Each week during the 2023-24 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
This week's topic: Anthony Edwards is the smoothest basketball player alive
Can we talk about how smooth Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards is for a minute?
We respect the craft in Kyrie Irving's handles, LeBron James' forcefulness and Nikola Jokić's vision, but every so often there is a player so fluid he kind of becomes the game, and Edwards is him. It is as difficult to describe as it is clear on the court. You can practically see Edwards palming the sport, molding it into his own likeness and rolling it over the rest of the league. We get to watch him unfold this new NBA reality.
It has been a minute since we have seen one put his stamp on an era. Kawhi Leonard got there in 2019. Jimmy Butler gets there every so often in the playoffs. I am here to tell you that Edwards is knocking on the door of getting there for good. He is making the leap, and the imprint he leaves will be a beautiful thing.
This is why Julius Erving was your parents' favorite player, why Michael Jordan is my greatest of all time and why Kobe Bryant was him for a whole new generation. The strokes of their art are just so damn smooth.
Much of the past decade has been dominated by James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jokić, all of whom boast a singular quality that makes them special, whether it be a preternatural body, a generational skill or a unique combination of both. We like to think we could catch fire like Curry if we got up enough shots, but the truth is we are neither children nor siblings of shooting royalty.
What we really want is to think we could do it all if we were just a little taller, and to look smooth doing it. It is why "Be Like Mike" resonated on playgrounds everywhere in the 1990s. I dream, I move; I dream, I groove.
Edwards is this. He glides, and he flies, and he does it on both ends, making banked jump shots and defensive footwork look as cool as his windmill dunks and chase-down blocks. Filmmakers for the 2022 Adam Sandler vehicle "Hustle" were looking for a perfect basketball prospect — complete with a brash walk to back up his trash talk and vice versa — and Edwards made movie stardom from being himself.
This is a guy who in one minute with Bally Sports North's Marney Gellner in 2021 said, "I could've went to the MLB," or dominated anything from football to Ping-Pong. "Whatever you need me to do, it don't matter — trash-can ball, whatever you want. Cook food, that's something to do, and I bet I'd be A1 from Day 1."
Normally, I might hate on someone for this conceit, but in Edwards' case, I believe it. If you don't already, you will soon. Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum, no slouch himself, learned last week, when Edwards made a 114-109 overtime victory against the NBA's last undefeated team his own. He entered with seven minutes remaining and a three-point deficit and proceeded to score or assist on 24 of the Timberwolves' final 27 points of the fourth quarter and overtime, all the while putting the clamps to both Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
"He was talking smack at jump ball of overtime, and I told him, 'I'm coming again,'" Edwards said of Tatum after posting 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists opposite him in the win. "Luckily, he called me up for an iso and tried to iso me, and I'm like, 'I play defense, I just got five fouls,' so I had to show him."
Golden State Warriors bully Draymond Green, the self-proclaimed "best defender to ever play in the NBA," learned, too, when he fouled Edwards and asked, "What are you gonna do about it? You’re not gonna do nothing about it. Stop talking." To which Edwards replied, "Man, ain't nobody worried about you, bruh," before icing a 116-110 victory with eight points on the next four possessions over a span of 72 seconds.
Draymond asked Ant what he was going to do about it.
Well, this: pic.twitter.com/VyMeq7aSM6
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 13, 2023
This was the same game that saw Edwards draw a technical foul for dunking over and staring down Golden State's Dario Šarić in one motion. Two nights later, following another win over the Warriors — one marred by a scuffle between Jaden McDaniels and Klay Thompson and Green's headlock on Rudy Gobert — Edwards walked into the locker room and told media awaiting McDaniels, "Slim is not guilty on all counts."
That is some smooth s*** right there.
Green probably should have known already, since Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of mentoring Edwards for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup over the summer, "His talent stood out on a team of super-talented young guys. And he knows it. He knows he’s the best player on the floor. I appreciate that about him. He loves the moment and embraces it, but is also a great teammate. The guys love playing with him.
"Supreme confidence and just a fearless player in the clutch."
Edwards is not without fault. He scored 26 points on 27 shots and registered just one assist in an opening-night loss to the Toronto Raptors. Only, he understood the issue and corrected it in time to beat the reigning champion Denver Nuggets on a night his defense overshadowed his (relatively) underwhelming box score.
"Starting with myself, just can’t come out being selfish, worrying about however many points I wanna score," Edwards said, via The Athletic. "Just playing within the game, playing within the flow, I think that’s the main thing with me. [I'm] worried so much about scoring, how many points I got and how many points I’m trying to get instead of just worrying about the little things, rebounding, boxing out, getting back on D."
It was in this game that Edwards used his midrange jumper to unlock his offense, the fruits of his labor over the summer. He is shooting 48.3% on 5.5 attempts from midrange per game this season, up from 36.8% on 2.9 attempts per game last season. For a guy who made 15 of his first 28 3-point attempts this season and whose explosiveness at the rim is his greatest skill, the midrange game sets the sky as a limit.
Edwards scored a season-low 13 points Thursday, losing to a Phoenix Suns team that shot 60% in a loss he dubbed "an old-fashioned butt whooping," per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Chris Hine. "Only way we was beating this team tonight is if we goaltended ... if we told Rudy to just goaltend everything."
He has this blend of confidence and competitiveness with just the right amount of humility and humor, and we are starting to see trickles of the deluge that is about to come once Edwards realizes his full potential.
"If I say this, I know you guys are going to look at me like I'm crazy, and I'm going to put all that pressure on that kid," Philadelphia 76ers guard and three-time All-Defensive selection Patrick Beverley said of Edwards on J.J. Redick's "The Old Man and the Three" podcast in March 2022. "But, I told him, 'Man, you got a chance, man. You got a chance, brother, to be Michael Jordan. You really do. You really do.' I've been around a lot of them and the kid doesn't indulge in anything negative — just all positivity, all video games. His talent level, his skill level, it's crazy. He has a chance to be really special — really special in this league."
"Was talking to some scouts before last night's game, and one of them said about Anthony Edwards that, 'He's the next Michael Jordan,'" ESPN's Tim MacMahon revealed on "The Hoop Collective" podcast following Minnesota's win over the San Antonio Spurs. "I said, 'Well, that's a bit of hyperbole.' He goes, 'Yeah, but it ain't too far off,' and his point is: There aren't very many guys who are that elite offensively ... who are also dominant defenders. He's coming for Giannis' crown as the best two-way superstar."
There are smooth players who fell short of the pantheon — guys like Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins and George Gervin — because James, Bryant, Jordan and Erving stood in their way, and that could be Edwards' fate in a league never more talented, but that means getting in on the ground floor at a Hall of Fame level, and the curve from one tier to the next requires supreme smoothness.
Anthony Edwards has it.
Determination: Fact. Anthony Edwards is the smoothest basketball player alive.