Timberwolves coach Chris Finch joked that he would’ve loved to have taken Anthony Edwards out for a beer after Minnesota’s Game 6 loss to Memphis on Friday.
“But I can’t, you know?” Finch said. “He’s 20 years old.”
There’s a big birthday upcoming for the young guard.
“I’m turning 21 on Aug. 5, man!” Edwards later noted.
It’s something that can be so difficult to remember when watching Edwards dominate NBA matchups and games. He’s still so young, with so much room to grow and so much to learn.
The latter was fairly evident after Minnesota’s loss Friday. Late-game offense was the Timberwolves’ downfall in the first-round series, and the emphasis for improvement as the series went on. But it never really got better, and it was again a major fault in the Game 6 defeat, though Edwards didn’t necessarily see it that way at the time.
“I don’t think we go into the iso game as much today,” Edwards said.
Except they certainly did, particularly over the last five minutes. The good news for Minnesota was it scored on 75 percent of its possessions when point guard Jordan McLaughlin merely touched the ball in the last five minutes. The problem was he only touched the ball on 4 of 10 possessions. The rest were made up of unsuccessful shot jacks from Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Co.
Edwards said he learned playing in the playoffs means “you’ve got to be able to make tough shots, after tough shots, after tough shots.” But really Plan A is to generate easier shots.
The playoff loss was clearly just another major learning opportunity as Edwards continues his ascension to stardom. Finch and Sachin Gupta, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations, had their end-of-season chat with Edwards on Saturday, and it centered on the importance of this summer. That still might not have sunk in for the second-year standout.
Edwards saw a number of different situations and looks this season. Now how will he absorb that information and process it to aid in his development? How can he become the closer he’s clearly destined to be without having his offense stunt the movement around him? The fact Edwards can hit difficult shots off the bounce at a high rate is a luxury for the Timberwolves. They’d just like those looks to become more situational.
“It’s not always about trying to make the big play, it’s way more about making the right play at the right time. What I’m excited about Ant’s summer is trying to help him round out his game,” Finch said. “He’s really, really good at a few things right now, and just needs a plan, a little bit better plan of how to get there.”
Finch noted Edwards is a great rim attacker, but is “leaving money on the table” by not having a full grasp of when and how to get there by attacking in transition, turning corners or changing speeds. His finishing needs to improve, as well, which can partially be achieved by finding different ways to finish.
“Those are all things that I think will help him grow leaps and bounds and be better at what he’s already good at. I don’t think it’s a thing with Ant where we want him to go away and add a bunch of stuff to his game right now,” Finch said. “I think we need him to round out some of the things he’s good at.”
Edwards seems to understand that to a degree. He dedicated himself to improving his jump shot last season, after noting many people said “he can’t shoot” after last season. Edwards became one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters at his high volume this season, and many of those looks were difficult ones off the dribble. He made a gaudy 41.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples — the highest number on the team.
It wasn’t far into the season when Finch and Co. realized Edwards’ shooting numbers were “real.”
‘”I think next year they will say ‘aww, he can’t shoot in the midrange’ so this summer I’m going to work on being able to score the ball from everywhere. Floaters, midrange, finishing at the rim, 3-pointers, everything,” Edwards said. “I mean, 3-point shooting is still going to be top of the list, because you know you’ve got to keep that sharp.”
“Because some guys just naturally can shoot, and I’m not one of those guys. I’ve got to work on it. That’s going to be one of them. But for sure, just being able to score everywhere. All around, the mid-range area, even posting, a lot of stuff. Being able to read the game, actually thinking the game.”
Thinking the game — it’s what can truly unlock Edwards and allow him to become the best possible player. He’s supremely skilled. Once he determines how to use that skillset in the most efficient and effective fashion, look out.
“He’s really special. What he’s doing at this age speaks volumes, because I still feel like he doesn’t really know what he’s doing,” Towns said with a laugh. “With all this experience I think Ant is going to come in thinking the game, not just playing the game and I think that’s where his game is going to evolve and take the next leap, the next jump. Man, he’s a special player.”
Edwards said he got better at reading defenses as the season went along “but I think I’ve still got a lot of room to grow in that area.”
“Because I still don’t make a lot of reads that I should make to soften the defense up,” he said, “but I will after this summer.”
When he puts his mind to something in the offseason, he generally gets it done. He’s a film junkie who loves to study the game through the method, and plans to return to Minnesota this summer with the knowledge of how he’s going to be guarded and what opponents will throw at him.
When he first walked into his end-of-season press conference Saturday, he admitted he wasn’t in the mood to talk basketball. Just 12 hours after his season ended, Edwards was tired. But as he started to discuss offseason training — which he expects to pick up in about a week — he immediately brightened up.
“I’m super excited. Any time I can get better, I’m excited. Like I didn’t even want to talk about basketball, but now we talk about me getting better, I’m getting happy now. Anything that’s going to make me get better, I’m all with it,” Edwards said. “Just talking about basketball, I’m going to get extremely better. Weight room, my shape, change a lot of stuff and on the court, come back better than I was this year.”