Comparing Anthony Edwards’ Playoff Resume to Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant

Anthony Edwards
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Edwards helped carry the Minnesota Timberwolves to their first Western Conference Finals appearance in 20 years, putting the team on the doorstep of a trip to the NBA Finals. While Game 7 wasn’t one of his best scoring performances, it felt reminiscent of all-time greats for another reason.

Edwards’ shot wasn’t falling for most of Game 7, resulting in him scoring 16 points on 24 shots. However, the All-Star guard stepped up for Minnesota in other ways and helped will his team to victory in a win or go home game 7, as the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan did early in their careers too.

After Jamal Murray scored 24 points (8-of-15) in the first half, Edwards took on Denver’s top guard defensively. In the second half of Game 7, Murray scored just 11 points while shooting 5-of-12 from the field.

The second-half defensive effort in Game 7 highlights Edwards’ multidimensional abilities. And his postgame media sessions showed leadership well beyond his years.

Comparing Anthony Edwards playoff starts in early career

Anthony Edwards playoff stats, LeBron James
Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

With the Timberwolves now in the Western Conference Finals, it’s time to compare Edwards’ early playoff resume to Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Related: Minnesota Timberwolves game today, Western Conference Finals schedule

This will be a statistical comparison, simply looking at how Edwards’ stats in the NBA playoffs early in his career stack up to some all-time greats. While these performances occurred in different eras, and context like supporting cast and rules matter, it’s still worth examining how Edwards stacks up in the box score. Here, we’re focused on each player’s first 22 starts in the playoffs.

First 22 playoff starts

Michael Jordan35.
LeBron James28.
Kobe Bryant21.
Anthony Edwards28.
Game Score from Basketball-Reference. S+B = Steals + Blocks per game

Unsurprisingly, one common similarity in the playoffs between most of these players is early postseason defeat. In his first 11 playoff games, Edwards and the Timberwolves lost eight times. Bryant lost in six of his first 11 playoff starts and Jordan’s Bulls had nine losses in his first 11 playoff starts.

The statistical comparison does highlight, in part, why calling Edwards the next Jordan even now is a bit outlandish. While Chicago didn’t reach the Eastern Conference Finals from 1984-’88, he was already playing like an all-time great.

Related: Timberwolves Open as West Finals Favorite vs Dallas Mavericks

However, Edwards’ numbers are fairly aligned with James’ stats in his first 22 playoff starts. During that stretch, the Cleveland Cavaliers reached the Eastern Conference Finals and then the NBA Finals by James’ fourth season.

As for scoring highs in their first 22 playoff starts, Jordan leads the way with 63 points, James a 45-point game, Edwards (44) and Bryant had a 35-point game. Notably, Edwards (four) did have more 40-point games than James (two) over that same span.

First Conference Finals for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan

Anthony Edwards NBA playoffs resume
Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

For now, just taking the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals is a milestone for Edwards that will cement his status as one of the best NBA players right now. However, Minnesota is favored in the series and there is still an expectation to perform on the doorstep of the NBA Finals.

First Conference Finals appearance (starts)

Michael Jordan43.
LeBron James46.
Kobe Bryant43.
S+B = Steals + Blocks per game.

In his first Eastern Conference Finals appearance, a 25-year-old Jordan delivered three games with 30-plus points including a 46-point performance in a Game 3 victory over the Detroit Pistons. However, Chicago lost the series with a final point differential of -25. The Bulls went back to the ECF the following year, losing in seven games.

James, at age 22, was sensational in his first Conference Finals appearance. He scored 48 in a Game 5 win over the Pistons and nearly had a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals) in Game 1. Cleveland advanced to the NBA Finals, finishing the ECF with a +22 point differential after losing the first two games.

Also Read: Best NBA players of all time

While Bryant made his first Western Conference Finals appearance in 1998, he was coming off the bench. So, we focused on his first run as a starter in the 2000 WCF. In that seven-game series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bryant scored 33 points and 7 steals + blocks in a Game 6 loss. In the series-clinching Game 7 win, Bryant scored 25 points with 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 blocks.

Edwards has a legitimate chance to do what Jordan didn’t, win his first Conference Finals series and reach the NBA Finals before his age-23 season. The circumstances are obviously different, which is why a better comparison is to how James and Bryant performed, but even those outcomes seem replicable for Edwards in his first Western Conference Finals.

We’ll also update this if the Timberwolves reach the NBA Finals. Stay tuned!

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