Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards has quiet homecoming vs. Hawks

Hawks guard Tray Young drives against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards in the MLK Day Unity game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at State Farm in Atlanta.  Edwards, a former Georgia Bulldog and first-overall draft pick, was playing his first NBA game back in his hometown. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Hawks guard Tray Young drives against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards in the MLK Day Unity game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at State Farm in Atlanta. Edwards, a former Georgia Bulldog and first-overall draft pick, was playing his first NBA game back in his hometown. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Monday was Anthony Edwards’ first pay-for-play game in his hometown since the Minnesota Timberwolves made him the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick. And what a fine time for a homecoming — the traditional MLK Day Game in Atlanta where the name and the holiday mean the most.

Edwards never made it to one of these special games as a kid growing up nearby. Imagine the thrill to finally arrive, not to watch it but to better yet play in it. No matter that State Farm Arena had been hollowed out by COVID. “For us to be picked to play on this day is special for all of us. It’s a blessing,” he said afterward.

He was such a big deal in his one season at Georgia that the Hawks Trae Young made the pilgrimage to Athens to watch him once last season. Now, Edwards was being asked what it was like to be on the same floor, at same level with the young face of Atlanta basketball.

A veteran of all of a dozen NBA game, Edwards displayed the nonchalance of a seasoned pro. “They say (Young) was in a slump or something like that. We’re glad he didn’t get out of his slump versus us (scoring a modest 20 points, 12 of those from the free throw line). He’s really good. As far as drawing fouls, being able to find the open man and being a smart basketball player. We were glad we were able to contain him the best we could.”

But for all that, for those of us on the outside, there was the nagging feeling that we have seen this game before. If you paid attention during his drive-by Georgia career, you know how it goes: Edwards shows flashes of the talent that threaten to make the Ant Man brand a worldwide sensation. He simultaneously vanishes for prolonged stretches, even if he did get 30 minutes off the bench Monday. His team loses — in this case 108-97 to the Hawks. And ultimately, you’re left wanting more.

Hawks forward Solomon Hill guards against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards during the MLK Day Unity game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The NBA's top draft, a former Georgia Bulldog, was making his professional debut in his hometown. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Hawks forward Solomon Hill guards against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards during the MLK Day Unity game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The NBA's top draft, a former Georgia Bulldog, was making his professional debut in his hometown. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

As it went at Georgia so has it gone in the earliest phase of his pro life. Hardly unusual. Ask Young how it went for him breaking into the NBA as a 20-year-old (Edwards is just 19).

The top pick among a draft class that has left no one seeking a more breathless adjective — there is no Zion Williamson, no Ja Morant in this bunch — Edwards finished Monday with 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, five rebounds and two assists. His highlight was a lovely 3-pointer that pulled the T-Wolves to within six with just more than two minutes to play, his second trey of the final quarter.

That his shot showed any life at all was encouraging as he came into Monday shooting 38% from the field (27% from beyond the arc). In his preceding two games, Edwards had scored just two points, going 1-for-14 from the field in 35 minutes. He is still second among rookies in scoring, at just over 12 a game.

“I feel like I’m getting back to myself. After my game today, I’m feeling pretty good,” Edwards said, encouraged by modest success.

“As far as knocking down jump shots, it’s going to come. I never really press about stuff like that. I don’t press about missing today or missing tomorrow.”

Such are the waves of uncertainty any team must ride when playing these oh-so-very young apprentice stars, especially a shooting guard whose shot is still developing.

“That’s how it’ll be with rookies, a lot of up and down type games,” said Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders. “But there are the little things: Can you rebound the basketball? Are you defending? Are you making plays? Are you making reads? And I do think (Edwards) is getting better and better at all that. Even if it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, I think there is a lot of progress there.”

Hawks guard Tray Young hugs Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards after the 108-97 win in the MLK Day Unity game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Hawks guard Tray Young hugs Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards after the 108-97 win in the MLK Day Unity game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

At Georgia, Edwards was a one-and-done curiosity whose big shadow sometimes obscured the fact that he did little to change the Bulldogs competitive fortunes.

In the NBA, he is just another big-bodied, yet still baby-faced guard who is several rungs removed from from special. And, as at Georgia, he still faces a steady, nutritionally deficient diet of losing with these 3-9 Timberwolves.

Certainly, assists will go up once Minnesota adds more players who can finish (and Karl Anthony-Towns was out Monday).

His scoring should uptick, too, once the NBA officials start showing him a little respect. Edwards didn’t get to the line Monday and was none too happy about it. “I feel like every time I go to the rim I get fouled. I could get it going on the free throw line, but I don’t get any foul calls,” he said.

There are several more homecomings to come before we can say we have witnessed the Ant Man as a finished product. Darn if I know what that will be.

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