another All-Pro player whom Ant closely resembles in his third season, which could shed some light on how Edwards may progress over his next three years. You might not think their games are comparable, but Ant’s third year looks a lot like what Jayson Tatum was doing in his third season with the Boston Celtics. Yeah, it seems like a weird comp, but look at the numbers side-by-side, and it becomes hard to tell the difference.

It is uncanny how similar the two are on paper. The field goal percentage, scoring, true shooting three-point attempt rate, and usage rate are all almost bang on the same number. The rest are within a few percentage points of each other. Tatum obviously has a slight advantage rebounding the basketball because he’s four inches taller than Ant. However, Edwards has the playmaking advantage and gets to the free-throw line at a higher rate than young Tatum.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that these two are so similar. Even though they play different positions, there’s a lot that Tatum and Ant have in common. Both were high-profile draft prospects in the mix for the No. 1 pick in their respective drafts. They are elite scorers that have developed all-around games. And both showed flashes of their superstar ability early on, but it took a few years to develop their skills fully.

It’s reassuring news for Wolves fans who believe Edwards has a bright future ahead of him. Tatum has blossomed from one of the most promising young players in the league into an MVP candidate who came up just short in the 2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. He made his first All-Star game in his third season and will be named to his fourth in a matter of days. Tatum has made a third and first-team All-NBA in his short time in the league. At just 24 years old, he’s primed to dominate the NBA for the next decade.

But just because they have similar numbers in their third season does not mean Edwards is destined for greatness. Edwards still has to improve his team defense and shot selection. However, the biggest difference between the two is something Edwards has no control over.

Tatum was blessed by his guardian angel, Danny Ainge, who essentially traded the first pick in the 2017 draft to the Philadelphia 76ers for the third pick and a future first. That first pick turned into Markelle Fultz, who hasn’t panned out in the NBA, and Tatum fell to arguably the best franchise in NBA history. In his first season, the Celtics won 55 games and took LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. He’s made the postseason in each of his first five seasons, and Boston’s worst finish in that span was a flukey 36-36 record and a first-round exit during the weird 2020-21 COVID season.

On the other hand, Ant may have been cursed because the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him, one of the worst franchises in the last 30 years of pro sports. He entered a less-than-ideal situation. The Wolves made a coaching change, Towns got hurt, and Minnesota shipped the 7th pick in the 2021 draft to Golden State as part of the D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins trade. He landed on a team that thought it would be fighting for a playoff spot behind KAT and DLo, and instead finished 23-49, even with Ant’s strong contributions as a rookie.

Everything looked to be moving in the right direction last season when Ant and KAT led a rag-tag group into a first-round battle with the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, a battle Minnesota should have won if not for a few meltdowns. Now, after moving heaven and Earth to get Rudy Gobert in the offseason as the final piece for a championship run, the Timberwolves are 20-22 and in a fight for their play-in lives. Ant has shown real grit and improvement as a leader, defender, and playmaker in the face of adversity as Towns still recovers from a calf injury that’s already cost him 21 games this season. But the Wolves are on the brink of being the Wolves of the last 18 years and falling out of the playoff race.

Ant has already shown an ability to raise a team’s floor by being on the court every game. He could be the next Michael Jordan, but if nobody around him can make a shot or grab a rebound, he will be the Michael Jordan of the play-in tournament for the foreseeable future.

Anthony Edwards has all the tools and determination to become one of the next faces of the NBA. If he keeps following in Jayson Tatum’s footsteps, he’ll be a superstar in no time. But it takes more than elite talent to win in this league. Ant will need those pulling the strings to realize that he’s the future of the franchise sooner rather than later if he wants to be the next Jayson Tatum. Or, more pertinently, if he wants people to compare budding superstars to him a few years down the road.

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