Ant Man, What Does the Young Wolves Phenom Need to Keep Growing?

Just this week the reserves for the All-Star team were announced leaving in its wake a frenzy of debates and discussions regarding which players were snubbed and which players deserved their All-Star spot.

With only 12 selections per conference in a league that is growing increasingly more talented by the year, there’s always bound to be some snubs.

Amongst those in the discussion for some of the reserve spots that were selected by NBA coaches were De’Aaron Fox, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Devin Booker and, of course, Anthony Edwards.

If you ask Ant himself, he says he’s not surprised or even upset with his omission, once again displaying a maturity and awareness far beyond his 21 years.

“I’m just never the one that’s selected for things like that, I feel like, I’ve got to go above and beyond. I will next year, so I ain’t tripping.”

For the young guard it’s safe to say he’ll have his time. He’s shown nothing but improvement through his first 3 seasons in the league. All of his major shooting splits and traditional per game averages have gone up in each season since 2020-21, PPG, RPG, APG, SPG, FG% and 3P%. He’s only the 35th player in NBA history to have at least 4000 points, 1000 rebounds and 700 assists through the first 3 seasons of their career, crazy because his rookie year was played in a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season and of course the current 2022-23 season isn’t finished yet.

This year he’s averaging 25/6/5 on .533 eFG%. He’s been especially better as of recently after a slower start to the year. Since Dec. 18 (26 games) his scoring average is nearly 28 per game while his shooting splits remain a cool 47/37/80. Those numbers are all the more important when you consider that not only are the Wolves in the thick of a tight Western Conference playoff race, but that he’s produced those numbers without Karl Anthony Towns for a significant chunk of the year (Edwards has yet to miss a single game this year), a situation made all the more precarious as they navigate an awkward fit with newcomer Rudy Gobert.

We are seeing a new confidence in the way he attacks the rim. He’s attempting 30.5% of his shots from 0-3 feet, a career high, and converting those attempts at a 66.3% clip, also a career high, his athleticism and physicality for the position allowing him to maintain such efficiency.

He’s honed his 3 point shot as well. Only 38.8% of his FGA are from 3, down about 10% from last year, but he’s making those at a career high of 36.7% from long-distance.

Despite only grading as an average defender, he’s shown strides and even excels in certain areas. The 6’9″ wingspan from a guard only 6’3″ helps him average nearly 2 steal and 2.5 deflections per 36 minutes (the 2.5 deflections/36 is in the 74th percentile per craftedNBA).

Aside from his clear improvement on the court, he’s extremely popular in the locker room amongst teammates, all of whom went to bat for him when his name wasn’t called as an All-Star reserve.

All of these stats, however, are coming on increased usage, and with increased usage you see growing pains. Ant, because of the aforementioned KAT injury and no true PG on the roster (only D’Angelo Russell and Jordan McLaughlin are listed as PGs), is often asked to do almost too much. The athleticism and explosiveness from Ant is hardly honed. The shot selection is far from consistently prudent and he sometimes opts for high difficulty shots instead of finding the better option.

None of this is meant to detract from what he’s already accomplished. He’s a 21-year old guard in his 3rd season. Progression is hardly linear in the NBA. What isn’t up for debate is that Ant, hardly a finished project, has an undeniably high ceiling. Despite the warts, he’s kept a weird Minnesota team that doesn’t really fit stay treading above water.

Out of Edwards, Gobert, Russell and Towns, only Ant has a positive on-off rating per 100 possessions. The Wolves aren’t a good rebounding team, they turn the ball over frequently and they are a below average 3-point shooting team. Despite Ant making strides in his playmaking (he’s averaging a career high in assists per game and AST%), these team failures are all factors of which seem to affect Edwards’ inclination to shoot instead of play-make, the area of his game that needs the most work in order to ascend to superstardom.

Because of his inclination to shoot, Michael Pina described his potential player comp as someone like a Donovan Mitchell rather than a James Harden-type player, an extremely gifted scorer who, while capable of being a playmaker, isn’t totally comfortable doing so.

The Wolves already have one catastrophic deal in their back pocket, so where do they go so as not to mess things up with Edwards? Do they make moves around the fringes? Do they actually consider moving on from KAT, not because he isn’t a fit with Edwards, but rather to somewhat rectify the Gobert deal? What teams have assets that could work with an ascendant Ant? Atlanta, Phoenix, New York or Orlando, all teams that also find themselves at forks in the road?

It’s exciting to imagine what Anthony Edwards could develop into, but what does Minnesota do to ensure he’s not just the next young star to have their eyes set on greener pastures? If he can ever find himself into a situation in which the spacing is viable while his playmaking and shot selection drastically improve, then we have a player on our hands who will be a real problem.

And not just a regular season problem, but a problem that teams would dread to game plan for in the playoffs.

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