World Cup Feels Like Linchpin for Anthony Edwards’ Rise to Superstardom

Photo: Juan Ocampo - NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA world is abuzz on Monday morning and the topic is Minnesota Timberwolves’ rising star Anthony Edwards, who completely took over during Team USA’s 16-point comeback victory vs Germany, on Sunday, in the team’s final exhibition game before the FIBA World Cup gets underway.

Ant’s 34 points (11/20 from the field) raised his team-leading PPG average to 19.2 — on an impressive 51% from the field –, secured Team USA’s unblemished exhibition record (5-0) and cemented Edwards as “the guy” for Team USA when they hit the hardwood in Manila on Saturday morning (7:40 AM CT). Those are head coach Steve Kerr’s words, not mine.

“He’s unquestionably the guy,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said of Edwards. “You can see he knows it. But now the team knows it, and I think the fans see it. … He genuinely believes he’s the best player in the gym every single night. And he’s such a dynamic young player. I think he’s taking a leap.”

Steve Kerr (via ESPN)

Anthony Edwards’ current standing among NBA’s best

Last week, The Athletic released their annual tier rankings of the best players in the NBA. The top tier was broken down into to groups (1A and 1B) and consisted of just six players who can be automatically included in MVP conversations every year. It included guys like Steph Curry, Nikola Jokic and (No. 1 overall) Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Tier 2 included 12 players and three groups and nobody named Anthony Edwards. Jimmy Butler (2A), Ja Morant (2B) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2C) were all named in this tier. Finally, near the bottom of tier 3A, Ant is listed. Others in 3A include Donovan Mitchell, Jalen Brown and Team USA teammate, Jaren Jackson Jr.

These tiers aren’t meant to read like an NBA player power ranking but, if you apply such logic, it places Anthony Edwards in the top 20-30 players in the league, though creator Seth Partnow openly questions whether or not he (and to a lesser extent Jaylen Brown) his ranking.

Jaylen Brown and Anthony Edwards are higher than their regular-season metrics might indicate. Over the past three years, they have been 99th and 128th in RAPM, respectively, while both have hovered right around league-average efficiency in their careers. But both have games that have translated well to the postseason, more definitely in the case of Brown, as he’s played nearly 10 times as many playoff games (105) as Edwards (11).

Their physicality and elite, quick-burst athleticism mean they have the chance to overwhelm even a perfectly schemed defense. Both have limitations — Edwards’ inconsistency as a jump shooter and decision-maker and Brown’s shaky handle in traffic would have to be rectified for either to progress higher — but even with those foibles, they have still been highly effective.

Seth Partnow (The Athletic)

Ant’s Superstar could be unlocked by World Cup

While in Manila, the NBA world will be locked on Anthony Edwards. Those eyes will include all of the world’s best basketball players (past and present), the biggest names in NBA media and die hard fans across the country who have never seen more than Ant’s highlight moments to this point.

Establishing himself as the No. 1 option for a team full of 3rd and 4th tier NBA players (according to The Athletic) was only the first step. Starting on Saturday, and over the next couple of weeks in Manila, Ant has the opportunity to vault himself into future MVP conversations with the entire basketball world watching.

Some of the biggest names in basketball history — including the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan — all used international play (mostly The Olympics) to vault themselves into another level of NBA superstardom.

If Edwards can soak in some of the knowledge being dropped on him from legendary coach, Steve Kerr, and ride the individual momentum he picked up during exhibition play by leading Team USA to a Gold Medal, he can be the latest budding young NBA star to ride the international career escalator right to the top of the basketball world.

Timberwolves fans watching, hoping…

And the Minnesota Timberwolves desperately need Ant’s Team USA opportunity to pay off in huge future dividends. It’s become obvious that Anthony Edwards, not Karl-Anthony Towns, reaching his max potential as a top-3 NBA player is the franchise’s only viable shot at any imminent NBA Finals appearances or sustained run of playoff success.

As we’ve written before, Ant has all of the intangibles needed to be great. At just 22 years old, he is oozing with talent, leadership and charisma that he hasn’t come close to harnessing yet. Pair those must-have traits with reports that he spends more time in the gym than he does outside of it and it’s apparent the Wolves may have in Edwards what they’ve lacked since Kevin Garnett departed.

An MVP-caliber superstar who is capable of transcending the abysmal history and tragic reputation of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now, it’s up to Ant to take advantage.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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