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Who Has the Brighter NBA Future: Anthony Edwards or ROY LaMelo Ball?

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJune 16, 2021

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards, right, drives past Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Nell Redmond/Associated Press

As the Minnesota Timberwolves did their draft prep to decide who to take with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, those involved in the process quickly fell in love with two candidates.

"We would break out into groups where there would be a Team (James) Wiseman, a Team Obi Toppin, Team Ant (Anthony Edwards), Team LaMelo (Ball) and we all took sections," a Timberwolves source told Bleacher Report. "We all put it into a big presentation. You would watch the Ant tape and say he's the guy, then you'd watch LaMelo's presentation and say, 'holy s--t, LaMelo's the guy.'"

While there were some fans of Wiseman among the 12 directly involved in the process, the room quickly narrowed to Edwards, the athletic shooting guard out of Georgia, and Ball, the 6'6" point guard playing in the NBL.

With both players' rookie seasons concluded, there's no question who the top two players in the draft have been.

Now, the debate begins as to whether Ball or Edwards will ultimately have the better career.

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On Wednesday, ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Ball has won the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year award. While Edwards was the leading scorer among all rookies at 19.3 points per game, Ball was the better rebounder, passer and the more efficient shooter of the two. Edwards was more durable—he played in all 72 games—while Ball's Charlotte Hornets had the better season despite his right wrist injury causing him to miss 21 games.

"Going back to my reports before the draft, because we obviously did a lot of intel on LaMelo, my reports said that LaMelo is the best player right now. Ant has the potential at the end to be the best player," the Timberwolves source told B/R.

"LaMelo sees the game and knows the game already at the stage he's at. That's Ant's weakness right now, which is sometimes the hardest part to find. Ant's like a kid that doesn't know what he doesn't know. All you have to do is tell him and he's like, 'Oh, yeah, I can do that.' I don't think there's anything that he can't do."

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

While the consensus is that Ball is the ready-made star, Edwards could soon surpass him. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that both are still just 19 years old and could still be improving a decade from now.

"The night of the NBA draft, my last words to the Charlotte Hornets on air were, 'I'm going to support anything you do unless you draft LaMelo Ball,'" WFNZ Charlotte radio host Nick Wilson told B/R.

"I say that to tell you that this kid has converted me into a believer. I loved Anthony Edwards. I was hoping Edwards would fall because I thought Edwards next to Terry Rozier and the whispers of Gordon Hayward, I thought that could be really, really special. I never saw myself doing the kind of 180 that I did on him, but I absolutely did. I think he's going to be a superstar."

Winning over a fanbase is one thing, but winning over a locker room when you're a teenager is certainly another.

Ball had been famous ever since he was a freshman at Chino Hills High School, a scrawny guard who shared the floor with brother Lonzo and future Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu.

Edwards had all the physical tools coming out of Georgia, but was an inefficient shooter who didn't scream No. 1 overall pick right away.

Still, it didn't take long for either to impress.

For Edwards, there was a night before the season began when he and fellow rookie Jaden McDaniels were in Minneapolis. D'Angelo Russell was also in town, and summoned the two rookies in for a 9 p.m. shootaround.

Russell, already an All-Star and going into his sixth season, was letting the rookies have it.

"F--k you, Ant! You don't got this! You don't got this!," Russell would scream after splashing jumper after jumper. McDaniels, the 28th overall pick in the draft, was stunned.

"Jaden didn't say a word the whole time. He looked scared to death. His eyes were just wide-open, like a deer in the headlights, like, 'who is this crazy guy screaming and talking all this s--t?' Jaden didn't say a word. He was just taking his shots and going to the back of the line," one Timberwolves coach who was at the shootaround told B/R.

While McDaniels did what most rookies would do and let Russell have his moment, Edwards started giving it right back.

"F--k you, D-Lo! Match that!," Edwards would bark back as the competition got more intense.

It was a scene that surprised those who were there, especially since no one on the team had gotten to know the first-year guys yet.

"I don't see that from any rookies, that personality. Ant was just loud and that got him going, that's just how he is. That's how he was all season. He'd do it with Karl-Anthony Towns. It wouldn't matter if it was Michael Jordan in there; he'd be the exact same person. It's not personal; he's just competitive," the Timberwolves coach said.

Later in the season when the team was running drills, one of Edwards' teammates was working on his corner three-pointers, despite being someone who doesn't typically take them.

Edwards let him know it.

"That ain't your game! Don't do that!," the rookie yelled, catching the surprise of surrounding veterans.

The teammate was shocked.

"What? Excuse me? I can't take this shot?" he asked, baffled.

"Hey, it's nothing personal, that just ain't your game. That ain't your s--t. Don't do that," Edwards calmly replied.

"You just don't see that from a rookie. Ant didn't make a scene. He just said it in passing and moved on to the next drill. It was like, 'damn, the rookie just put me in my place,'" the Timberwolves coach said. "It wasn't anything everyone else didn't know, though. The way Ant does it isn't personal. He's got his arm around the guy the next play. Ant's a really good teammate."

Thomas Shea/Associated Press

Ball, like Edwards, had to earn his spot in the starting lineup, with both coming off the bench to begin the season.

Playing with Ball was extremely easy from the beginning, as LaMelo proved himself to be one of the league's best and most creative passers immediately.

"LaMelo came in and won over his teammates in a 'no bulls--t' way. Whether it was his attitude, coachability," Wilson said. "No one really knew what to expect from LaMelo when they drafted this kid. They drafted him because of the skill set but didn't get the chance to know him because of the way the predraft process worked. There were three top guys in this draft and that's the guy who fell to you."

Ball and Edwards have now become part of a new wave of young NBA talent who have already made a tremendous impact on the league. From Luka Doncic and Trae Young, to Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, this appears to be yet another draft class with two extremely special talents.

"Outside of Luka Doncic, there is no player in the NBA under 23 years old—and this includes Zion Williamson—that I would want to build a franchise around other than LaMelo," Wilson said.

"Anthony Edwards, athletically, is phenomenal. He's a better athlete than LaMelo. When you talk about the kind of player you need to build around, it's guys with the exact same skill set of LaMelo Ball. I'd venture to say he's closer to 6'8" than the 6'6" he's listed at. To have a 6'8" point guard, to be able to do what he did being rail-thin as a rookie, I still think he's just scratching the surface. You can say he's better now, but he's still incredibly raw."

Of course, Dwyane Wade, arguably the third-best shooting guard of all time, has gone on record to say that Edwards can be a better player than he was.

NBA on TNT @NBAonTNT

"I definitely think he can be a better player than I was. He has all the tools." @DwyaneWade has high hopes for Anthony Edwards. https://t.co/0CcSdPM3eK

It's an opinion those who have worked with him all season agree with.

"I think Ant will be better than D-Wade," the Timberwolves coach said. "He's got a three-point shot. Defensively he'll get better. He can do it. Offensively, there's not much he can't do and he's just scratching the surface. I feel like his ceiling is unlimited. I think LaMelo's ceiling is very high but a little more limited than Ant's."

While both players appear destined to make future All-Star teams, there's obviously still weaknesses in each of their games.

Edwards can struggle with shot selection at times. Ball could use some added muscle. Nothing uncommon for a pair of teenagers who just finished a rookie season with no summer league or preseason.

While Edwards seemingly has the higher ceiling, it's important to remember that Ball's potential is through the roof as well. He's finally in one place, getting NBA coaching for the first time with a mostly consistent group of teammates around him. All of these factors can't be overlooked.

Deciding who has the brighter future depends on who you ask. Both went above and beyond rookie expectations and should be considered faces of the league for years to come.

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