Timberwolves

We Should Have Known Ant Was Going To Chase MJ

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In December 2020, Anthony Edwards sat down with Marney Gellner to do an interview for a new Bally Sports show called Wolves+. Bally hoped to use the show to highlight each player’s personality. It would be shoulder programming for the games. A way to get fans to buy into the players on an individual level, so they would watch games more frequently.

They probably didn’t expect Edwards to tell them he could play in Major League Baseball.

“Straight clean-up on Aisle 3,” Edwards told Gellner, “come get it.” Edwards reiterated to Gellner he wasn’t joking. He was the cleanup hitter in high school and also a good football player. “Sounds like you’re just an athlete. Ping pong, baseball, football, basketball,” Gellner said, summing it up. “Tennis, swimming, lacrosse,” Edwards responded. “Whatever you need me to play, I’m going to go do it. If it’s some money on the line, I’m going to go do it.”

So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Edwards set lofty standards for himself after the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him first overall in 2020. Early on, Chris Hines, his player development coach with the Wolves, asked Edwards what he wanted out of his NBA career. Edwards’ response got his attention. “He said he wanted to be the best shooting guard ever to play,” Hines told the Star Tribune. “I said, ‘You know there’s a guy named Michael Jordan?’ He said, ‘I know, I got him.’

Edwards wasn’t just putting on a performance for the cameras. He’s been this confident since the beginning. “I’m chasing my boy MJ, for sure,” Edwards confirmed to the Strib. “It’ll be hard, but I’m chasing him.”

Nobody is comparing Edwards to Jordan, nationally or locally. Still, his play has garnered attention from around the league. He’s the youngest player in NBA history to hit 10 threes in a game and the youngest player to hit 500 career threes. In this year’s playoffs, Edwards became the second-youngest player with consecutive 35-plus-point games in the postseason, only behind LeBron James. Edwards could conceivably break James’ scoring record by the time his career is over.

Edwards isn’t just breaking records because the NBA game has evolved to encourage more three-point shooting. He’s not really a pure shooter. Conversely, it’s a skill he can still work on in the off-season. Instead, Edwards has become a two-way star who’s a must-watch for fans around the league. He’s built like a linebacker, quick and burly, and plays defense like a physical corner. Offensively, he can score from the outside but also drive to the basket and play through contact. Edwards dunks with ferocity and has enough handle to create his own shot.

His next step is developing his basketball IQ. Edwards started playing basketball late and only played one year at Georgia. He spent the first half of his rookie year learning the game, often putting up good scoring numbers but playing inefficiently. Edwards has learned how to score using fewer possessions, but he still gets tangled in double teams and has imperfect court visions. Those are nitpicks for a third-year player who made his first All-Star Game this year.

The concern with Edwards is less if he has the drive and talent to succeed, and more if the Timberwolves will enable him to. Edwards has progressively gotten better every year and has plenty of natural athleticism. He was so upset he lost Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets this year that he sat and stared at himself in the mirror for a while before leaving the locker room. He raced out of Ball Arena when he missed the game-tying three-point shot in Game 5. But Edwards is going to have trouble getting past the first round if the Wolves fail to build the team around him.

The Timberwolves prioritized Karl-Anthony Towns when they made the Rudy Gobert trade. Towns is an elite scorer but struggles defensively. Gobert is a defense-first, rim-protecting big, the yin to Towns’ yang. Still, it felt like a new ownership trade at the time. There’s not much the front office can do to overhaul the roster in the off-season, save for trading Towns for cents on the dollar. In his exit interview, Tim Connelly said they made the Gobert trade to put Edwards in a winning environment which is important for player development. However, they viewed Towns as their best player at the time of the trade.

But that has changed after this season. “I think pretty much every decision we’re going to make going forward is going to be with Ant paramount,” Connelly said. He’s right about that, but there’s not much he can immediately change. There’s also an open question of if Connelly will be back. The Washington Wizards are interested in bringing the Baltimore native home, and Connelly has been non-committal about returning to Minnesota next year. More than anything, dysfunction will hold Edwards back. That’s a shame because Timberwolves have longed for a player of his caliber since they traded Kevin Garnett in 2007. And, like Garnett, Edwards feels anything is possible for him and his career.

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