LOS ANGELES — The smile captured Anthony Edwards’ positive outlook. So did his candor regarding a topic that perhaps would have bothered other top NBA prospects.
Despite leading last season’s rookie class in points per game (19.3) and minutes played (32.1) while appearing in the entire 72-game season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Edwards failed to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. That honor went to Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball, who led the league’s rookies last season in assists per game (6.1).
“I don’t care about that,” Edwards told NBA.com. “I’m happy ‘Melo 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.”
Edwards has other reasons for his apathy about not collecting individual hardware to commemorate his rookie season.
Presumably, Edwards became more excited about the Timberwolves’ dominant 107-83 win to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at Staples Center. The Timberwolves (4-7) snapped a six-game losing streak. They outscored the Lakers in the third quarter, 40-12. And Minnesota showcased its youthful potential while exploiting an injury-riddled and defensively-challenged Lakers team.
Edwards did not speak after posting a modest nine points while shooting 4-of-11 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range and one assist. Minnesota’s dynamic duo in Karl-Anthony Towns (29 points) and D’Angelo Russell (22) took center stage. Yet, Towns argued that Edwards “played a game that was exactly what we needed from him” with his gravity, driving and playmaking. That also captured Edwards’ want to ensure his impact goes beyond any statistical contributions.
“I’m trying to be MVP,” Edwards said. “I’m not really worried about Rookie of the Year.”
Edwards stressed he has not envisioned what his second season will actually look like, stressing the old-age adage of approaching the season “just game-by-game, day-by-day.” Besides, Golden State’s Stephen Curry or Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant will likely have a rebuttal toward Edward’s MVP aspirations. But Edwards’ bold ambitions underscore a larger point.
Following promising returns as the Timberwolves No. 1 draft pick in 2020 after playing for one season at the University of Georgia, Edwards admittedly believes he has just scratched the surface toward reaching his full potential.
“I’ve always been an underdog coming into college,” Edwards said. “I’m just here to be great and compete every day and be the best version of myself and try to help my team.”
How will Edwards build off his rookie season?
The best version of Edwards already looks promising.
Through 11 games, he appears strongly on pace to surpass his averages in points per game (24.4), shooting percentage (42.7%) and 3-point shooting (33.7%) as well as rebounds (six) and assists (3.3) compared to his rookie season (19.3 points on 41.7% from the field and 32.9% from 3 as well as 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists). After posting a career-high 48 points against the Golden State Warriors this week, the 20-year-old Edwards joined Durant, LeBron James, Luka Dončić and John Drew as the only NBA players to have three 40-point plus games before turning 21.
“I do love the approach that he feels he has to keep proving himself because he does,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “That’s part of the consistency, which we need him to play at every night. We’ve talked to him about that recently that good players go out and impose themselves on the basketball game, regardless of what teams are trying to do.”
To prevent a sophomore slump, Edwards developed a consistent offseason and in-season routine.
How did Edwards spend most of his summer days? He lifted weights in the morning to maximize athleticism and strength in his listed 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He completed two-a-day training sessions to fulfill two purposes. He took countless free-throws, 3-point shooting and floaters in hopes to improve his shooting range and consistency. He also completed various drills that entailed going downhill and attacking the basket. In between those training sessions, Edwards went bowling with close friends and insisted he won the majority of those games.
This marked a stark contrast to how Edwards prepared for his rookie season. Because of pandemic-related restrictions, Edwards never had a summer league or an extended training camp to practice. As Towns mused, “we just put him on the court and said, ‘Figure it out.’”
“It has made a difference for me just because I never really had a routine,” Edwards said. “I’m just starting one. It’s big for me. It’s given me structure.”
Since the season started, Edwards has stayed just as disciplined in between practices and games. He reports to practice early enough both to receive treatment and squeeze in a workout. Following practice, Edwards completes more shooting drills before receiving more treatment and a massage.
“I hope that takes my game to the next level,” Edwards said. “I hope it helps me make my team (better) and take my team to the next level.”
Perhaps it will, but it also has led to some initial hiccups.
“He came into this season wanting to show the benefits of all of his work in the summer time,” Finch said. “But he forgot who he really is and what makes him so dynamic.”
Therefore, the Timberwolves have encouraged him to worry less about taking outside shots and more about attacking the basket. That way, Edwards can both take advantage of his athleticism and build a rhythm that will ensure a better shooting percentage. The Timberwolves attributed that recent change as instrumental to his 48-point performance against Golden State.
Timberwolves veteran guard Patrick Beverley added that he has talked to Edwards about mastering “the little things” and described him as “sponge” with soaking in feedback.
“I still haven’t figured out the best approach just because it’s my second year,” Edwards said. “As far as physically being ready, I’m always there. But I’ll figure out the mental aspect of figuring out ways to get myself ready and locked in every night.”
How will Edwards emerge as a leader?
It’s clear Edwards has already figured out one thing: he hardly seems intimidated on the court. In Wednesday’s 123-110 loss to the Warriors, Edwards proclaimed to Curry, “I’m about to go for 50.” Edwards fell only two points shy.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 11, 2021
“I don’t care who I’m going against. I’m not worried about them,” Edwards said. “But I would say the one I was looking forward to going against was Kevin Durant. He was my favorite player.”
Those exchanges both capture Edwards’ confidence and lack of filter.
“There’s not a lot of [BS] to him,” Finch said. “He keeps it pretty real with himself and his teammates. He’s not afraid of the moment. His habits are getting better.”
One area that does leave Edwards feeling a little insecure: how to emerge fully as a leader.
“It’s hard. But I feel like I’ve been a leader since I’ve been playing sports,” Edwards said. “Just because we got older guys so it’s like, ‘they’re the leaders right now.’ But I’m slowly, but surely, emerging.”
Edwards has emerged enough that Timberwolves center Naz Reid observed that he has become “more outspoken.”
Edwards has criticized the team’s efforts after squandering multiple double-digit leads. Edwards also has pleaded for teammates to keep fighting after facing double-digit deficits.
Yet, Edwards still considers himself more of “an action leader” both because of his age and personality.
He still wants to buy equity by letting his work habits and play cast a stronger impression than his words. Edwards also has found it important to keep a positive attitude with both his body language and words.
“Guys get down when we’re losing,” Edward said. “We’re finding ourselves right now. We’re 10 games in. We got 72 more games. Who says we can’t go on a 20-game win streak? You never know.”
The Timberwolves have since cemented a new winning streak, but Edwards admitted uncertainty about the team’s full potential.
“We can be really good, or we can be really bad,” Edwards said beforehand. “No in between.”
Some of the Timberwolves’ success or failure will hinge on Towns and Russell staying healthy after missing a combined 64 games last season. Edwards argued it will also hinge on the energy and focus the Timberwolves show at the beginning of games, practices and film sessions. And the Timberwolves’ ceiling surely hinges on Edwards, who has much bigger aspirations than just ensuring he stays among the best in a talented Draft class after appearing on the NBA’s All-Rookie First team.
“To have him at a young age already figure out how to be himself in the offense and with the team is great,” Towns said. “Obviously, we’re going to continue to build his confidence and keep teaching him and keep telling him how special he really is. He’s always confident, and we’re going to keep building his confidence so he can be the superstar we all know he can be.”
And perhaps Edwards can become that superstar partly because he has not become consumed with collecting awards that proclaim him as one.
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