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Anthony Edwards: Ascending Star & Future Face of the NBA

The Timberwolves young superstar has taken the leap this year, and has positioned himself to dominate the league in the years to come 



The Minnesota Timberwolves won their first playoff series in twenty years this week by sweeping the Phoenix Suns in dominant fashion. Since 2010, Minnesota has had the third worst record in the NBA, only winning 40% of their games. The last time they won a playoff series in 2004 they were led by a generational talent that won MVP and was named first team All-Defense: Kevin Garnett. Fast forward to today and the Timberwolves have used a similar formula, only this time the generational talent is a bit younger and plays on the perimeter.

  

Anthony Edwards has been a revelation for Minnesota. In his four seasons with the team, he has helped to lead them to the playoffs three times. He possesses all the talents that you want from a player on the court while also exhibiting the characteristics that come with someone that is the face of a franchise. But Anthony Edwards is not only the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves; he is on track to be the face of the entire league.

  

The Ideal Modern Player 



Anthony Edwards was picked first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. Players that are taken first are often compared to all-time greats; they are supposed to be generational talents. The success of former number one picks like Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Tim Duncan is what makes the careers of players like Markelle Fultz and Andrew Bogut feel like failures. That pick is supposed to translate into a superstar as opposed to a decent role player. Edwards was characterized to be the next great shooting guard in the NBA, drawing comparisons to Dwyane Wade and Donovan Mitchell in the pre-draft process.  


Those comparisons have borne fruit, as Edwards is now considered one of the league’s rising stars. But there are a lot of interesting and exciting young players that fan bases love rooting for. There is a difference between that sort of local success and elevating to becoming a national story and potential face of a league. For that to happen there needs to be a mixture of production, exciting plays, and intensity. Edwards possesses all those qualities. Since entering the league, he has frequently made jaw dropping plays in pivotal moments of games in the regular season (as can be seen in this clip against the Pacers this season).   


In today’s NBA, Edwards gives you the versatility that makes general managers excited when scouting a prospect. Offensively, he has an explosive first step which means he can accelerate to the basket against most defenders. He is also athletic enough to finish at the rim with a dunk and layup package just waiting to be clipped for a viral social media post. He has the ball handling skills of a point guard with the leaping ability of a young Tracy McGrady. He is also enough of a threat as a three point shooter (shooting 35% through his first four seasons) that he garners respect from the defenses guarding him.


On the defensive end of the floor, Edwards is also no slouch. He ranked 9th in defensive rating this season and 4th in defensive win shares. He has shown a propensity to play passing lanes to average nearly two steals per game in addition to utilizing his wingspan to be a proficient chase down shot blocking threat. Much of these characteristics are not far off from what we saw in the early years of LeBron James in Cleveland: a dynamic athletic freak of nature that attacked the basket and defended with intensity at a high level. These attributes have led Edwards to be a two-time All-Star at only 22 years old. But what puts him on another level from others is the charisma and mentality that he has shown that reminds me of some other great NBA players.  


The Mentality 



In America we have an appreciation for dedication and commitment from our athletes. It is why some analysts and fans have bristled at the notion that two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic does not care about basketball. Players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have been glamorized and idolized for their obsessive commitment to basketball, improvement, and winning. It is a mentality that we have seen through interviews from former coaches and teammates of the late Kobe Bryant, and it was on full display during the ten-part documentary about the Jordan-era Bulls called “The Last Dance”. 

 

We love it when a player is as committed to winning as we are as fans rooting for them. We want them to care because we care so much. This mentality is not something that every great player possesses. Great players will always put in the necessary work to get better, but the next level of that is the obsession, the mentality to be great at all costs. Kobe had it. Michael had it. And it seems that Anthony Edwards also has this hyper aggressive competitive gene in him as well.

  

In a recent interview, Edwards said that he wants to “kill everything in front of me”, referring to any team that stands in his way between a championship and greatness. It is a quote that we would have expected to hear from Kobe or Michael, and it sure seems like Edwards is the reincarnation of those two great players in the modern era. Patrick Beverly and Mike Conley, who have both been teammates with Edwards in Minnesota, have both said that he reminds them of a young Michael Jordan in the sense that he feels that he is the best player in the world. It is that sort of confidence that has propelled Anthony Edwards to the forefront of NBA superstardom.

  

Edwards has realized that the marketability of a player comes from success on the court, and that is what he has delivered so far. This has led to his Adidas contract and the launch of the AE1, his signature shoe. The shoe has been very well received, with some outlets calling it one of the best basketball shoes of 2024. As Edwards continues to ascend, it stands to reason that he could help do for Adidas what Michael Jordan did for Nike in the 1980s. That is the trajectory that he is on now, to be the face of the league. 

 

The Vacuum of Power 



For the last decade or so, the NBA has been defined by a few different players. Those players are nearing the end of their primes as we speak. Players like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant are all over 35 years of age and are still good but not unstoppable forces like they were in the past. Much like when Michael Jordan was exiting the league there has been some concern about who will be the future face of the league.

  

The current state of sports fandom in the United States has seen a growing disconnect towards embracing foreign born stars, leading many to wonder who the next great American basketball star will be. While Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic have been dominating the league, there is still a desire for an elite American player to dominate the league. Call it relatability or call it xenophobia, but fans and media outlets seem keen on crowning the next great American NBA star. They have it in Anthony Edwards, an exciting player that can deliver the outstanding on a regular basis.

  

In three years, Edwards will be 25 and likely at the peak of his powers where the raw skills will have been honed and sharpened by experience. By that point, the triumvirate of James, Durant, and Curry will likely be fading into the history books. Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic will be entering their 13th, 14th, and 12th seasons respectively. Considering the track record of big men aging in the NBA, it is likely that their skills might have started to diminish by then. This is when we will see the next generation of players start to blossom with Edwards, Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Spurs center Victor Wembanyama, and Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic. Of these players, Edwards feels like the most dynamic and enigmatic up and coming player.  


He is a player that is incredibly marketable with a play style that translates into the increasing short video explosion of social media. His skills in concert with his personality and charisma will translate into many young fans embracing him like they have embraced previous stars. When Michael Jordan left the league, there were concerns about the next generation and who would take the mantle. Today, there is not the same concern. Anthony Edwards is a clear heir apparent of the NBA; the league is in great hands. 




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