For a variety of reasons, most of the #1 overall picks in the NBA drafts between 2013 and 2018 are not the signature stars of their rookies classes.
Anthony Bennett is simply one of the worst top-of-the-draft misfires in history. Andrew Wiggins, the #1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year in 2014, has underwhelmed. He is now, at best, the fifth-best player from his class, behind presumptive MVP Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and Zach LaVine. Markelle Fultz inexplicably misplaced his confidence and his jump shot in the summer of 2017. Deandre Ayton meanwhile, a solid-to-very-good pro from Day One, committed the cardinal sin of being not Luka Dončić.
Even Ben Simmons, who’s, if not the best player from the 2016 draft class (your mileage will vary on Jaylen Brown, Domantas Sabonis, Jamal Murray and Brandon Ingram), lost the entirety of the 2016-17 season to injury. He’s since proven himself worthy of his lofty draft status, developing into elite defender and playmaker and (it would appear) a perennial All-Star for the East’s top seed, but his opening chapter, too, was inauspicious.
So, when LaMelo Ball, the #3 pick in the 2020 draft, hit the NBA court running, it was fair to wonder whether it was happening again. Two picks earlier, the Minnesota Timberwolves had selected University of Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards. A rock-solid 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, with elite athleticism and leaping ability, infectious confidence and an aggressive on-court approach, Edwards checked all of the prospect boxes. At the same time, he’s a former football player whose focus only shifted to basketball in high school, coming off a lone college season in which he’d scored (19.1 points per game), though not efficiently (40% from the field, 29.1% on 3-pointers), and garnered no major honors.
Three weeks into his NBA career, Ball was flirting with triple-doubles on a near-nightly basis, while flashing an elite basketball IQ and making spectacular plays within the flow of a game. By late-January, he was was regularly scoring 20+ points a night, while still rebounding and playmaking at an elite level.
All the while, it looked as though Edwards was very much a raw, projectable athlete who’d struggle to be more than an inefficient volume scorer. Through March 3, or 36 pre-All-Star-break games, Edwards averaged just about 15 points and four rebounds per game. Certainly not awful. However, when paired with a field goal percentage of just 37%, 3-point percentage of just 30%, and the fact that he’d made at least half of his shots on just four occasions… not exactly encouraging. Also troubling was the Timberwolves’ 7-29 record in those games.
Of course, it did not take Edwards long to warn the world of hazard in letting him build up a head of steam on his way to the rim, or his propensity for finishing enthusiastically at the rim:
If, however, he was to ever to be more Dwyane Wade or Jimmy Butler than Isaiah Rider, there was work to be done.
That Edwards might have needed a moment to acclimate isn’t an outlandish notion. It’s easy to forget that he’s still not yet 20 years-old, and was thrown into the this truncated sprint of a season with neither the benefit of summer league nor training camp. Those first couple of months clearly provided a sufficient warm-up period, as Edwards has been a different player since the break.
ANT’s Worm Turns
Starting on March 11, over a tough five-games-in-eight-nights stretch that included two games against Portland and road games against the Lakers and the Suns, he averaged 30.6 points and 5.4 rebounds, while making 48% of his shots and just over 39% of his 3-pointers. In those five outings – three of which were Minnesota wins – he never shot worse than 44% from the field, made at least 40% of 5+ 3-point attempts four times, and scored 27+ four times, including a career-high 42 in a March 18 victory in Phoenix.
On March 20, while the Hornets were taking on the Clippers in Los Angeles, LaMelo took a spill under the basket and, while trying to break his fall, fractured his right wrist. It was announced that he’d miss a minimum of four weeks. It was a blow to fans who’d been enjoying his brilliant stylings, but a non-event in the big picture – LaMelo would recover fully, and had long since locked up the Rookie of the Year award.
Not so fast!
Edwards has maintained his outstanding form in the meantime. At the time of writing, since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 23.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, while hitting on 45.3% of his field goals and 34.7% of his 3’s. Twelve times he’s made at least half of his nearly 19 shot attempts per game, and has scored 20+ 22 times in 32 games – including another career-high 42 (in which he made 17 of 22 shots, and 8-of-9 3-poiners) in a scintillating performance against Memphis Grizzlies.
It’s worth noting that Edwards’ upswing coincided (not all that coincidentally) with the replacement of head coach Ryan Saunders with former Raptors assistant – and noted offensive mind – Chris Finch, and the returns of D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns, from (respectively) injury and a near-month-long absence due to COVID. As the primary option in their absences, Edwards attracted – and learned to cope with – more defensive attention. This extended beyond simply scoring. Post-All-Star-break run, he’s turned nine of his twelve games of at least eight rebounds (including all three of his double-doubles), eight of his ten games with at least three steals and, perhaps most importantly, eight of his eleven games with 5+ assists.
That Towns is not just an incredibly efficient scorer, but one of the greatest shooting big men in the history of the game makes him an ideal complement to dynamic playmakers. Russell’s absence from the lineup allowed Edwards to gain confidence as a playmaker – a role that few anticipated he’d assume successfully. Also helpful is that the Wolves’ revamped offense prioritizes transition and 3’s, and affords Edwards cleaner driving lanes, which he’s still happily seizing upon:
Equally encouraging is the way in which Edwards seems to have simultaneously accepted and leadership role and infused the team with his confidence and fearlessness, without stepping on the toes of his more established teammates. This is particularly true with his fellow perimeter stars, Russell and Ricky Rubio. To watch a Wolves game these days is to frequently see Edwards putting his head together with Rubio, one of the league’s smartest and universally beloved players.
Russell, who’s been thriving in a bench role (19 points and six assists in 26 minutes per game) since returning from injury, has made life easier for Edwards when the two have shared the floor. A gifted passer and a legitimate perimeter threat, Russell has taken attention off of ANT, while also creating cleaner driving lanes. As a result, Edwards’ efficiency has spiked alongside Russell.
Whether all of this enough to warrant year-end hardware remains to be seen. LaMelo’s back, playing well, and has the Hornets in a playoff play-in spot. Whether it really even matters is debatable. Given the complete lack of a RoY “debate” even a month ago, that we’re even discussing this is an indication of just how spectacular Edwards has been.
More importantly, it’s translating into wins, with the Wolves (at the time of writing) a much-improved 14-18 over their last 32 games. The Anthony Edwards we’ve seen over the past two months is a foundational piece on a legitimately good NBA roster, and not just an entertaining athlete. Given the complement of talent alongside him, there is real cause for optimism in the Twin Cities.
On paper, it all makes sense. Spectacular athlete, playing alongside other young talents, for a bright young coach, in a “nowhere to go but up” situation that actually seems to be “going up”? There’s not much to not like.
Will Hardwood Success Translate to Cardboard?
What does all of this ultimately mean for Edwards’ collectability?
By now, some of you are tempted to scream (or are screaming) “Small market! Call me when he’s a free agent!” I get it. By all accounts, Minneapolis is an NBA backwater, a barren outpost whose true purpose is to be departed.
To believe this is to ignore that Minneapolis-St. Paul – the market in which Kevin Garnett became not an MVP, but became a legend – is larger than, among others: Miami, Portland, Phoenix, Cleveland, Denver and Indianapolis. It’s more than twice the size of San Antonio and Salt Lake City, from whence we’ve gotten five MVP awards, eight Finals appearances and five championships since 1994. It’s nearly twice as large a market as Milwaukee, where the winner of the last two league MVP trophies plays.
Dismiss Minny at your own peril!
In the recent months, a wave of products have hit the market, binging with them a number of Edwards options.
There are the base NBA Hoops rookie and Donruss “Rated Rookie”, raw versions of which can be had fairly cheaply. There are, of course, a number of parallels of each, with (in one man’s opinion) Donruss the more preferable option. In addition to an unnumbered autographed version of base Donruss rookies, collectors can turn to the “Blue Laser” parallel, which will eat up more of the budget, but is numbered to just 49, and looks extremely sharp.
And, of course, there is Prizm. And Silver Prizm. And Green Prizm. And the rest of the annual rainbow release. There are options for just about any budget. For our purposes, we’ll just highlight the base RC (currently under $50-$60 raw) and silver Prizm ($350-$400 raw) versions.
At rarer end of the spectrum (blue is #/49; gold is #/10), there is the Panini Certified Freshman Fabric card, which features ANT in his Wolves jersey, is autographed, and includes a jersey swatch. That the jersey may or may not be game-used is not ideal, but the card itself is a decent value play regardless.
The High Side
Of course, there are some high-end options where the bold collectors and investors live. Low serial-numbered parallels from Prizm and other top brands along with some of the late season issues like Flawless and rare insert cards dominate some of the top end eBay sales, which you can check out here. Low numbered Prizm Black and Gold and Gold Prizm cards were the top sellers as of this writing with a few strong five-figure sales.
A list of the current ‘most watched’ auctions for Edwards cards is at the bottom of the page.
Finally, it’s worth highlighting a pair of early cards that feature Edwards in his college jersey. The premium option here is the Panini Contenders Draft Picks Prospect Ticket which, in addition to ultra-rarity (there are 12 parallels, ranging in print run from #/55, to 1-of-1), vitally features an on-card auto. Many cards featuring Edwards in his college uni will lose popularity with the release of his NBA issues, this one should maintain a strong measure of respect.
Likewise, we have the Prizm Draft Picks “Downtown”. While the card is neither numbered nor autographed, it’s got a sensational aesthetic quality to it. Between the University of Georgia’s “Uga” emerging from his doghouse and a big cartoonish Georgia peach in the background, it’s tough to imagine not wanting one of these:
Anthony Edwards is not a spectacular athlete. He’s a spectacularly spectacular athlete, with a knack for making genuinely memorable plays, and sense for the moment when he does so.
Just weeks into his career at the highest level, he exhibited the willingness, ability and humility to evolve into a more well-rounded and efficient player, without sacrificing the on-court swagger that sets him apart. He’s playing alongside a generational big man whose game and personality perfectly complement his own, and has an excellent pair of backcourt mentors/running mates. And this whole crew is playing under a young, bright, forward-thinking coach, under enthusiastic new ownership (even if ANT’s never heard of them!).
For good measure, off the court, he seems positively delightful:
It certainly seems like superstardom awaits.
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About Emile Avanessian
Emile Avanessian is a strategic consultant, freelance writer and hobby lifer, originally from the United States, now living in Barcelona. His work, focused largely on the NBA and Spanish soccer, has appeared, among other places, in the Los Angeles Times, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Tifo Football, The Blizzard, Barça Blaugranes and Forum Blue and Gold, as well as on his own site, Hardwood Hype (https://hardwoodhype.com/the-work). You can find Emile talking sports and collecting on Twitter (@hardwoodhype; https://twitter.com/hardwoodhype) and Instagram (@the_hardwood_hype; https://www.instagram.com/the_hardwood_hype/).