Minnesota Timberwolves: What will Anthony Edwards’ role be in rookie year?

What will Anthony Edwards role be on the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
What will Anthony Edwards role be on the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves suddenly have plenty of wing depth. What will No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Edwards’ role be in his rookie season?

The Minnesota Timberwolves went from having depth concerns on the wing to now being in a spot where there may not be enough minutes to around.

It isn’t very often that the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in the draft doesn’t start on opening night. But it’s possible, if not likely, that will be the case come the Wolves’ opener on Dec. 23.

Former University of Georgia guard Anthony Edwards was selected first overall by the Wolves and began his first NBA training camp this weekend. What will his role be on a Wolves squad that has higher ambitions than most organizations who just selected first in the draft?

Minnesota Timberwolves: What will Anthony Edwards’ role be in rookie year?

In case you hadn’t heard, the Minnesota Timberwolves were not a good team last season.

Indeed, they finished with the third-worst record in the league and won the NBA Draft Lottery, landing them the honor to select first in a draft without a consensus No. 1 pick.

Ultimately, the Wolves picked Edwards, who many experts believed had the highest ceiling in the draft. He also just so happened to be a perfect positional fit with what the Wolves needed: a big, physical wing who can function as a third offensive option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.

The existing wings on the Wolves roster include former first-round picks Josh Okogie (No. 20 pick in 2018), Jarrett Culver (No. 6 pick in 2019), and Malik Beasley, who was just given a four-year, $60 million deal. That doesn’t even take into account Jake Layman, who will split time between the 3 and the 4, training camp invitee Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, or last year’s second-round pick Jaylen Nowell.

So, where does Edwards fit in, exactly? Let’s start with the strengths and weaknesses of the existing group.

Strengths and weaknesses of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ other wings

Beasley is the best offensive player as of right now, and it isn’t close. He’s a 38.8 percent career 3-point shooter who made 42.6 percent of his long-range attempts in a Wolves uniform last season. Beasley has a hair-trigger release and is fantastic in transition. Put simply, there’s a reason the Wolves just committed $60 million to a player who continues to battle off-the-court legal issues.

Beasley, however, is not a good defender. At 6-foot-4 with a modest build, he’s not going to be guarding large 3s and switching onto 4s very often. Not with much success, at least.

Okogie has the size and athleticism to play multiple positions and is the best defender of the group. He’s also a solid cutter and dynamic in transition. But he’s a poor jump-shooter and doesn’t add any playmaking to the wing.

Culver was okay defensively but awful on offense as a rookie. He’s the one player in the wing group who, at least in theory, should be able to add an element of playmaking and an ability to attack the rim off the dribble in the half-court offense. Unfortunately, he didn’t do those things successfully last year as a rookie, and to make matters worse, his jumper was broken.

That said, Culver has upside and legitimate two-way potential. As the No. 6 pick just last summer, the Wolves aren’t likely to simply bury him on the bench.

What does Anthony Edwards bring to the table for the Minnesota Timberwolves?

Edwards stands 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan. He will be best-suited to guard 2s as a rookie, but his size and athleticism should allow him to guard 3s and even some 4s with the ability to switch onto 1s.

The way the Wolves operate offensively, there isn’t much difference between the 2 and the 3, and 4s in today’s NBA must be able to guard multiple positions. That means that Layman will get some run at the 4 with the expectation that he can function as a 3, adding another player to the mix for Edwards to compete with for playing time.

At this stage, it would be a surprise to see Edwards in the starting lineup come Dec. 23 against the Detroit Pistons. More likely, he’ll be coming off the bench behind Beasley and Okogie, perhaps running with Culver and Ricky Rubio and the second unit.

After Okogie, Edwards will be relied upon as the other big, physical wing; the Wolves aren’t about to have Beasley or Culver play the 3 and get stuck guarding a bruising opposing forward.

Offensively, the Wolves won’t be expecting Edwards to do anything except know and understand his role. They’ll certainly run some sets for him to try and build confidence and give him an opportunity, but Ryan Saunders isn’t going to want him to try and force matters.

Edwards ticket to minutes will be if he can show defensive consistency and an understanding of timing and spacing on offense. If he’s open, Edwards needs to shoot the ball. If he isn’t, he needs to pass the ball and cut. Use his size and athleticism to crash the boards on both ends of the floor. And, above all, play hard. All the time.

If he can do those things, he’ll get an opportunity. Foul trouble will inevitably crop up with both Okogie and Beasley, and Edwards, along with Culver, will be the next man up.

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Even if it isn’t a typical role for a reigning No. 1 overall pick, Edwards will have his chance. And if he does well with it, the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to have a deep and dangerous group of wings this season.