Anthony Edwards played like a No. 1 overall draft pick last season. He played in every game for the Minnesota Timberwolves, starting 55 of them, and led NBA rookies in scoring at 19.3 points per game. Sure, Edwards often played like a rookie, expected since he was one. He shot only 41.7% overall. His outside shot was a work in progress at 32.9%. Still, it was something of a surprise when he finished a distant second behind LaMelo Ball of the Charlotte Hornets in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Edwards was disappointed, but he’s moved on. This season he’s a bigger piece of the Timberwolves’ offense, putting up 24.1 points per game. He’s made some marginal shooting improvements. Edwards had a 48-point explosion in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 10 and followed that with a couple of clunkers while Minnesota split a pair of games in LA. Still only 20 years old, the Atlanta-born wing has higher ambitions. He’s certainly no longer worried about relitigating last year’s ROY vote.
Anthony Edwards is more athlete than player at this point
In 12 games this season, Anthony Edwards already has eight games with at least 20 points. He’s a scorer more than a shooter, with an effective field-goal percentage of 49.8%. He’s scored 289 points on 256 shots, hardly a paragon of efficiency.
But he’s also not afraid to challenge the veteran stars in the Minnesota Timberwolves hierarchy. After losing to the woeful New Orleans Pelicans, Edwards called out Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell for selfish play, including himself in the rant.
He said Minnesota’s three best players need to be more willing passers and lead the team by example. It’s a mature mindset even if his play on the court retains the inconsistency of youth. Edwards averages 3.3 assists per game, up from 2.9 last season, but when scaled by playing time, he’s helping out his teammates at a slightly lower rate per 36 minutes (3.3 assists per 36 last season to 3.2 in 2021–22).
The Timberwolves got off to a 3–1 start, sparkling by the franchise’s less-than-lofty standards, before taking six straight losses on the chin. Four of those were by double digits. A huge second-half surge to beat the Los Angeles Lakers was muted the next night in a season-worst 27-point thumping at the hands of the Clippers.
Minnesota remains among the lower echelon of the Western Conference, where it has resided almost exclusively since the club’s lone deep playoff run in 2004. But that doesn’t stop Edwards from looking at lofty goals down the line.
As the Minnesota Timberwolves keep struggling, Edwards eyes a big prize
Few franchises have been as consistently bad as the Minnesota Timberwolves over the last two decades or so. Behind NBA MVP Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves reached the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Since then, they’ve had just two winning seasons and one playoff berth, a five-game first-round exit in 2018.
Minnesota has employed 11 head coaches since 2004, including Kevin McHale and the late Flip Saunders twice each. Interim front-office boss Sachin Gupta is the Timberwolves’ ninth personnel decision-maker in the last 13 years.
Stability has not been a hallmark for the franchise. Neither has winning — not a surprise since those two often go together.
Anthony Edwards wants to be part of a turnaround in the Twin Cities. As far as last season’s awards slight goes, he is looking ahead, not in the rearview mirror, according to Mark Medina of NBA.com:
“I don’t care about that. I’m happy ’Melo got it. They were saying our draft class wasn’t going to be good, anyway. So, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t get it.
“I’m trying to be MVP. I’m not really worried about Rookie of the Year.”
While it’s a worthy goal, Edwards must understand the award is almost exclusively tied to team success.
The Minnesota Timberwolves must win for Anthony Edwards to be an MVP contender
To paraphrase Rasheed Wallace, “Vote don’t lie.”
Since the media took over voting for the NBA MVP Award in 1980, no player from a team with a losing record has won the honor. Even when the players voted, it was infrequent. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the 40–42 Lakers in 1975-76 remains the only player from a losing squad named MVP.
Garnett is the only player in Minnesota’s history to win the award. And the Timberwolves aren’t entirely on the minds of the media members when they vote. Jimmy Butler was the last Minnesota player to get an MVP vote, earning five points in the 2017–18 balloting to tie for 10th place.
Other Timberwolves to receive MVP support include Kevin Love (sixth in the 2011–12 voting and 11th in 2013–14), Sam Cassell (tied for 10th in 2003–04 behind Garnett), and Tom Gugliotta (tied for 17th in 1996–97).
Garnett had five top-10 finishes along with his 2003–04 win.
Edwards is making up for lost time. He entered the NBA without the benefit of the Summer League because of the pandemic. He still excelled as a first-year player.
“I still haven’t figured out the best approach just because it’s my second year,” Edwards said. “As far as physically being ready, I’m always there. But I’ll figure out the mental aspect of figuring out ways to get myself ready and locked in every night.”
If desire counts, Anthony Edwards is well on his way to doing great things in the NBA. If he can figure out how to take the Minnesota Timberwolves with him on that ride, he might make an MVP case down the road.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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