Anthony Edwards walked from the interview room down a corridor to the team bus that would take the Minnesota Timberwolves to Dulles International Airport where the team planned to board a plane for a short flight to New York.
It was early December, and Edwards had just been informed of the difficult schedule ahead for the 11-11 Timberwolves, a schedule loaded with teams at or above .500: Brooklyn, Atlanta, Utah, Cleveland, Utah, Dallas, Boston, Memphis, Golden State, plus two games against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Edwards scoffed at the notion that it was a difficult schedule.
“We’re just as good as any other team in the league. It’s not a tough month for us, ”Edwards said. “It’s just basketball. We get paid to play it. I love it. I’m pretty sure everybody on my team loves it. So, I don’t look a no game like a tough game. I think we can win every game we play. ”
Edwards, 20, backs up his confidence with his play on the court.
The second-year guard is emerging as a star in real time with his performance in Minnesota’s play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers and Game 1 against Memphis in their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
To help the Timberwolves secure a playoff spot, Edwards scored 30 points against the Clippers, and to help the Timberwolves take a 1-0 series lead against Memphis, Edwards had 36 points, six assists, two rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
- Edwards’ 36 points were the fourth-most in a playoff debut.
- He is the third youngest player to score at least 35 points in a playoff game behind Derrick Rose and Tyler Herro.
“Ant’s in a really great groove right now,” said Timberwolves coach Chris Finch. “Everything he’s doing is definitive. He’s sharp. He’s getting into his stuff quick. He’s making the right reads more often than not. He’s really confident in his shot.
“He’s locked in. Sometimes, his concentration goes in and out. We’ve always talked about his sense of the moment, his sense of timing and his ability to raise his game. Maybe that’s what we’re seeing. ”
Edwards is among the next gen of the NBA stars, and if you hadn’t paid attention to Minnesota in the past two regular seasons, Edwards is making sure you notice him now.
“I hope there’s more to come,” Edwards said after the Game 1 victory. “I’m doing a great job of listening to coach. … Whatever (the defense) is giving me, I’m trying to take it. I feel like I’ve been doing a great job with that. ”
He gained acclaim in his rookie season with ferocious dunks. But there is more to his game than dunks. He averaged 19.3 points last season and increased that to 21.3 this season. He also raised his shooting percentages from the field (41.7% to 44.1%) and on 3-pointers season (32.9% to 35.7%) over season.
With 2,925 points through two seasons, he has the fourth-most points by a player before 21 years old – behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony and ahead of Luka Doncic, Devin Booker and Kobe Bryant.
Against Memphis, he made important shot after important shot. A 3-pointer with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter extended Minnesota’s lead to 114-104.
Finch was impressed with his playmaking (six assists) and defense. Could he be the next Marcus Smart but with a much better offensive games?
“He’s playing a real complete game, and that’s not even talking about his defense,” Finch said. “I thought he was really good on (Memphis star Ja) Morant when he had the chance to be on him.”
Morant was 2-for-8 shooting, including 0-for-2 on 3s, when Edwards guarded him in Game 1, according to NBA.com’s advanced box score.
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Edwards has great size and strength – 6-4, 225 – for his position and looks like he could play free safety or running back for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. In fact, Edwards was a standout youth football player until basketball seized his full-time attention.
His agent, Rich Paul, noticed a few things during Edwards’ freshman season at Georgia: his maturity, an-NBA ready game and his joy. He brings a blatant confidence that was missing from previous Timberwolves teams.
“Edge is a good word. He plays with this swagger, ”Finch said.
Within that swagger is an infectious joy.
“It’s the happiness that I bring, the winning mindset that I’ve got,” Edwards said. “That’s just me. It comes from family. Everybody is always happy when we see each other. I took that with me. ”
It extends off the court where Edwards has a Twitter account for his dog, Ant Jr., who has nearly 12,000 followers.
After an ESPN segment in which Edwards told the panel he feels like he’s the best defender in the NBA, Ant Jr. tweeted, “Pops is the best at everything.”