Early last season, Bally Sports North’s Marney Gellner interviewed then-Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards for a Wolves-plus podcast. The topic of Edwards’ athletic prowess came to the forefront.
Edwards made note that he is good at … everything, baseball included.
“I was fourth, fifth hitter, you know what that means,” Edwards said. “Straight cleanup on aisle three, come get it.”
Edwards can play anything.
“Ping pong? Baseball? Football? Basketball?” Gellner said.
“Tennis, swimming, lacrosse,” Edwards said. “Whatever you need me to play, I’m going to go do it.”
“We always joke about it. He’s one of the few guys, he obsesses over things that he wants to be good at,” said Justin Holland, who is Edwards’ trainer. “If he’s not good at it, please believe, give him three weeks or a month and he’ll be just as good as the best person doing it.”
“Just give me two, give me like two weeks, maybe one, one and a half,” Edwards told the Pioneer Press this week. “Most of the time it’s like two weeks and I pick up on it, I get the feel for it and it’s over with, for sure.”
Edwards turned his attention to the lanes this offseason. Bowling was his new passion. He eventually rolled a 265.
“I want to play it until I get good at it,” Edwards said.
Georgia men’s basketball coach Tom Crean said Edwards locks into certain things with an “intense focus.” When he puts his mind to something, he’s going to do it. Holland described Edwards as “a perfectionist.”
“If he does anything, he doesn’t want to be at the tail end of it,” Holland said. “He wants to be in the conversation with the best.”
Of course, that’s especially true on the basketball court. After a sensational finish to his rookie season last spring, Edwards has his sights set on joining the NBA’s elite in his sophomore season in Minnesota.
“He considers himself one of the best players in the league already,” Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell said. “Just that mentality will only help him get over a learning curve that may happen in the future.”
“I want to be an all-star this year, for sure, and I want to go to the playoffs and make a deep run to the playoffs,” Edwards said. “I don’t feel like nobody was great as soon as they came into the League, so I feel like it’s going to take a little minute. But I’m up for it. I’m ready for it.”
Edwards loved when Georgia’s men’s basketball team would train out on the turf, directly outside of Bulldogs football coach Kirby Smart’s office.
“He would yell things (like), ‘Kirby, look at me!’ ” Crean recalled. “And Kirby would step out there once in a while. Not very often, but he was always hoping that Kirby would step out there.”
Edwards was just as confident he could star for Georgia on the football field as on the basketball court.
“The bottom line is this is who he is. There’s not an act to him. There’s not an air to him,” Crean said. “There’s a confident air to him, but there’s not an arrogant air, and there’s not an immaturity. He’s a fun-loving, happy person who’s very, very confident. But he’s confident because he knows he puts the work in, and he’s not a guy that has expectations without the work.”
Crean said Edwards wanted to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. He worked for that. The coach remembers the hours after games Edwards would spend in the gym “in a full sweat.”
“Practice shorts on, shirt maybe, shirt maybe not, working out with the (graduate assistants) and dead serious,” Crean said.
At times, there were a number of people waiting for Edwards in the facility’s atrium. But they would have to wait.
“Because he was going to work,” Crean said.
A number of Edwards’ postgame press conferences were delayed last season for the same reason. Reporters, perched atop the lower bowl, had a prime view of Edwards’ postgame shooting regimen.
Edwards obsesses over some of the game’s finer details. Holland once said if Edwards is aiming to improve his pick-and-roll offense, he’ll watch “a million” clips of the action, executed by the best players in the game.
“He hones in on specific things and intricacies within the game,” Holland said last year, “and he just runs with it.”
When Edwards says he wants to be an all-star, he expects to be one — because he worked for it.
“Getting an entire NBA season under his belt, he really got a chance to see how guys work, what it took to be really good. He got a good taste of how it felt to have some success in the second half of the season, and he really just wanted to build on that,” Holland said. “He really wants to focus on being an all-star this year, and he knows the only way to be an all-star is to put in the extra work that’s necessary. He put in the extra work, and he’s always done that, but this summer and just seeing his mindset, you can tell that he can elevate it to another level. He wanted to be perfect in everything.”
Holland said Edwards was in the gym twice a day, six or seven days a week this offseason. It was the most time Edwards has dedicated to his craft.
“It’s all I can do. I don’t have no school work. It’s just straight gym,” Edwards said. “I can be in the gym as long as I want to.”
And he took full advantage.
“The thing is, he wants it,” Timberwolves’ center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “It’s great to have a player who’s that talented who also wants to get better.”
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch benched Edwards at the end of a couple of games last season because of poor defensive performances. Edwards didn’t pout, sulk or complain in the ways you’d think a teenager might.
“He did what you wanted him to do, which was try to be better in those situations going forward,” Finch said.
Edwards watches the likes of James Harden and Kevin Durant and the ease with which they score, and it drives him to head back to the gym.
“Because I want to be able to score like that, too,” Edwards said.
It’s why shooting was a heavy emphasis of Edwards’ offseason program. Whether it was shooting off the catch, the bounce and beyond, Edwards worked on it all in an effort to increase his confidence in his stroke. Holland expects a major spike in all of Edwards’ shooting percentages this season.
But just like Edwards has offensive idols, there are also players on the defensive end he’s trying to emulate.
“I see how (teammates Josh Okogie) and Jaden (McDaniels) guarded last year, and it’s like, ‘Man, I can guard like that, too,’ ” Edwards said. “I’ve just got to play with more effort and play with more energy.”
That’s music to Holland’s ears. He long has been in Edwards’ ear about improving defensively. In a text conversation with Edwards last week, Crean mentioned the possibility of the wing becoming the youngest player in NBA history to make an all-defensive team.
Crean has had other players make one of those teams early in their pro career. Dwyane Wade, whom Crean coached at Marquette, did it when he was 23. Edwards is currently 20.
“Anthony Edwards could make the all-defensive team … I don’t have a doubt in my mind,” Crean said. “He’s capable of it, put it that way.”
Crean said people don’t realize how smart and aware Edwards is until they are around him. He also has the length, strength, quickness and speed, along with a “defensive balance” that Crean said is “unique” for someone of his age and experience.
When it’s time to lock a player down, Crean said Edwards can do it. Crean sets forth challenges for Edwards, because he knows Edwards wants them and will put in the time to meet them. Yes, Crean said, Edwards will make all-star teams and score countless amounts of points, but “if he becomes a great defender in that league at a really young age, he can write his ticket for the rest of his career.”
“If you look at his metrics, he checks every box when it comes to being a great defender,” Holland said. “It’s definitely understanding. A lot of guys, they don’t have the ability to do certain things. And ability wasn’t the issue. It’s more understanding. Once he’s focusing on those things, once he puts his mind to those things and actually makes it a focal point, I think the world will see a drastic improvement on the defensive side of the ball this year, which will make him even better as an overall player.”
Edwards said remaining locked in defensively for all 48 minutes of each game this season will serve as his biggest challenge. He aims to average two-plus steals a game — a big number — utilizing his heightened awareness to be in proper help positions and dart into passing lanes when given the opportunity.
“I worked really hard this summer, so I expect myself to come back a lot better than I was last year,” Edwards said.
Through the exhibition schedule, that work appears to be paying off. Finch said Edwards has been “locked in (defensively) since Day 1” of training camp.
“His awareness off the ball, positioning off the ball, has been miles ahead of where it was a year ago,” Finch said. “He’s got great instincts when it comes to being able to track the ball. We just told him like off the ball, play like a free safety. Don’t be reckless, but get in the right spot. Use your athleticism, take chances and create steals.”
At halftime of one of Minnesota’s recent preseason games, the coaching staff challenged the players to be better on the ball. Edwards led the way.
“He came out the third quarter, I thought, and set the tone. Really his on-ball defense was great. Got a couple pokeaways and steals,” Finch said. “He has that button he can go to, and he’s a very literal learner. You tell him something and he puts it into play.”
Finch had talked at length with Edwards about valuing the defensive end. The coach isn’t surprised in the slightest that evolution is starting to take place.
“He’s a very, very competitive young man in everything he does,” Finch said. “It was only a matter of time until that fire got lit in him.”
Edwards is 100 percent himself in interviews such as his podcast with Gellner, and really any other press appearance. By all accounts, he’s just as bubbly whether he’s talking to reporters, dancing with his dog on Instagram Live or walking down the street.
Edwards lost his mother Yvette and his grandmother Shirley — both to cancer — within an eight-month span early in his teenage years. Holland said Edwards understands it’s a blessing to be here every day, and that realization has built who he is as a person.
“I just try to light everybody’s day up, like (Okogie) say, I’m a fun kid. I try to have fun with everybody, get to know everyone,” Edwards said. “I’m always smiling, always laughing, trying to lighten the room. I just enjoy waking up every morning. As long as I wake up every morning, I make sure everyone around me is having a good time.”
But that mentality isn’t to be mistaken for his on-court approach. Sure, Edwards will flash that smile over 48 minutes on the floor, but he’s all business in between the lines.
“Off the court, it’s just me being myself. Just smiling all the time, being charming and being the handsome guy that I am,” Edwards said. “When I’m on the court it’s more of a win, killer mindset, killer instinct.”
Edwards returned to his native Atlanta this offseason, and said he attended every Hawks home playoff game.
“Watching the playoffs, seeing the atmosphere was just crazy,” Edwards said. “I think I texted Finchy a couple of times, ‘We’ve got to go to the playoffs, man. This is crazy.’ ”
The hunger to reach such heights drove Edwards during the offseason. There are many who feel Edwards was slighted last season, when his slow start seemed to cement LaMelo Ball as the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year award winner, despite the prolific performances Edwards turned in down the stretch of the season.
Edwards swears that lack of recognition doesn’t matter to him. Winning does.
“I don’t want to lose in nothing. I don’t want to lose. It’s fun to win, man. If you want to lose, I don’t know what to do with you,” Edwards said. “I want to get used to winning and I want to learn how to win more and more as I grow into the game.”
Indeed, if the Timberwolves are going to win at a high level, much of their success will need to fall on Edwards’ shoulders.
He’s confident he can bear it. One of the traits Crean said Edwards shares with other greats: They don’t feel pressure.
“I like having a lot of weight on my shoulders and performing to the highest level I can,” Edwards said. “I put a lot of time in this summer in the gym, so I’m ready for it.”