Is Anthony Edwards the NBA’s next superstar forward?
The second-year pro out of Georgia has built on the momentum he gained last year for the Timberwolves especially with the 30 total missed games from their starting point guard D’Angelo Russell. If you thought last year Edwards had the green light then boy does he have it now. Edwards told NBA.com’s Mark Medina: “I’m happy ‘Melo [LaMelo Ball] got it. They were saying our draft class wasn’t going to be good, anyway. So, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t get it. I’m trying to be MVP I’m not worried about Rookie of the Year.” Though it’s still early in the year we know the transcendent talent he is and how cut out he is for the big stage versus the NBA’s best. Thus far, Edwards has looked like a bonafide All-NBA player and has had stretches of looking like a future MVP. In an early regular-season road game against the defending champs in the Milwaukee Bucks, Edwards sealed the game converting a tough physical and-one layup with his off hand on Khris Middleton with just 15.3 tics left in the ballgame. On an off night shooting from the floor he ended the night with 25 points and seven rebounds. Last week in Oakland against the 12-2 Golden State Dubs, Edwards put up a career-high 48 points on 27 shots adding six boards, five assists, and going 7-13 from deep.
We’ve been so quick to ponder who’s next in line to follow the likes of Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant as the next three-level scoring superstar small forward. Jayson Tatum has recently been handed that baton and has plenty of scoring barrages to validate him in such all-time company. Sadly being ruled out recently due to his back, Michael Porter Jr another young scoring marksman has shown flashes of shot-making ability that rivals those listed above. What contrasts Edwards from guys like Tatum and MPJ is his ability to continue to kill you in the paint with his combination of size and athleticism. Tatum has put on some substantial muscle mass since entering the league but Edward’s physique is wired differently listed at 225 pounds. Edwards is able to exert his freak of nature athleticism whenever he likes and a jump shot that he’s shown plenty of confidence in was the reason scouts and GM’s thought so highly of him back in 2020. That dual ability to be as prolific, overpowering, and relentless in the paint as the perimeter at that stature is something we’ve seen really only seen from Lebron James, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Durant. Through Monday, Edwards is averaging 24.1 points a game, 6.3 rebounds, and three assists on 43/34/76 splits while shooting 35.1 3P% on catch and shoot 3s (1.5 3PM – 4.5 3PA) and 33.3 3P% on pull up treys (1.4 3PM – 4.4 3PA). Edwards already has a solid jump shot and the silkier it becomes as he grows as an isolation scorer the more dangerous he’ll become. Once he, Russell, and Karl Anthony Towns have enough games under their belt and established chemistry his efficiency should bump but nonetheless, the Anthony Edwards era started a while ago and you might need some popcorn for it.
Top 5 Ja?
“Steph [Curry]. I’m a big Chris Paul fan. I’d say Dame [Lillard] and [Russell] Westbrook. It’s tough. The point guard position is so loaded. Some guys have to get left out.” A couple of months ago Memphis Grizzlies star point guard Ja Morant sat down with Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype, USA Today Sports talking all things hoop and when he elaborated on where he belongs amongst the NBA’s elite at the position he did not hold back including himself. The Grizzlies are 6-7 thus far but just welcomed back Morant’s co-starring guard Dillon Brooks who hadn’t started the season due to a fractured left hand he suffered in an offseason workout in the summer. Since recently returning Brooks has scored at least 20 points in two of his three appearances this season. Brooks, who’s a vital 3-D piece to this Memphis team, will help them on both ends especially helping stretch out the floor for Morant along the perimeter.
The 2020 Rookie of the Year out of Murray State has been off to a stellar start averaging 25.9 points (4th in NBA), 6.4 rebounds, and 7.3 assists while shooting 48% from the floor and 35% from deep. (all career highs) We know how gifted of an athlete Ja Morant is, he’s drawn numerous comparisons to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook; two of the most explosive point guards to ever step foot on the hardwood. Like both Rose and Westbrook, Morant makes a living inside the paint. Morant is atop the league leaders in scoring in the paint. Per contest, Morant averages 4.9 FGM in the restricted area (6th in the NBA), 2.8 FGM in the paint (non-RA) (3rd in the NBA), and 5.8 FGM on all shots within eight feet. Amongst the league leaders in those categories are Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Domantas Sabonis. Pretty solid company for a point guard that’s listed at 6’3 174 lbs. Morant’s constant presence in the lane (3rd in the NBA in drives at 20.6 a night) has left defenses giving him more bubble room in isolation because of their respect for his first step. It’s not like Morant’s has been repeatedly soaring, battering against seven-footers on drives towards the rack. He has used pace and plenty of up-fakes, and footwork tactics for easier scoring opportunities which is why he’s been able to maintain his volume in the paint. His signature push floater is something that’s become deadly in his scoring repertoire. That’s what separates Morant from other above the rim point guards of the past such as Steve Francis, Baron Davis, and Westbrook whose bodies have deteriorated from being hit to the ground over and over on drives to the rim. Morant’s improved three-point shot this year has left him virtually un-guardable and coming into the league that was his only Achilles heel. If Morant maintains this type of consistency he’ll have plenty of people other than himself making a case for him as a top-five NBA point guard.
The Chicago Bulls had one of their more impressive offseasons in recent time this past summer. GM Marc Eversley was able to acquire two-way floor general Lonzo Ball, All-Star shooting guard Demar DeRozan, and NBA Champion defensive-minded guard Alex Caruso. Last March they gave up their former first-round lottery pick center Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks in a trade for stretch big Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu. Zach LaVine’s game has taken a leap every year ultimately becoming the franchise cornerstone he is today, ascending into the NBA’s elite especially after getting his first All-Star nod last year. The high flyer out of UCLA also was named to the USA’s National Team that brought home gold in this past summer’s Olympics in Japan. “He’s [Zach Lavine] one of those guys that’s extremely talented, extremely confident, but doesn’t know how good he truly is, what he brings to the table. You are the face of a franchise, bro. How do you be that? He’s never been on a team where anyone can really, truly teach him that. Or else he would’ve been that.” An excerpt from a piece from the Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II and Darnell Mayberry on NBA champion and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green and the Bulls All-Star guard. Similar to Trae Young and Devin Booker, over the course of his career, LaVine’s been labeled a meaningless stat and numbers player that “can’t lead a team” even with the lackluster of a roster that’s surrounded him since he was traded to Chi-Town back in 2017. In fact, Lavine is the only player (minimum 50 games played) in the association other than Damian Lillard to average at least 25 points, four rebounds, and four assists while shooting at least 35% from three-point territory and 80% from the free-throw line in each of the past two seasons. On the year, Lavine is on pace to continue his consistent superb play, he’s currently averaging 26/5/4 on 48/38/89 splits in 14 games played.
“People saying I [Demar DeRozan] was washed for the last few years, the narrative won’t fit. I mean I could find all types of chips that you know I use as my motivation. The hours I put it in in the offseason you know I could go down the list just being counted out, being looked over. So many chips that’s on my shoulder that I carry and just wanting to be a winner and you know just want to enjoy this ride like I said the other night you know we can’t play this game forever you know, so I wanna get as much as I can out of it you know and that’s just competing, winning, and having fun”. After Demar DeRozan was traded in a swap for Kawhi Leonard back in 2018 people almost anticipated the LA native’s days as an All-NBA caliber player were behind him. In such a competitive pool of Western Conference guards DeRozan never received the same recognition he had gotten accustomed to during his days as a Raptor. Not to mention while playing with young nurturing players such as Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson the Spurs only made one playoff appearance in DeRozan’s three years with legendary coach Gregg Popovich. Despite the low lights and lack of opportunities to compete against the NBA heavyweights in the playoffs as a Spur, DeRozan did post career highs in a different major category each of those three years. DeRozan shot a then career-high 48% from the field in 2019 before eclipsing that feat the following season shooting 53% and also grabbed a career-high six boards a night. In 2021 the four-time All-Star posted two more career-high averages in assists (6.9) and free-throw percentage (88%).
Parting ways from good friend and long-time backcourt mate Kyle Lowry did wonders for DeRozan as not just a primary scorer but also as a playmaker. A lot of offensive possessions in late-game situations went through him whether he was creating for himself or a teammate. DeRozan’s always been one of the NBA’s best closers as he’s ranked top ten in field goals made in clutch time (Last five minutes of a game when a team is leading or trailing by five or fewer points 4Q/OT) in each of the last four seasons including finishing top five in three out of the four. The former Trojan is off to an outstanding start to his 13th year in the league as the Bulls currently sit close to the top of Eastern Conference Standings just a half-game back of the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets who share the top seed. DeRozan is arguably looking as sharp as he’s ever looked. DeRozan’s averaging 26.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists a game with a PER of 25.31 which is good for 10th in the league. What makes the Bulls so dangerous is the fact both of these wings in Laine and DeRozan are long, athletic wings that can pretty much create a shot for themselves from anywhere on the court. DeRozan ranks second in the league in field goals made per game from 8-16 feet at 3.4 makes per and sixth from 16-24 feet out at 1.5 makes per. He also ranks second in field goals attempted per game in both intermediate ranges. One of the best mid-range shooters of all time, DeRozan has made a living off of hesitations, constant up fakes, drawn fouls, and footwork that some of his peers believe is second to none. Whether along the baseline, on either of the elbows or the baseline, DeRozan commands the defenses’ attention whenever he has his back turned to his opponent. A luxury Laine didn’t have last year having a teammate that can slow the game down and can be a go-to guy for stretches LaVine’s shot not falling or needs a breather. Laine now has a teammate he can really depend on to initiate instant offense when he’s not on the court and even better in crunch time.
Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso are really two of the pieces that are really helping turn this organization around as well. Both are pests and nightmares for opposing NBA backcourts that don’t mind getting physical and all into your airspace along the perimeter. Lonzo Ball’s three-point shot has improved a substantial amount each year he’s been in the league. Right now he’s at a 44% clip from deep, on 7.1 3PA a game. Ball has already established himself as one of the more unselfish and selfless floor generals in the game. Though Ball is just averaging a mere 4.6 assists a night, he’s still building camaraderie with two other volume shot creators while also still looking for his offense without interrupting the team’s overall flow of the offense. A three-guard starting lineup that Bulls’ head coach is quite familiar with dating back to his head coaching days at the University of Florida has gone a lot smoother than we expected. Ball’s always been willing to make the hockey assist or extra pass as long as it results in a basket. Over time that assists average should go up especially with the fact being Nikola Vucevic who recently entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols was most effective during his time with the Orlando Magic in pick and pop/roll situations. The Bulls can go to Vucevic as well when looking for a bucket as he can generate offense of his own on the block with his soft touch. The Bulls lost their prized 3-D forward Patrick Williams in late October due to a gruesome perilunate dislocation and torn ligaments in his left wrist. Ultimately requiring surgery and a 4-6 month timetable which will most likely keep him out the rest of the season. It’ll now be up to Javonte Green and Derrick Jones as the other athletic wings that’ll look be helpful defenders for the Bulls. Combo guard Coby White just recovered from a torn labrum suffered in June and saw his first minutes of game action this past week against the Los Angeles Lakers. White will help provide that consistent scoring and playmaking spark exceptionally when one of Chicago’s three guards comes out of the game. The Bulls have been one of the more upbeat fun teams to watch this year and with their recent wins over the Celtics, Lakers, and Nets the potential is there. They’re looking to be much more than to be a Cinderella team come April.