canada africa partner reservation Anthony Edwards changed his mentality and with it the trajectory of the Timberwolves: Twin Cities

Anthony Edwards changed his mentality and with it the trajectory of the Timberwolves: Twin Cities

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DENVER – Anthony Edwards was angry, mostly at himself. The Timberwolves had just dropped a game in Dallas in which they were up by six points with 3 minutes, 53 seconds to play.

Edwards scored the bucket to put the Timberwolves up six, and took just one more shot the rest of the way before a chuck was made with seven seconds left when the game was already lost.

According to him, that was not enough.

“I feel like I left bullets in the chamber again,” Edwards told reporters. ‘But I’ll definitely take this one with me. I have to be aggressive down the stretch.”

Edwards had used the analogy before after the Timberwolves lost a game in Oklahoma City in late December. Now he was doubling down.

“Yeah, I gotta make them (shots) with two minutes left,” Edwards said. ‘But that’s on me. I have to be better, I have to be more aggressive, I can’t let the double team just make me not aggressive.

That was about the last thing anyone in the Timberwolves organization wanted to hear. Hero Ball has been the death of this team over the past two seasons, and yet Edwards insinuated it was the solution.

It was not.

As of Christmas, the Timberwolves had the worst offensive rating in the NBA, allowing just 0.95 points per possession when games were on the line.

Edwards’ numbers in that span: 37 percent shooting from the floor and 20 percent from three-point range with 10 more turnovers versus just 12 assists.

The piece seemingly provided some semblance of evidence that perhaps this was the way Edwards viewed the game and was the status quo he would return to, especially when push came to shove. And as long as that was the case, the Timberwolves weren’t going to get a big win.

Think about the 2022 playoffs, when they fell to Memphis in six games in the first round thanks to a series of late-game collapses. Edwards went 2-for-11 in clutch time in that series.

Take the 2022-2023 regular season — a disappointment in almost every way — when Edwards had more turnovers (16) than assists (11) in clutch time. It was all representative of a mentality that was destined to keep a remarkably skilled player from ever reaching his full potential.

“There are still a lot of habits that people have. It’s hard to break habits. Guys have played a certain way all their lives, it’s hard to break them in a few months,” Wolves veteran point guard Mike Conley said of no one in particular in late February. “I think we’ve become a little bit more of a hero ball and when things like that happen, you say, ‘I’ve got to get us out of this,’ or ‘I’ve got to get us out of this.’ Trying to get away from that mentality, I think, is going to be a constant battle for us.”

And then, sometime in the last four months, everything changed. For Edwards and therefore the Timberwolves.

Never was that more apparent than with five minutes to play in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday in Denver, with Minnesota leading by three.

AKA: clutch time.

Edwards was patient in his approach as he intentionally came off a Rudy Gobert screen. Edwards had dominated the entire match with his ability to score. So Denver rightly sold out to slow him down.

Nikola Jokic showed off the screen and effectively put two on the ball. Gobert rolled to the rim, forcing Aaron Gordon to soak up the paint. That left Naz Reid open in the corner. Edwards made a split-second decision to swing the ball toward the corner.

Gordon had to go back to Reid, who drove past Gordon and got to the bucket for a score and a foul.

Nice basketball.

“When he signs three people,” Reid said, “he always makes the right play.”

That’s a very recent revelation.

“Ant has gotten so much better at finding his teammates when the double team comes or anytime they put two guys on him,” Gobert said. “It’s difficult for them to send two because they know he is capable of making plays like that. And that ensures that he can deal with more situations one on one. He grows every day and matures every night. It’s fun to be part of it.”

It is still unknown when exactly this revelation took place. Even within the battle there were indications of this. After an early February loss to Orlando — another late-game collapse — Edwards was asked how the Timberwolves were able to move away from the hero-ball approach.

“Myself,” Edwards said. “I have to stop holding the ball.”

Although it wasn’t clear at the time that he believed what he said.

Because real change only seemed to come when Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined with his torn meniscus. In the past, when Towns was out of the lineup, the lack of a secondary scorer made life difficult for Edwards. The defense paid extra attention to Edwards, and he compounded the problem by trying to force the issue. It was almost as if Edwards went into the games thinking he had to score his 25 points and Towns’ 25. It rarely worked, and afterwards Edwards simply lamented Towns’ absence and convinced himself that the problems would be resolved on command of the big man. yield.

Not this time. The reality seemed to be setting in for Edwards that he had to play a different way for the team to succeed without the No. 2 all-star in games.

“If KAT goes down, it definitely puts more pressure on everyone because he’s a walking 25 (points) and 10 (rebounds) guy. It was up to me to get my guys involved,” Edwards said. “Make sure they look simpler and can still be aggressive. I just try to do it a little more when he’s gone.

He got others involved – and players like Reid, Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped up.

That approach led to many wins the following month and a more efficient offense than the Timberwolves had produced all season to that point. Perhaps that convinced Edwards to permanently change his ways.

He certainly sounded like a changed man heading into the playoffs. When asked ahead of the Phoenix series how he was finally able to get past the first round, Edwards referenced the late-game execution.

“Again, I trust my teammates, don’t play hero ball at the end and (take) all the hard shots,” Edwards said. “My teammates trust when they are open and live with the results.”

He was asked again about the comment about bullets in the chamber, and his answer was a 180.

“You need your teammates to win the game, especially when they guard how they guard me. They put two or three people on me. I feel like the shots I’m going to make are the bullets I can unleash,” he said. “The other bullets I left in the chamber are for my teammates. And… if I face them when they are open, and they make those shots, it will be hard to beat us.”

Sure enough, the Timberwolves posted the best late-game offense in the NBA yet this postseason. In two clutch time games – Game 4 in Phoenix in the first round and Game 1 in Denver in the second – the Wolves are scoring 1.8 points per clutch time possession. Part of the scoring is done by the 22-year-old guard, while part comes from others.

But it all stems from Edwards’ approach. Wolves assistant coach Micah Nori noted that this is Edwards’ third playoff rodeo. The game will likely slow down for him, which will make decision making all the easier. But that still needs to be combined with a buy-in that has clearly taken place.

“We trust each other. It doesn’t matter who takes the shot, just find the open man,” Edwards said. “Everyone did their best and I trust my teammates, so I can’t wait to pass it on to them when they open.”

That’s nice to say. But it’s another thing to do consistently. That Edwards continued to execute on that plan, even on a night when his teammates combined to shoot 6 for 27 in the first half, spoke volumes.

Edwards scored more than sixteen points in six of the ten halves he played this postseason. And yet his attacking performance has not yet led to overaggression.

“Everyone is going to miss shots. I’m going to miss recordings. I’m not going to take all my photos. I don’t care how many shots they’re going to miss. If they’re open, I go there every time,” Edwards said. “I see the work they put into it. So yeah, I don’t care how many shots you take, whether you take them or miss them. I’m going to throw it to you when you’re open.”

And because of that, the Wolves will win. Because in just a few months, their young star developed into everything the organization could ever hope he would be and more.

“I’m just really proud of the way he’s accepted the kind of growth he needed to be where he is today. Because a lot of that has to do with him understanding the game better. Understanding how to play against his teammates,” Conley said. “It’s not easy for a 22-year-old to make that adjustment so quickly.”