Anthony Edwards is Minnesota’s new late-game defenseman

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Timberwolves coach Chris Finch had a chat with Anthony Edwards on the bus to the plane after Minnesota’s loss to Denver on Wednesday.

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray exploded for seven points in the final 4 minutes and 24 seconds of the contest. This production came with Jaden McDaniels defending Denver’s Star Guard.

McDaniels is Minnesota’s most consistent fullback; He gets the toughest matchup every night. And yet even the long wing is not as imposing a physical force as Edwards, who can bully his matchups with his strength and athleticism.

However, Minnesota has gotten away from Edwards covering the ball in high-leverage situations on defense.

“We were trying to save him some money,” Finch said. “But he has to do that because in defense he can be a weapon for us. So we were both on board.”

So in the final frame of the following night, Edwards was lined up against versatile Toronto winger Pascal Siakam.

“We came out of the huddle, moved on to Siakam,” Wolves winger Kyle Anderson said. “[Edwards]he looked so tired, but he was like, ‘I got it.’ He took it, buckled up and did it. That’s a big dog.”

Siakam went 0 for 3 in the last five and a half minutes of the game. His inability to get past Edwards and into the paint stalled Toronto’s offense to the point where the Raptors scored just seven points in the final 9:45 of the game.

“Ant was especially on the ball,” Finch said. “They all got a lot of color. I think Ant does a great job getting up among guys and moving his feet well, keeping his hands back, going through screens, all that high-level stuff. These are by far his best defensive attributes. A guy like Pascal, if you let him dribble and turn and have space to hit the small fadeaway then he’s dangerous. But Ant closed everything.”

Siakam is a star player. Finch noted that the third-year guard likes high-leverage matchups against the big names. It always has been, but Edwards may now be better equipped than ever to deal with it.

“It is difficult. You see sometimes people can’t even cut around him or pass him,” McDaniels said.

Edwards prides himself on the defensive end. Wolves video assistant Addison Walters sends Edwards film of the other team’s offense before each game. Edwards devours, often even consuming it on the training table in front of the tip. This allows Edwards to diagnose what an opponent is coming in when they line up or move in a certain direction.

That knowledge combined with his physical ability makes Edwards more dangerous on the defensive end. The guard entered Sunday’s NBA action roster, ranking second in the league in steals (82) and 14th in defensive win shares.

Edward’s extensive knowledge of the defensive side of the ball is a work in progress. Part of the reason Minnesota is so much better defensively when he’s on the ball is that Edwards can lose perspective when he’s not directly involved in the action.

“Everybody has strengths and weaknesses,” Finch said. “He is better on the ball. Off the ball he tends to lose his man sometimes. But he’s also good on the ball just because he can take pick and roll coverage by himself.”

And when Edwards is on the ball, it gives McDaniels the opportunity to influence the game from other areas.

“Jaden is great on the ball. He’s the best player on the ball here,” Edwards said. “But he is mad because he is a low man and he blocks things. He is crazy. He always steals for so long. I think he’s better with me on the ball in the fourth.”

So this is the look that Minnesota will continue to rely on moving forward.

“I think that’s pretty much the goal,” Edwards said. “Me and (Finch) talked about it. In the fourth quarter, look for the best isolation scorer they got. Go get it.”

And turn it off.

“He sits down and blocks,” Wolves forward Nathan Knight said. “Huge support for Ant. It’s an absolute monster.”

Source: www.twincities.com

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