WORDS by Franklyn Calle
After a draft process and a rookie year that didn’t give him a second to pause, ANTHONY EDWARDS figured out how to make his game work while having fun every step of the way. Next up: securing a spot in the playoffs in 2022.
There’s a serene ambience flowing throughout the third floor of the Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis, home to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx’s state-of-the-art practice facility. The Wolves’ HQ is quiet and empty on this Monday afternoon in late June, with front office personnel out of town in Chicago for the NBA draft combine while most of the players have already returned home for the summer. Yet, here is Anthony Edwards in the flesh, in town over a month after his season ended.
We initially figured this covershoot would end up happening in his native city of Atlanta or maybe even L.A.—a popular offseason destination for many NBA stars. Yet Edwards is indeed in the Twin Cities as the Conference Finals get underway in late June. His commitment to the franchise, the city, his craft and the future all evident in his presence.
A facility employee mentions right before Edwards’ arrival that the NBA All-Rookie First Team honoree had actually been back working out at the gym just a couple of weeks earlier. The day after our shoot, Edwards is slated to represent Minnesota in the draft lottery—just another minor example of how invested he is in the franchise’s future. Therefore, right after our shoot, Edwards has to sit for a quick test shot with the Timberwolves’ digital team on the practice court, where he’ll be joining the live broadcast of the draft lottery the following night—due to COVID-19, all team representatives were remote for a second consecutive year. Edwards is patiently taking it all in, though. The test shots. The multiple takes. The summer days in Minneapolis—even if and when he’s the only player at the practice facility or maybe even in the city.
One of the many reasons he’s in town during the summer is that he’s in the midst of getting settled in at the new downtown apartment he just moved in to. During a break in between shooting stations at our shoot, Edwards excitedly talks about the “top floor views” of the city from his apartment, a prerequisite he says played a major role during the home search process.
At one point toward the end of our time with him, Edwards sits down and looks around at the empty gym. He begins to reminisce about his first few days with the franchise, his very first time scrimmaging on the practice court is still clear as day on his mind.
“I think we got here around 9. Practice started at 10. So, I got here kinda early [and] got some shots up. Everybody did. We had a regular training camp and then we started scrimmaging,” says Edwards. “I don’t think I played since, like, January because of COVID. So, like, I thought I was going to come out here and be myself. I looked bad. I just remember I played real bad. And then as the days went on, then I finally found myself.”
It was actually March the last time he had played in a real game, but it might as well have been January—those days felt like an eternity. If anything, it’s indicative of what 2020 felt like for most people—all those months becoming one big blur.
It all really happened so fast. Training camp began 13 days after Draft Night. The first preseason game was 11 days later. The first regular season game was 11 days after that. No Summer League games in Vegas to get some reps in. No three-month summer window to get acclimated to a new city, to learn the team’s playbook, offensive and defensive sets, to bond with the coaching staff, to build rapport with new teammates. An abbreviated training camp with a grueling condensed regular season schedule awaited him instead. Edwards and every other rookie were thrown into the fire like no other rookie class in NBA history had ever been before.
“It was quick. I mean, the first game I still didn’t know anything. The first half of the season, I didn’t really know nothing, for real. It was like an SAT without studying. Know what I’m saying? I didn’t know nothing. So, it was hard, for sure,” recalls Edwards. “Anything—easy ways to score, plays, defensive match-ups, the coverages—like, our big might run up and call something, I might be in something totally different. I didn’t know anything. It was hard for sure…It wasn’t easy at first. It was hard [at] first ’cause I didn’t have no study guide. I was just going out there, just playing, just having fun. But second half of the season, I came back [and] I was pretty dominant.”
Edwards started the season coming off the bench during his first 17 games. But injuries and some line-up shuffling, as well as Edwards showing flashes of serious star potential during his first month in the L, led to him getting the nod against the Philadelphia 76ers in late January.
“It was the day of. We always do a walk-through at four [in the afternoon]. So, at walk-through, I had seen my name on the board. You know, they always have the starting five versus the other starting five. And [former HC Ryan Saunders] was like, Ant, you gonna start today. And I was like, Alright, bet! And then just went from there…I was like, About time!” he recalls. “I gotta prove that I belong to start. This is what I need to be doing. So, when I got out there, I was just trying to do everything to show Ryan that I was supposed to be starting.”
From then on, Edwards never looked back. He started every game for the remainder of the season. In reality, though, it wasn’t until the All-Star break when he reached a turning point. With the pandemic still fully raging in March, the NBA opted to nix all ASW festivities outside of the main game. And so, with the Rising Stars Game cancelled, Anthony Edwards decided to head back home to Atlanta to recharge for the week. There, he linked up with two trusted trainers, and as the cliché goes, the rest is history.
“I got these two trainers, Justin Holland and Kierre Jordan. And we was just watching film and I was just seeing every shot that I was missing. I wasn’t jumping. Most of the threes I was missing, I wasn’t jumping. Or I wasn’t doing something right. I just looked at film and it worked out. When I came back, it was a lot easier,” says Edwards. “I was watching film a lot during the All-Star break, for sure.
“I never watched film, but now I watch a lot of film. It’s fun because you see, like, OK, if they giving me this shot, I’m gonna go to the gym and work on this shot. Ok, they’re giving me this midrange, I’m gonna go to the gym and work on this for three hours today. And then come back and work on it tomorrow until I feel like I perfected it.”
His post-All-Star break numbers soared. After averaging 14.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists heading into the All-Star recess, he averaged 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists after the break. Furthermore, his efficiency also saw significant improvement—he shot 37.1 percent from the floor prior to ASW but shot over 45 percent afterward.
He ultimately ended up leading all rookies in scoring with 19.3 points per game. He scored 20 or more points 36 times—no other rookie even reached half of that. He was the only rookie to play in all 72 games. His 42 points against the Phoenix Suns—in his fifth game back from the All-Star break—made him the third youngest player in NBA history to have a 40-point night, behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James. He dropped 42 twice.
“I think one of the fans had said something to me. And then it just got me going,” recalls Edwards of that night in Phoenix. “Most of those games where I played pretty good, a fan had said something to me. I don’t even remember what they said. I just remember they said something. And I was like, Oh, for real? Alright. And then I just started scoring the ball crazy.”
That night was actually part of a stretch in which he also finished with 34 and 29 in the two previous games. It made him the youngest player in NBA history to ever score over 100 points during a three-game stretch.
“I feel like with me, once I find what I can do, a lot of people are in trouble. Once I find, OK, this is what I’m gonna do. This is how I’m going to score the ball every time. These are my three ways. Once I find that, it’s really nothing you can do ‘cause I’ma get there,” says the 19-year-old. “That’s kind of what I did. After watching all that film, I found there was three ways I’m going to score the ball. [And] I did that.”
When asked about the three ways he speaks of, Edwards quickly responds, “Nah, I can’t tell the people because then they’re going to know how to guard me,” before cracking a laugh. He was kinda serious about that one, though.
Beyond the numbers, he was passing the eye test just as easily. That monster dunk on Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe was heard and felt worldwide. He accumulated jaw-dropping finishes like that one throughout the season. His candid post-game interviews, electrifying smile and ultra-confidence made him a fan-favorite beyond the state of Minnesota. And not just among fans. Edwards became an easy mentee for even one of the most respected veteran guards in the League.
“Ricky Rubio was just like an uncle on the team. Ricky Rubio was always in my ear. On the court, off the court. He was always in my ear,” recalls Edwards. “The thing he always said was, Man, I wish I had your confidence. I had a bad game one time in OKC and we was on the elevator and I was still happy. I wasn’t mad. I was calling my friends, Let’s play the game. He was like, Man, I wish I had your confidence. He was like, ’Cause nothing bothers you. You’re the same every time. He was like, I love it. Ricky was the biggest influence on the team [for me] for sure.”
Edwards understands that his rookie season is now a thing of the past, though. His focus has shifted to ensuring that there’s a Year 2 leap to remember, one that turns heads across the League even more so than any of the body-catching finishes from last season.
“Winning as a team comes with individual accolades, I feel. KAT texted me and D-Lo texted me and we was just like, Playoffs! We want to go to the playoffs next year. So, if we go to the playoffs next year, the individual achievements gonna come because you’re winning. I don’t really even think about my individual achievements. I want to take my team to the playoffs, for sure,” says Edwards.
“Throughout the whole summer, when we text, we just be like, We’re going to the playoffs next year.”
FROM SLAM #233