Anthony Edwards ought to like his climb up the Kia Rookie Ladder this week, even if he doesn’t like the topic we’re going to discuss.
The Timberwolves’ young potential star and the No. 1 overall pick in November’s 2020 Draft apparently grew weary of the chatter he heard and even questions he faced through the season’s first half about his Draft position relative to Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball. Ball has been the consensus favorite for most of the season after being drafted No. 3 overall behind both Edwards and Golden State’s James Wiseman.
“Whoever is still talking about that, they can just kick rocks,” Edwards told reporters Sunday, after scoring 34 points against Portland.
What the rookie from Georgia should realize is that anyone reviving what was looking like a closed case is doing so because he’s forcing the issue. With performances quite befitting a No. 1 overall pick.
Edwards’ season-long traditional stats are solid enough — 15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game — but some flaws in shooting (38.1% overall, 31.5% on 3-pointers) and decision-making had weighed against them. Defensively, as you’d expect with most rookies, he had lots to learn. And of course Minnesota was losing at a miserable rate — 9-31 now — with injuries, Malik Beasley’s suspension and a coaching firing thrown in.
Lately, though, Edwards has found a groove. In five games prior to Tuesday, he averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals. And as veteran Wolves radio play-by-play announcer Alan Horton found, Edwards was answering critics by driving to the basket. He was in the company of some big-time interior scoring threats with 26 buckets from the restricted area in those five games.
Ant last 5 games…
25.0 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 2.2 APG | 2.0 SPG
And about him getting to the rim…
FGM in Restricted Area, Last 5 Games
40 — Williamson, NOP
39 — Antetokounmpo, MIL
31 — Gobert, UTA
30 — Butler, MIA
27 — Kanter, POR
26 — Edwards, MIN
26 — Harrell, LAL pic.twitter.com/brqH6ZapIg
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) March 15, 2021
Then he got 29 points and sank four of his six 3-pointers against the Lakers in L.A. Tuesday.
Quickly, the conversation is changing from what Edwards doesn’t do to what he does, and skipping some of the second-guessing about his Draft position.
Veteran Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who mostly has been dour about his team’s season, perks up when Edwards gets discussed.
“If you put together all that’s going on with COVID, changing of coaching, everything,” Rubio said, “I think it’s the toughest rookie season for any rookie that I’ve been a part of, especially for a No. 1 pick. … I just try to keep him engaged and not lost, deal with the big picture.”
Edwards’ personality has mostly stayed buoyant through the tough lessons.
“When you’re young, every game and every situation seems like it’s the end of the world sometimes when it’s not working,” Rubio said. “But his character is special. I said it from Day 1, I think we have a gem here.”
Teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 pick in 2015, flat-out said it, that drafting Edwards was the “right decision.”
Now, Towns happens to play the same position as Wiseman and is buddies with D’Angelo Russell, who plays the same position as Ball. Edwards slipped more comfortably into Minnesota’s depth chart.
And there undoubtedly is some confirmation bias at work here among the Wolves and their fans – it’s not like anyone gets a mulligan or a do-over for Draft night.
But Edwards still has time to create some drama in the Kia Rookie of the Year race. And even if he doesn’t, it’s worth noting some of the NBA’s young stars who did not win that award, such as Zion Williamson, Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, Joel Embiid, Jamal Murry and Nikola Jokic.
Other No. 1 picks have gone on to thrive, too, without that particular trophy in their bag, including Williamson, John Wall and, way back when, a fellow named Earvin Johnson (Larry Bird snagged the ROY).
The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:
(All stats through Monday, March 15)
1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Season stats: 15.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1
Nobody in the Class of 2020 has narrowed the gap between himself and Ball so far in the Rookie of the Year race. While the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau got a bit overexuberant in their stat-mining on him (steals were only made an official NBA stat 48 years ago), they’re probably right anyway and certainly in spirit. Ball’s grasp of the game and flair have made him the cornerstone of coach James Borrego’s offense. Ball didn’t start for the Hornets’ first 20 games, but it’s unthinkable that he’d be out of the starting lineup on his or any teammates’ merit going forward. He’s so much more than scoring, but there is this: Ball has a 60.8 true-shooting percentage when he plays at least 30 minutes, compared to 50.2 when he doesn’t.
LaMelo with the CRAZIEST of the @hornets franchise-record 16 1st-half threes❗️ pic.twitter.com/ilkdy0OlFf
— NBA (@NBA) March 14, 2021
2. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Season stats: 15.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 27.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3
When Edwards scored 34 points to help beat the Blazers Sunday at Target Center, he took over top position for all Wolves teenagers (Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and Andrew Wiggins each managed 33 in a game before turning 20). He impressed a couple of critics with some work on defense and in his shooting form too. And since the Wolves actually won that game, a fan on Twitter – referring to Edwards’ spectacular, poster-worthy slams that seemed to some like empty calories as his team lost and he played inefficiently – had a question: “Is it OK to enjoy his dunks now because they won?”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 17, 2021
3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
Season stats: 12.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 19.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2
Challenging week for the Knicks newbie, getting the first two starts of his young career, being tested by Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving and James Harden, scoring 21 that night, tweaking an ankle Tuesday at Philadelphia and missing a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. Quickley didn’t like missing that on a 1-for-5 night from the arc, though he said he was confident in taking the clutch attempt. The No. 25 pick is carrying some added load as the Knicks patch together their point guard spot.
The kid is built for this pic.twitter.com/inLekQSK91
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) March 16, 2021
4. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
Season stats: 12.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4
A minutes restriction in his return from a calf injury that cost him four games had Haliburton out of rhythm and, by his own words, playing “awful.” “I was playing really well before I got hurt,” he said after Sacramento’s loss to Charlotte. “I’ve just got to get it back, but I’m playing really bad right now.” He shot 7-for-23, including 3-for-11 on 3-pointers, in his first three games back. But his minutes are headed up, so some rust should flake off.
5. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7
Even as Wiseman was benched for missing a COVID test and subsequent practice, coach Steve Kerr was promising we’d see more minutes for the No. 2 pick. And we did, with Wiseman responding well and showing solid progress against top competitors the Jazz and Lakers (a combined 23 points and 12 rebounds on 11-of-18 shooting in 51 minutes). The Warriors believe they see the lessons on and off the floor sinking in for the 7-footer.
Steph draws 3 defenders and drops it to Wiseman to tie the @warriors franchise record for assists! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/CDFvp3nFVj
— NBA (@NBA) March 16, 2021
The Next Five:
6. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
Season stats: 10.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5
His 79 3FG in his first 37 games ranked as 5th most in NBA history.
7. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets
Season stats: 9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6
Big night Tuesday vs. Hawks (25-6-6) as part of Rockets’ kiddie corps.
8. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Season stats: 10.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 8
Bulls changed their lineup, but the rookie held his starting spot.
9. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
Season stats: 9.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9
His 44% from the arc is an argument for Bane to start.
10. Kenyon Martin Jr., Houston Rockets
Season stats: 7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 16.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A
Grabs a rung with big week, highlight plays for losing Rockets.
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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