Minnesota Timberwolves: Optimism for Anthony Edwards as a playmaker

Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

In Anthony Edwards, the Minnesota Timberwolves may not have Andrew Wiggins 2.0. They may already have something better.

The Minnesota Timberwolves took Anthony Edwards first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. They are hoping and praying that he is not Andrew Wiggins 2.0.

Yes, Wiggins had consistency issues in Minnesota. He was a decent defender when engaged, but didn’t always lock-in on that end of the floor. Wiggins was also known for “floating” on offense, looking to be an unstoppable force at times but an entirely inefficient scorer at others.

All of the above concerns with Wiggins’ game also fit as critiques of Edwards as a prospect, and it’s part of the reason why many — yours truly included — argued against the selection of Edwards with the No. 1 pick.

But perhaps the biggest issue with Wiggins was his lack of effectiveness as a playmaker. Edwards carried some of those same concerns coming from the University of Georgia, but it was fair to wonder how much his lack of playmaking was tied to a dearth of talent around him on the Bulldogs.

If early returns are any indication, Anthony Edwards might be a pleasant surprise in the playmaking department.

Anthony Edwards had a surprising preseason for the Minnesota Timberwolves

Let’s get the big (preseason) picture out of the way: Edwards was not exactly lights-out in his first exposure to “real” game action in the pros.

He shot just 28.9 percent from the floor, and save for an ultra-hot first quarter against Dallas in the preseason finale, Edwards genuinely struggled to put the ball in the basket.

Far too often, he settled for long jumpers, which were sometimes forced and ill-advised shots. He also had some defensive issues, although his size and athleticism were on full display in making a couple of impressive stops on that end of the floor.

But despite Edwards’ shooting percentages and the Wolves’ overall uneven performance in the preseason, the most encouraging thing about the rookie’s preseason was a pair of impressive reads he made on the offensive end of the floor.

Both of these passes came in the second half of Minnesota’s overtime win over the Mavericks, with the Wolves down by double-digits and attempting to engineer a comeback against a unit primarily made up of Dallas reserves.

Here, Edwards reads that Willie Cauley-Stein is overplaying the potential cut to the basket by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and probably anticipating a screen-and-roll with Edwards as the ballhandler. James Johnson is trying to play between the ball and Karl-Anthony Towns, leaving a wide-open lane for Edwards to whip a baseball pass to the opposite corner.

It’s something of a dangerous pass; if either Towns or Rubio’s man is in a little better position, that pass is deflected or intercepted. But they weren’t, and Edwards made the proper read.

To beat a dead horse, there’s no chance that Andrew Wiggins makes this read, at least not without taking a couple of needless dribbles and making a more difficult angle for himself by allowing the defense to re-set.

The more impressive pass came in the following quarter, in the midst of a Wolves comeback that had cut the Mavs’ lead to just 12.

Edwards takes a sideline out-of-bounds pass and operates with Towns in the pick-and-roll. Instead of challenging Cauley-Stein at the rim or dropping off a pass for KAT — both probably decent choices here — Edwards instead threads a bounce pass through the soft Mavericks defense to Jarrett Culver for an easy dunk.

It’s a great cut by Culver, but it’s a fantastic read by a rookie guard in his third preseason game. How easy would it have been to leave the ball for Towns, or crash headlong into Cauley-Stein?

Perhaps we’ve undersold Edwards as a creator; even with little talent around him in college Edwards put up an assist rate of 17.9 percent. Continuing the comparison with Wiggins, the former Jayhawk had an assist rate of only 9.2 percent in his only year of collegiate ball.

If Edwards is able to make reads like this and doesn’t force things too much when it comes to his own shot, then the Wolves suddenly have another playmaker to add to D’Angelo Russell and Ricky Rubio. None of the other wings on the roster have shown this capability with any regularity, and it’s an issue that was surely behind the decision to make the trade for Rubio.

Josh Okogie is all defense and energy with no playmaking chops. Malik Beasley is all scoring and a terror in transition but won’t create for others much at all. Jarrett Culver is theoretically a secondary playmaker but struggled mightily in that area as a rookie.

Yes, we’re reading into two individual plays in a meaningless preseason game against a unit of backups. But again, it’s the sort of thing that we didn’t see often from Wiggins and didn’t get at all from Culver last year, so it’s not crazy to long for some successful creativity from the wing spot and this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick.

dark. Next. Breaking down the Wolves' opening night roster

Expect Edwards to keep getting sixth-man minutes alongside Rubio, although playing his way into Josh Okogie’s spot in the starting lineup before Valentine’s Day certainly won’t be impossible.