25-under-25: Anthony Edwards is a whole basketball vibe

25-under-25, Minnesota Timberwolves

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Anthony Edwards didn’t make the 25-under-25 last season, a huge mistake on our part. Here’s what we missed and why we won’t miss again.

It felt only appropriate that I write the profile for Anthony Edwards this year, considering I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend our collective decision to leave him off last year. Edwards landed at No. 29 on the list last year, coming off a runner-up Rookie of the Year season. We rightly took some heat at the time and the decision looks even worse in retrospect.

Here’s what I wrote about Edwards last year in explaining why he wasn’t included in our top 25.

Why he missed: Edwards put up some monster scoring totals and some eye-popping highlights as a rookie but his game still has a lot of rough edges to be sanded down. His true shooting percentage was well below league average and he frequently bailed opponents out with questionable shot attempts. For a player with his physical tools, it seems absurd that more than a quarter of his shots were pull-up jumpers — he even attempted more pull-up jumpers than free throws. Edwards’ rookie season demonstrated his immense potential but he still has a long way to go before he’s fully translating his tool into positive on-court impact.

Why we might look stupid: It’s possible Edwards develops a lot faster than anyone is expecting. His true shooting percentage improved every single month last season, settling at 65.4 percent across eight games in April. You could almost see him putting things together in real-time last season and when it clicks, it clicks.

And Edwards absolutely made us look stupid. His usage rate stayed roughly the same but he increased his shooting percentages from essentially every area of the floor, bumping his true shooting percentage from 52.3 to 56.0 percent. He played better defense, generated more impact plays, increased his assist percentage and did it all with only a slight rise in his turnovers.

That’s not to say he’s addressed every weakness. He’s still a net-neutral defensive player at best. His pull-up jumper is still fairly ineffective and relied on far too often — 492 total pull-up jumpers to 790 drives and 280 free throw attempts last season. And throughout last year, I still had a hard time not concentrating on those things when looking at Edwards. I still looked at his performance and felt a bit unsettled by legitimate comparisons to players like Andrew Wiggins, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Rider and Jim Jackson.

But I think I may have been missing the forest for the trees. Because any examination of Edwards that gets too bogged down in statistics is obscuring a large part of what makes him so special.

Anthony Edwards is a whole-ass vibe

It’s his swagger, his confidence. The way his ebullient personality overlaps with his explosive athleticism and raw physical power. As I said last year — when it clicks, it clicks — and the impact of those clicks — for Edwards, for his team, for Timberwolves’ fans — can’t really be quantified in any meaningful way.

As a brief aside, it’s possible Edwards is a slightly different player this year. His atrocious, homophobic comments over the summer were a legitimate story. And even if we take his subsequent apology at face value things are different and we don’t really know how the incident will affect the way he carries himself in public going forward.

That being said, the Timberwolves need a significant measure of the emotional energy that Edwards can bring. They are coming off the seventh-best season in franchise history with an incredibly talented young core and one of the largest offseason additions the team has ever made. But that core is pushing against the accumulated weight of 23 losing seasons. Of just two playoff series won in 34 years. Of two franchise legends who cut their teeth in Minnesota and then went elsewhere to win their rings.

For all the talent on this roster, they are short on blind confidence. The kind of borderline arrogance and unwavering self-belief that can instantly dissipate the emotional weight of decades of historical failure. Patrick Beverley filled that role last year but he’s doing that job for the Lakers this year leaving a vacuum for Edwards to fill. The Timberwolves have championship aspirations but that only manifests with a powerful emotional center.

Edwards is a legitimately productive player and it won’t take much improvement for him to move into another tier. But his value is about so much more than his numbers. It comes from believing every shot will go in. From not caring about the legacies of Kevin Love and Kevin Garnett and having to wonder if there are lessons there to be learned from your own career. From never having been traded and never having to hear your name mentioned in trade rumors. From finding pure, exultant joy in throwing down soul-stealing dunks.

A franchise loaded with so much emotional baggage needs a leader who is immune to its effects. Edwards has as much potential as any young guard in the NBA but on this team, in this situation, at this moment in time, he is as important as any player in the league.

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