On Monday morning, a story about Minnesota Timberwolves ascending superstar Anthony Edwards by beat writer Christopher Hine dropped. It’s focus: Ant’s third year and what the NBA is teaching him.
Edwards commented on several subjects and areas he’s committed to improve, from reading defenses to elevating his conditioning and unlocking his full potential as a scorer. One part was eyebrow-raising.
According to the article, when Timberwolves player development coach Chris Hines asked Edwards what he wants out of his career, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick said “to be the best shooting guard to ever play.”
"I'm chasing my boy M.J., for sure," Edwards told the Star Tribune. "It'll be hard, but I'm chasing him."
A player’s aim at Michael Jordan usually checks out as clickbait. But for Edwards, it feels like a real take -- not something he’s remotely close to achieving, of course -- a goal that’s worth setting and working toward.
It got us thinking. How does Edwards compare to “His Airness” through Year 3? Ant entered the league at 19 years old. M.J. played his first season at 21 (Ant’s current age, by the way). For that purpose, we’re discarding the age element and studying the first three seasons of feats for each player instead.
Ready, set, go!
Jordan has the sixth-highest rookie scoring average at 28.2 points in the history of the Association. He totaled a league-high 2,313 points over 82 games despite knocking down just 9 of 52 3-point attempts.
Jordan’s debut campaign was highlighted by seven games of 40+ points and 33 with 30 or more. He sank 51.5% of his shots and 84.5% of his free-throw attempts. It was, however, a one-man show in Chicago. The Bulls ended the season 38-44 (third in the central) and were ousted in the first round by Milwaukee.
The offensive efficiency didn’t come as quickly for Edwards, who used a 41.7% stroke from the field to net 19.3 points per game as a rookie. In his defense, the Wolves weren’t his team, yet. Ant led all NBA rookies that year in scoring by nearly four points – he was robbed of the Rookie of the Year award – and set an all-time rookie record with 44 3s in the month of April. He poured in 40+ points on two occasions.
We started to really notice a playmaking resemblance between Edwards and Jordan in Years 2 and 3. (Note: Jordan broke his foot early in his sophomore NBA season, limiting his activity to 18 games.) In that period, Edwards separated himself from his Timberwolves teammates. Like Jordan, he became top dog -- or in his case, top wolf.
The early postseason similarities were striking. Neither player won a series but …
Jordan was virtually unstoppable in the first and second games of his second trip to the playoffs, recording 49 and 63 points on 40-for-77 shooting (52%) against the eventual NBA-champion Celtics.
Edwards’ shining moment stretched from Games 2-4 against the No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets a couple weeks back. In that span, he had three straight scoring efforts of 34+ points and averaged 37 on the dot.
There’s zero doubt Jordan holds the advantage in a big way as a scorer – few players if any challenge his ability in that regard – but in three seasons, Edwards at times has shown off an uncanny likeness to M.J.
Beyond the statistics, he attacks the rim, creates separation with his dribble and lives in the air akin to Jordan. Ant even plays with the same type of energy and confidence late in games when circumstances demand a clutch bucket.
In consecutive seasons, Edwards has raised his field-goal attempts per game from 16.8 to 17.3 to 19.5. His increased presence has translated to a steady uptick in points (19.3, 21.3, 24.6). Jordan's jump in the latter from Year 1 to 3 was more extreme: 28.2 to 37.1.
Jordan was equally scary on defense, logging 2.58 steals and swatting 1.18 shots per game across his first three seasons. He was very well-rounded in other aspects, too, registering 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
Although he hasn’t matched those numbers, Edwards has proven himself as a respectable force on both ends, as well. In about 3.5 fewer minutes played per game than Jordan (37.8), Edwards ledgered 1.4 steals and 0.63 blocks per contest. He contributed 5.1 boards and 3.75 dimes through his third season.
This past year, Edwards ranked sixth in the NBA, averaging 1.6 steals. He enjoyed three games with 5+ and eight with at least four. Jordan’s best finish in steals per game over his first three seasons came in 1986-87 (2.9; 2nd). In that campaign, M.J. piled up 13 games with 5+ loots and four with a mighty 7+.
Jordan combined his skills to tally three triple-doubles as a rookie in ’84-85. He finished with 28 in 15 seasons, but didn’t accomplish the stat-trifecta again until Year 4, when he had two. Edwards will enter his fourth go-round searching for his first triple-double. He has 16 double-doubles for what it’s worth.
The separation between Edwards and Jordan through their first three seasons is profound. But to be fair, it’s an apples-to-oranges kind of comparison. Jordan was maturer physically and mentally when his stardom was introduced to the pro ranks. Edwards is just beginning to realize his potential. In another three seasons, this discourse might be more balanced. A title or two would help Ant’s cause.