Timberwolves: Dunkless start for Anthony Edwards speaks to larger issue in Minnesota

Anthony Edwards & Rudy Gobert of the Minnesota Timberwolves (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Anthony Edwards & Rudy Gobert of the Minnesota Timberwolves (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) /

It’s taking a bit of time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to adapt with two dominant centers in the lineup. For Karl-Anthony Towns, it means spending even less time in the paint and operating from the perimeter. For Rudy Gobert, knowing when to rotate out of the paint and defer to teammates is a developing obstacle. But to the dismay of the fans and player alike, it means fewer dunks for rising star Anthony Edwards.

The No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Edwards is everything we could’ve expected and more coming out of Georgia. His three-level scoring has come along nicely with a flamethrower of an outside jumper to complement killer slashing skills. Through eight games, he’s been the most impactful Timberwolves starter as the only top-six member of the rotation with a positive on/off differential per 100 possessions (+3.3). And he’s doing all of this without a single dunk to his name! For reference, Ant-Man dunked the ball 70 times in his first season and 58 in his second.

Minnesota has the potential to build something special with four All-Star quality players in the lineup and quality depth across the bench. Obviously, Anthony Edwards is doing just fine without dunking the basketball, but it speaks to a much larger issue that needs to be addressed.

Anthony Edwards needs room to run, so the Timberwolves must space the floor.

In a vacuum, the three-man lineup with Gobert, Towns and Edwards on the floor has been a success for the Timberwolves. Of the 10 lineups with at least 148 minutes played, this group has the best net rating through eight games. The problem? That net rating still hasn’t yielded a positive result in net rating (-0.8). That speaks to a larger issue plaguing the team through its 4-4 start to the season, which includes two losses to the Spurs and another to the Utah Jazz.

The defense hasn’t been much of an issue for the Timberwolves, who rank 8th in the entire league right now compared to a 13th-ranked defense a year ago. However, Minnesota finished seventh in offensive rating last year and is down to 24th so far this season. Spacing and lackluster shooting are playing a major role in the shift.

Minnesota ranks 26th in 3-point percentage thus far, which is 14 positions lower than they finished throughout 2021-22. Their 3-point shooting is more predictable now that Towns is relegated to the perimeter instead of stretching the floor as a five. In turn, he’s shooting worse from 3-point land than he has since his rookie season. The entire team is slumping along with him with Edwards serving as one of three players shooting about league-average from deep.

Part of what allowed Anthony Edwards to thrive in the past was the spacing afforded by Towns’ powerful floor spacing presence at the five. Instead, Gobert is oftentimes hanging near the basket to catch lobs or clean the offensive glass. This torturous whirlwind of shooting slumps and spacing troubles is clearly hurting the team’s overall scoring output. Adding insult to injury, it’s also keeping Edwards from those gravity-defying highlight plays that fans clamor for.

Growing pains are almost certain to come with major shifts in the rotation. 98% of every minute Towns has played in the NBA has come at the center position, so adjusting to a new position will take some time. Edwards and Gobert also need time to learn each other’s playing styles more deeply. It’s not like Gobert has never played with a high-flying dunker before — he and Donovan Mitchell were an All-Star pair for a yearly Playoff lock in Utah.

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Unless we look up at midseason and these issues have persisted, there’s no reason to panic. Anthony Edwards will be back to putting foes on posters in no time.