As Nickeil-Alexander Walker gave a post-practice interview following Timberwolves practice recently, there was only one other player working out at Mayo Clinic Square. The player was on a far court and behind a wall; you couldn't see who it was, but you could certainly hear him.
As he was hitting (or missing) three-pointers, Anthony Edwards and his booming voice filled the gym. Edwards was going through the ups and downs of trying to hit 500 shots.
"We just spent an hour and a half after practice shooting," said Chris Hines, Wolves assistant and Edwards' player development coach.
To Hines, that workout was emblematic of the effort the 22-year-old Timberwolves guard put in this offseason.
"He's gotten to the point now where his routine is there, but he wants to go past his routine, which I'm loving," Hines said. "Now it's, 'Meet me at night time. One more round.'"
This was the busiest summer of Edwards' career. He signed a maximum contract for five years that links him to Minnesota until 2029 and will pay him up to $260 million, should he make an All-NBA team this season. He left the country for the first time, got his own Adidas shoe, then played for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, garnering plaudits across basketball social media.
The expectations have risen for Edwards, as has the excitement around his fourth NBA season.
One of the lasting images of Edwards' third year came after a Game 3 loss at home to the Nuggets in last season's playoffs. Edwards sat silently in his locker and stared ahead or at the ground for several minutes. It seemed like he was garnering the fuel he needed to sustain throughout an offseason that began only a few days later, like a comic book hero internalizing the pain of their origin story.
"He hates to lose, especially when he can feel success so close," said his business manager, Justin Holland. "In his mind, he probably felt like he let his team down and didn't do enough to get the win."
Even amid a life-changing and hectic offseason, Edwards remained focused on expanding and fine-tuning his game as he enters a pivotal season in the fate of the franchise. There are other factors that will play into how far the Wolves go in the postseason — how Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns play together, and can other role players mesh well around them? But one way the Wolves can finally be contenders to win their first playoff series since 2004 is for Edwards to make a leap from first-time All-Star to superstardom.
"It was almost like every offseason we'd get a little better, but we don't get over the hump," Holland said of Edwards. "So coming into this summer, he was really locked in. It was different from when we sniffed the first round. This time … he felt like we should've won that series. Going into the season, he was locked in on the things he needed to focus on to carry the team."
In the first part of his career, Edwards has been a player whose natural inclinations on the floor didn't quite catch up to what's in his mind.
He has seen every coverage teams are going to throw at him, and Hines and Holland both say Edwards' basketball IQ is elite. He can explain what he has to do in a given situation, but sometimes his body has wanted to do other things — like dribble around double teams instead of giving the ball up. These habits have slowly started to fade with experience.
"When you bump your head a couple times, that hurts a little bit, right?" Hines said. "He's been bumping his head on that at the beginning of his career."
Edwards has also had a tendency to slow the game down by stopping the ball, which is something that can happen with a lot of scorers. But if there was something his experience with Team USA drove home, it was the importance of keeping the ball moving. Edwards saw that in a loss to Germany that knocked Team USA out of gold medal contention.
"The best thing that I learned offensively is just playing with pace," Edwards said. "The defense gets lost, man, like in just playing fast."
So if there's a difference fans might expect to see in Year 4 for Edwards, it's his decisionmaking, especially early in a possession. If a team is going to bring extra attention to him, he will give up the ball, and trust that it's going to come back around to him. That's also where the shooting practice comes into play. With ball movement, Edwards should have open looks from the outside.
"He can't hold it. He has to play off the catch, get off of it early," Hines said. "Relocate, respace and also understand how to attack the low man. … I always tell Ant, never worry about the guy in front. You can get by him. You're the best in the world at that. What about the other guys, and what they're doing? That's how you read the game."
What's new this season?
Every season Edwards has made additions to his game, most notably adding an effective Eurostep where he tries to slow the game down for himself as he gets to the rim. He averaged 24.6 points per game last season, and also had career high averages in rebounds (5.8), steals (1.6) and assists (4.4).
This season, expect Edwards to be posting up more, using the glass more from the midrange and adjusting how he tries to draw fouls.
"Actually learning how to get fouled," Holland said. "Driving the ball the right ways and making it known to the officials and how to communicate with the officials."
Edwards learned the latter the hard way last season after officials hit him with 15 technicals, which was one away from a mandatory suspension. Most of those came in the first half of the season and after Edwards had a conversation with the league, he learned how better to vent his frustration to officials.
Hines said this offseason they worked more on how best to show officials Edwards is getting fouled, which is a skill Edwards needs to learn because he doesn't shy away from contact.
"People bounce off him. He doesn't get a lot of calls," Hines said. "He does get hit … but he's still going through the motions because he's so powerful. What we've done is, OK, well now we have to bait them. Pump fakes and step-throughs. Pump fake, step into bodies. A lot of footwork stuff to where he's stepping through guys to draw fouls."
The goal is for Edwards to shoot around eight free throws per game. He shot 5.3 last season and 3.9 two seasons ago.
Still the same
When Edwards was asked at media day what the highlight of his eventful summer was, he said it was the unveiling of a mural in his hometown of Atlanta during an event to launch his signature shoe. Beside Edwards on the mural are his late grandmother, Shirley, and mother, Yvette, who each died when Edwards was 14.
"I think that was more important than everything for sure," he said.
Holland said Edwards hasn't changed much since he started working with him around that time. But getting the new contract was still a big moment.
"I feel like that was the first time in his life that all the hard work and everything I had been preaching that he might not necessarily have believed in — sometimes you're working hard and it sometimes becomes repetitive or boring," Holland said. "But then you have those moments when you have something tangible like a contract for $200-plus million. That was something."
Even with the new deal and his increasing fame, one quality the Wolves have loved about Edwards is how he is as a teammate, always rooting for others and encouraging them to excel. He has put in the work and is hoping there's another level for his game, but he recognizes that in the NBA, no star can go it alone.
"I'm going to need my teammates to do it," Edwards said. "I can't do anything without my teammates, so as long as we go out there as a group of five, whoever's on the court, and we come together and we win.
"Whatever the next step people are expecting me to take, I will take. But it has to be within my teammates."