A new alpha in Minnesota

Published April 25, 2023, 3:30 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

If the Timberwolves want to reach the next level, they’ll have to continue to let Anthony Edwards be the pack leader.

When you’re the top pick of the NBA Draft, the expectation is that you’re coming into a team that’s in need of a franchise player. You will become someone who will carry them out of the bottom of the standings and into prominence. Teams will hand first overall picks the keys to the franchise and build a team around their prized young star.

But what happens when you have two top picks?

In 2015, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Karl-Anthony Towns as their first overall pick. Blessed with a rare combination of size, touch, and footwork, he was labeled as the future of the franchise.

Towns hasn’t disappointed. He’s been a consistent 20-10 player since his second year in the league. He’s led the Timberwolves in most statistical categories for the majority of his career. When available, Towns can be counted on to perform.

When available.

Injuries forced him to miss most of the 2019 season and as a result, the Timberwolves plummeted to the bottom of the West. That gave them another lottery win which they used to select Anthony Edwards.

Even when he was drafted in 2020, Edwards was seen as a complementary piece to Towns. He was viewed as a prolific wing scorer that Minnesota could pair with their gifted big man in the middle. Similarly, Edwards didn’t disappoint. He was automatic from the get-go and could rack up 20-point games easily.

This season, Towns once again was forced to miss significant time due to injury. That’s why for the first time since 2016, the Timberwolves had a new leading scorer: Edwards. With Towns out, Minnesota needed a new leader and Edwards didn’t hesitate to step up to the challenge. He carried the Timberwolves during their dogfight with the other West teams for a playoff spot. 

Edwards has always acted like a top pick but it was more evident this season. He was never shy about his abilities, always brimming with confidence. That showed in his game. When they needed a big win, Antman usually delivered.

Late in the season, Towns returned from injury. But he returned to a new team. Before this season, it was clear who their superstar was. It was him. When he returned in March after missing more than 50 games, the lines were blurred. Whose team was it? Was it still his, or has Edwards taken over?

The answer to that was clear in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets. With their season on the brink, the Timberwolves turned to the leader of the pack.

It started at the end of regulation. With the game tied and a chance to win the game outright, the Timberwolves gave the ball to Edwards and cleared out space for him to operate. Edwards turned the ball over, extending the game.

Most teams would have turned to another option after an awful sequence by Edwards to end the fourth period, but he’s earned the trust of his team throughout this season. That’s why in OT, with the game once again on the line, the ball was in Edwards’ hands.

Up by one with a little over 30 seconds left in the game, Minnesota once again cleared out and let their leader take over. Edwards went to work against his defender and juked him out of his shoes before stepping back to hit the dagger that secured the win and prevented the sweep.

Edwards finished with 34 points to lead the Timberwolves. More than the numbers, it was how he grabbed the moment and didn’t shy away from it that was impressive. He went toe-to-toe with the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, and won. That was his fifth 30-point playoff game, all before the age of 22. That puts him in an elite class that includes LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

“This series is not over. It’s the first to four, not to three. I promise you it ain’t over. Everyone’s counting us out. It ain’t over. I promise you,” Edwards said after they lost Game 3.

In Game 4, he kept that promise. That’s the energy Minnesota needs if it hopes to get back in this series. The Timberwolves have a new alpha. It’s time to follow his lead.