Anthony Edwards is Minnesota’s new late-game, go-to defender

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

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray exploded for seven points in the game’s final 4 minutes, 24 seconds of the contest. That production came with Jaden McDaniels defending Denver’s star guard.

McDaniels is Minnesota’s most consistent perimeter defender; he takes on the most difficult matchup on a nightly basis. And yet even the lengthy wing isn’t as imposing a physical force as Edwards, who can bully his matchups with his strength and athleticism.

Still, Minnesota had gotten away from having Edwards cover the ball on defense in high-leverage situations.

“We’ve just been trying to save him some,” Finch said. “But he needs to do this because he can be a weapon for us defensively. So, we were both on board with that.”

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

“We was walking out the huddle, I was walking toward Siakam,” Wolves wing Kyle Anderson said. “(Edwards) looked kinda tired, but he was like, ‘I got him.’ He took him, locked him up and he did it. That’s big dog.”

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

“Ant was special on the ball,” Finch said. “They were all getting in the paint a lot. I think Ant does a good job of getting up under guys, and moves his feet well, keeps his hands back, gets through screens, all that stuff at a high level. Those are his best defensive attributes by far. A guy like Pascal, if you’re allowing him to dribble and spin and have space to hit the little fadeaway, then he’s dangerous. But Ant closed all that down.”

Siakam is an all-star caliber player. Finch noted the third-year guard loves the high-leverage matchups against the big names. That’s always been the case, but Edwards may be more equipped to handle them now than ever before.

“It’s hard. You see people can’t even dribble around him or past him sometimes,” McDaniels said.

Edwards is taking pride on the defensive end. Wolves’ video assistant Addison Walters sends Edwards film of the other team’s offense before every game. Edwards devours it, oftentimes even consuming it while on the training table before tipoff. That allows Edwards to diagnose what an opponent is getting into when it lines up or moves a certain way.

That knowledge parlayed with his physical abilities makes Edwards all the more dangerous on the defensive end. The guard entered Sunday’s slate of NBA action tied for second in the league in steals (82) and was 14th in defensive win shares.

Edwards’ total 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 because Edwards can lose track of the play when he’s not directly involved in the action.

“Everybody has strengths and weaknesses,” Finch said. “He’s better on the ball. Off the ball, he does have a tendency sometimes to lose his man. But he’s also good on the ball just because he can defeat pick-and-roll coverages just by himself.”

And when Edwards is on the ball, it allows McDaniels a chance to impact the play from other areas.

“Jaden is great on the ball. He’s the best player in here on the ball,” Edwards said. “But him off the ball is crazy because he’s low man, he blocking stuff. It’s crazy. Getting steals, he so long. I think he’s better with me on the ball in the fourth.”

So, that’s the look Minnesota will continue to lean on moving forward.

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

And shut him down.

“He sits down and locks up,” Wolves forward Nathan Knight said. “Huge props to Ant. He’s an absolute monster.”

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