From: Las Vegas
Lowe: The 5 most intriguing players this NBA season
ANTHONY EDWARDS, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Edwards strutted into his first postseason as if the NBA's biggest stage had been waiting for him all along. He seized Minnesota's offense as Karl-Anthony Towns battled foul trouble, and he averaged 25 points -- including 40% shooting on 9.5 3s per game.
He hypnotized defenders with crossovers and hesitation moves before rising above them -- or zooming through them. He hunted Ja Morant and tracked Morant on defense. He looked fearless and unfazed in a way only stars do.
"I was having even more fun than it looked like," Edwards says. "It was the best basketball experience of my life."
With few exceptions, even teams that invest big in frontcourt stars -- as the Wolves have done pairing Towns and Rudy Gobert -- need star-level perimeter creation to chase titles. Trading everything for Gobert at age 30 was a massive bet on Minnesota's barely 21-year-old phenom becoming that star ahead of the typical pace. (Last month, Edwards apologized for anti-gay comments he made in an Instagram video.)
Those nights when Edwards looks unstoppable obscure how much work remains. He has been a below-average shooter from almost every spot. Like any young scorer, Edwards has struggled at times as a distributor -- missing passing windows, holding the ball too long. (The Wolves' offense too often ground to a halt in Minnesota's first-round loss last season.) Edwards ranked in the bottom half in efficiency among high-volume ball handlers in pick-and-rolls and isolations, per Second Spectrum data.
But the foundation is so strong, and Edwards seems to know the path forward -- including as a passer. "I gotta start seeing the help before it's in my face," he says. "And getting off the ball early, making advance passes."
Good things happen when Edwards makes the simple play. It jolts Minnesota's offense into gear and gets Edwards the ball back with an advantage.
When he sees them, he can make all the pick-and-roll passes -- including crosscourt lefty slingshots. A D'Angelo Russell-Gobert action on one side could shift into a full-speed Edwards-Towns pick-and-roll on the other -- perhaps an easier set of reads for Edwards. Gobert instantly becomes Minnesota's best screener by miles. He's an easy lob target for Edwards, who has had issues finding bigs on the pick-and-roll.
Edwards hit 36% on 177 step-back 3s -- the sixth-most attempts in the league; he'll drill triples over dropback schemes. Midrangers will always be core to Edwards' game, but he wants to turn more ultra-long 2s -- those dreaded 21-footers -- into 3s, and burrow to the rim more. (Edwards has averaged four free throws per 36 minutes; that number should get much higher.)
Edwards had only 19 post touches last season; bully-ball would be a game-changing weapon as Edwards continues targeting small guards on switches.
"My post-ups will be a lot better," he promises. "I'm working on it now. That's all I can say."
Alongside Russell and Towns, the Wolves need Edwards to be an off-ball threat too. He hit 41% on catch-and-shoot 3s last season. Duplicate that and defenses will stick more closely to him. Edwards can exploit that attention with backdoor cuts, and he needs to be a more active off-ball mover. You see glimpses -- including an encouraging habit of running into catches.
Edwards has talked about being a stopper on defense and has the tools to do it. He's fast and well-balanced, able to slide in sync with ball handlers. He stays under control closing out on shooters and can wall off almost anyone chest-to-chest. He is the rare wing who offers fearsome rim protection. "I love blocking shots," Edward says. "I might get dunked on, but I'm still coming for you."
(Speaking of dunks: I asked Edwards whether he was sad he no longer has the chance to dunk on Gobert. "I'm happy he's on my team -- for his sake," Edwards quips.)
His focus and fundamentals can wane; he can ball-watch and lose his assignment. "My only problem off the ball is seeing my man," he says. "I just kind of forget I'm guarding somebody." He's so confident in his speed and leaping that he sometimes strays too far from shooters -- assuming he can recover.
Edwards is also, frankly, a bad rebounder who doesn't box out. That was a teamwide issue for Minnesota; the Wolves cannot count on Gobert to solve it alone.
But Edwards sees the game on defense. He calls out coverages. He has all the ingredients of the player Minnesota needs him to be. It's just a matter of harnessing them in time.