Advertisement

Are Wolves asking too much of their young players?

When the Timberwolves traded for Rudy Gobert, it had a significant tangential effect on Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.

The trade for Gobert was a push-all-your-chips-in kind of move to get deep into the playoffs. That meant early in their careers, Edwards, now 22, and McDaniels, 23, would get to play a lot of high-leverage basketball that could benefit them as they reach the peak of their careers.

But that was also one of the flaws with the trade: It might have asked Edwards and McDaniels to play mature, veteran-style basketball on a night-in, night-out basis a little faster than they might be capable of doing.

There wasn't a better example of the steep learning curve they have to overcome than the Wolves' 108-106 loss to the Magic on Friday. Each had moments they'd like to have back.

First, Edwards' shot selection was again suspect, but then he compounded the issue by picking up a technical foul in a tie game with 6 minutes, 59 seconds to play. After missing a few shots, and then not getting a call on a drive, Edwards let the emotions of the game get the better of him, and it carried over into his decision-making.

Then, McDaniels committed his third bad foul in a late-game situation within the last two weeks when he intentionally fouled Paolo Banchero with 9.3 seconds to play and the Wolves down two. The Wolves were not trying to foul and were instead playing for a stop with about four seconds between the shot and game clocks.

Banchero's two free throws basically iced the game.

"It's definitely a major teaching point, for sure," coach Chris Finch said. "You can't keep making these mistakes. Just can't. These guys gotta rise to the occasion. They got to put that stuff behind them. We're gonna play a lot of high-intensity games and close games and they got to keep their composure."

The Wolves are demanding a lot of their young core, especially Edwards, who they are asking to execute late-game situations at a level akin to players older than he is. If the Wolves truly have title aspirations this season, recent history is not on their side. It suggests Edwards is still a few years away from reaching the capability of being a team's leading scorer while leading it to the finals.

Phoenix's Devin Booker and Boston's Jayson Tatum were each 24 when they led their teams in scoring and got to the finals. LeBron James was the last 22-year-old to lead his team in scoring and make a finals appearance in 2007.

Dwyane Wade was 24 when he and Shaquille O'Neal led the Heat to a title in 2006. You'd have to go back to the 2001 Lakers to find someone who actually won a title at Edwards' age or younger while being close to the team's leading scorer, in this case a 22-year-old Kobe Bryant, who also had the benefit of playing alongside O'Neal. Bryant averaged just 0.2 fewer points per game than O'Neal that season. Typically, it takes time for title winners and all-time greats to mature. Stephen Curry was 27 when he won his first title, and so was James.

Of course Edwards is going to make mistakes and still experience growing pains even though this is his fourth year. And he won't just learn from those mistakes after a few months of making them.

Sign up for our Timberwolves Update newsletter

It takes repetition and years for even the best of stars to become proficient on a nightly basis when the games and defenses get tighter. The trade put that burden on him, fairly or unfairly. The Wolves need Edwards and McDaniels to grow up, and fast.

They can't afford to wait, and as Friday's game proved, they still haven't done it. They only have about two months. Is it possible for them to correct their mistakes?

"You definitely hope so," point guard Mike Conley said, speaking about the team as a whole. "We have to if we want to contend, like we plan on contending. Thankfully, it's something that we can control. It's not something that a team is doing to us. It's something in our locker room that we can fix. Each person has to look in the mirror for that and say, 'Hey, how can I make that situation better?' "

McDaniels even missed a series of playoff experiences last season because he punched a wall on the final day of the regular season and broke his hand.

Couple their youth with the up-and-down playoff nature of 28-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, and the potential for the Wolves to combust in a playoff pressure situation is high. That is a product of the trade. If Edwards and McDaniels can move past their immature moments, they would be defying the age curve of the NBA.

But the Wolves are trying to win now, before the luxury tax comes crashing down on them this summer. They don't have the luxury of time.