How Edwards cooks up the Timberwolves’ positive chemistry

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, in his fifth year in the NBA, said he has never laughed more during a season than the guard has this one with the Timberwolves.

One reason: Anthony Edwards.

"He's gonna make fun of himself. He's gonna make fun of everybody," said Alexander-Walker, who Edwards once accused of dressing way too nicely after a game.

Take postgame after the team's 109-106 victory over Atlanta on Friday, when Edwards, in a room full of reporters, made fun of a large designer bag center Karl-Anthony Towns had in front of his locker. Edwards let him have it, joking that his daughter could fit in the suitcase.

But his jovial nature is also an indication of how the team's All-Star guard feels about Towns and the rest of his teammates.

"He's gonna laugh, and you got to take it," Alexander-Walker said. "You have to learn it's all love. If he's not making fun of you, chances are he don't really like you."

One reason the Wolves, who open the NBA playoffs on Saturday against Phoenix, have improved this season is because of how the team gets along.

That's ironic given this is largely the same group that had one teammate, center Rudy Gobert, attempt to punch another, forward Kyle Anderson, during the last game of the regular season a year ago.

Embracing teammates

The Wolves seem to embrace each other for what everyone does well, and they don't dwell on flaws.

"The emotional intelligence of this group is one of the best I've ever been around," coach Chris Finch said. "As a team, there's a lot of awareness about who they are as players and who their teammates are. That's where it starts."

That becomes evident in how the team, and Edwards specifically, relate to Gobert and Towns, two players who have had well-publicized friction with teammates in the past. With Gobert, it was Donovan Mitchell in Utah and D'Angelo Russell for a short time in Minnesota. With Towns, it was Jimmy Butler when Butler was in Minnesota. In those instances, teammates criticized the two for perceived flaws in their games or poked fun at their personalities.

That made Gobert and Towns lightning rods for external criticism, but to Edwards, those are his guys. That's how he said he has always been toward teammates, dating to his days in Atlanta on youth football fields.

"You got to appreciate your teammates for what they great at. … For Rudy, he's probably gonna go down as a top-three defensive player of all time," Edwards said. "You can't talk about his [offensive] flaws. You have to talk about what he great at. He's been doing that at a phenomenal job this entire season. I'm just not the type of guy that be like, 'Aw, he's trash.' I'm always trying to uplift my teammates."

Edwards said there's much more good Towns can bring to the table for the team, that it isn't worth dwelling on when Towns might let emotions get the best of him.

"The stuff he do, you accept him for who he is," Edwards said. "We got a team full of people that's like, we gonna tell you about yourself, but we also gonna embrace each other. … I just pride myself on always wanting to see my teammates, a smile on they face."


That's not to say the team isn't willing to call each other out. Point guard Mike Conley said they're going to remind Towns to not go overboard in his reactions to things that go wrong in a game.

"He's still going to be KAT. He's going to have a possession where he does something crazy and we'll go, 'That's KAT.' But we're not going to let it fall to the side," Conley said. "We'll say, 'Hey, KAT, we need you to lock in.' We talk to him straight up. Like, we know you thought it was a foul, but I need you right now to go forward. He'll be like, 'You're right."

This is how the Wolves handle communication with each other, not just Towns. There's honesty and directness but always with a positive spin. The goal is to make everyone better and accentuate what they do well.

"We're going to give you latitude to make mistakes," Finch said. "But we got to get you being back to the best version of yourself."

Edwards is the one who helps set the tone with that. He has talked several times in the past about how hard Finch can coach him, and that sets an example for the rest of the team.

"He's the best at it," Anderson said. "Him and [Memphis guard Ja Morant] are two guys I've dealt with who are All-NBA talent, who both do a great job of accepting criticism or you can tell them, 'All right, you should've done this, or you messed up here.' Ant is one of the best teammates I ever had at accepting criticism or saying, 'I got you. I got to be better.'"

He also dishes credit when teammates deserve it. That gets noticed in the Wolves locker room when Edwards goes out of his way to shout out teammates who made contributions in a game.

"He sets a confidence level for a lot of guys," Conley said. "He could've had 40 points, and he's talking about the plays Nickeil made, Rudy made, me or anybody else. That's pretty cool he feels that way about us and he's celebrating our success."

And when someone messes up, Edwards isn't about to pass judgment. He knows he isn't perfect and neither are his teammates. That helps create an environment in which everyone can thrive.