ANTHONY EDWARDS AND Rudy Gobert, the two players who stayed behind in the FedEx forum dressing room just started a conversation. It’s November 11th and the Minnesota Timberwolves have just suffered their sixth loss in seven games. Tonight they take on the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that ended the Wolves’ second playoff run in 18 years last season.
The duo are busy discussing the nuances of a specific defensive cover, an exchange the 21-year-old star shooting guard initiated with three-time Defensive Player of the Year, who new team president Tim Connelly traded three rotation players and a stash of draft picks for to acquire the Utah Jazz.
It’s a simple talk of strategy between new teammates, but also a sign of progress. For these Timberwolves, any hint of construction chemistry—any hint of prioritizing the less glamorous aspects of the game—is a glimmer of hope.
The 7-8 Timberwolves have inconsistently spent the first month of the season navigating one of the league’s most scrutinized roster experiments: bringing together two All-Star big men – and watching the partnership struggle between Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns .
“Everyone’s in the paint,” Edwards said after a Nov. 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns when asked why one of the league’s most explosive finishers didn’t have a dunk in the first eight games of the season. The early returns weren’t “all peaches and cream,” to borrow another phrase Edwards was using at the time.
But for all the focus on the Gobert towns, the spotlight has often shifted to Edwards as well. The definitive face of the franchise has gone viral on a number of occasions, appearing disinterested – a stark contrast to Edward’s infectious energy on display last season – as he and the Timberwolves go through the mounting pains of building a contender.
“It’s the little things,” Edwards said after an Oct. 21 loss to the Jazz. “We have to find out. I will find out.”
Edward raised his eyebrows after that loss to the Jazz, by mentioning “the smaller we go, the better it is for me”, in response to a question about his production during a stretch when the Wolves went with an undersized cast.
He then smiled as he asked a follow-up question about the fit with Gobert, perhaps realizing he’d slipped in too much honesty. Days later, knowing the conversation he had spurred, he politely asked reporters to avoid asking his opinion on specific lineups.
But Edwards isn’t the only one raising concerns about the Timberwolves’ gap. So does point guard D’Angelo Russell, whose scoring average (14.2 points per game) is the lowest since he was a rookie.
“It’s our main thing on offense that we’re trying to figure out,” Russell told ESPN after the loss in Memphis. “Obviously you see us running into each other, trying to go out the back door and maybe running into a guy. It’s just these little things that are out of sync right now. It’s kind of difficult to find rhythm or flow.”
Wolves have been terrible offensively with Gobert on the ground (106.6 points per 100 possessions, which would be 28th in the league) and poor defensively when he’s not (113.2). Their starting line-up (Russell, Edwards, Towns, Gobert and forward Jaden McDaniels) combined has a negative net rating (-0.8 points per 100 possessions) in 198 minutes, a statistic that compares to Wednesday’s 126-108 win over the overwhelmed Orlando Magic drastically improved .
“Either we find out or we don’t. It’s as simple as that,” Russell said. “Either we find out, commit to it and do it consistently, or we don’t. And then next year we will be where we are.”
Minnesota coach Chris Finch said he has “great hope” from the chemistry he’s developed between Towns and Gobert. He cited Towns’ assists on Gobert (25) as a particularly encouraging sign. But that’s more than Wolves’ starting guard combined assists for Gobert; Towns’ scoring (21.9 points per game) is the lowest in five seasons, although his assists (5.2) are career-best.
“He did such a good job trying to make the changes and sacrifices in his offensive play but probably overcompensated a bit,” Finch said of Towns. “I think there’s growth for him in being a little bit more of his normal self again.”
An opposing head coach told ESPN that while he expects Finch, who is said to have a particularly creative offensive spirit, will find ways to make the two-bigs gaps work, he believes Wolves’ biggest problems are “personal” are.
The coach cited Edwards sulking as his team deployed alternating defenses, resulting in Wolves frequently going to Towns to attempt to tackle a mismatch against a guard. A clip went viral Edwards stood with his hands on his hips for complete possession while the Wolves played a game not intended for him in their Nov. 5 win against the Houston Rockets.
“I don’t have Twitter, so I don’t pay attention to it. I’m always engaged, man,” Edwards said of the moment. “I’m ready for it when it comes my way. I just want to play basketball.”
Edwards has admitted he wasn’t ready to start the season and was reporting “a little too heavy” in training camp. The Timberwolves listed him at 239 pounds on the official list. (The NBA requires teams to list actual heights, but weight leeway is allowed and is typically used for stars who may have gained extra pounds.)
Edwards attributed the weight gain to “a lot of lifting” and said he shed the excess pounds during camp and dropped to 230. However, the cities decided to publicly call Edwards out on his diet and conditioning early in the season.
“I know you all find it funny up here when he talks about Popeyes and all that,” Towns told reporters after a late October defeat, comments seen as an attempt at leadership or another reason to wonder could The chemistry of wolves.
“I’m not happy to hear that. We’re top athletes.”
Edwards responded two days later with a couple of training clips.
DURING THE TIMBERWOLVES needs more attack from Edwards to become a real threat in the Western Conference – he’s averaging 21.9 points and 3.9 assists per game but has room to grow offensively, especially as a decision maker – he’s being pushed for it too , meeting the demands of coaches and teammates deem immense defensive potential.
“Your journey to becoming an All-Star or an All-NBA player in this league is to be the high-level, two-way player that you can be,” Finch said of Edwards. “A Paul George or a Kawhi [Leonard].”
For his part, Gobert has challenged Edwards to become the NBA’s best wingback and, given his size, strength and explosiveness, sees no excuse that Edwards shouldn’t be part of that conversation. The missing ingredient, Gobert believes, is focus.
“He showed me that if he puts his mind to it, he can be an all-defensive player,” Gobert said. “I was a bit on his ass for not being on the ball [defense]. He’s very competitive. He’s probably one of the best ball defenders I’ve seen if he takes it to heart and guards a really good player.
“But being great defensively has to do with consistency. It does every minute.”
Edwards welcomes the challenge but said he needs to “get in better shape” to be able to play hard all the time at both ends of the court.
It’s not as if Edwards’ occasional strays or flagging efforts on the defensive end make him an exception in the Minnesota lineup.
Towns’ defensive shortcomings were one of the main reasons Wolves wanted to put him in power and pair him with Gobert, a dominant rim guard. Russell has a reputation for being a poor defender and was benched in last week’s loss to the Grizzlies after his mistakes allowed a couple of alley-oops, the second of which resulted in Finch throwing his hands in the air before he signaled a change .
Edwards put it more succinctly after a loss to the New York Knicks last week: “We’re just playing soft, man.” He said the criticism included himself.
Yes, solving the Gobert Towns mystery will raise the ground for a franchise seeking back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 2003-04. But raise Minnesota’s cap? That won’t come until Edwards emerges as a two-time superstar.
“I still think this is a good team,” said Finch. “We just haven’t earned the right to be good.”
Gobert, meanwhile, reminds us that the Wolves need to focus on the little things and “the big things are coming.”
“Most people who watch the game won’t even see it [them],” Gobert said. “It’s the difference between us winning and losing. I talk about running back, distance from teammates, communication, physicality, boxing out and stuff like that.
“Just the things that winning teams do, but we haven’t done it consistently yet.”
https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/35032595/the-timberwolves-big-experiment-anthony-edwards-place-it The Timberwolves’ big experiment, and Anthony Edwards’ place inside it