Early in the Timberwolves' 117-114 preseason win over New Orleans on Monday, Anthony Edwards came to help on Pelicans guard Brandon Ingram at the top of the key.He anticipated Ingram's pass to the wing and got a hand on it.
He then used his physicality to outmaneuver Ingram at the other end for a dunk in his first highlight play of the season.
The play encapsulated a few things Edwards wants to improve about his game as he enters his second season.
On defense, Edwards has worked hard to improve his off-ball awareness.
"Just being aware, not losing your man, playing the passing lanes and using my athleticism," Edwards said.
On that play, Edwards didn't lose his man and he was able to get a steal in the process, an encouraging sign for Edwards' growth on defense after coach Chris Finch raved about his progress so far in camp.
"He's been great, real aggressive," Finch said. "He's been more aggressive defensively than offensively right now."
If there's a theme to Edwards' offseason it's that he is more concerned with what's happening away from the ball than near it.
On offense, if Edwards is involved in a pick-and-roll situation with the ball in his hands, his vision isn't necessarily on what's directly in front of him. Instead, Edwards said his eyes are on the opposite side "low man," the defender closest to the basket on the weak side.
"If he's overplaying, I'm kicking it to the corner, or I'm hitting the [screener], or I'm shooting," Edwards said.
Edwards turned a lot of heads around the league in the second half of last season after Finch became the coach. After the All-Star break, Edwards' shooting rose from 37% to 45%, three-point shooting from 30% to 35%, points from 14.9 to 23.8 and rebounds from 4.0 to 5.2.
The challenge this year is to keep building off that second half, to use his athleticism and the experience he is gaining to become a more well-rounded player. His goal is to be an All-Star, and that starts with getting better defensively. So far, he has earned rave reviews from Finch for his commitment to off-ball defense.
"All the things that are happening on the floor at a given time, it's do you have the sense for what might be happening a step before it does? Ant's defense has been outstanding, really," Finch said. "His defense on and off the ball. Particularly off the ball, he's been really good in the gaps, help situations."
Edwards said he has a lofty goal of averaging two steals per game. When asked about what needs to improve with his on-ball defense, he didn't hesitate in his answer.
"I feel like I'm bad on ball screens," Edwards said. "I got to learn how to navigate through those. Other than that, I'm pretty good."
Edwards' commitment to defense was evident in the 22 minutes he played, mostly in the first half. He appeared more engaged, especially off the ball, and provided another defensive highlight of the half when he blocked a shot from Trey Murphy III. He finished with two blocks and matched his goals of having two steals in those limited minutes.
"I think he's special," Wolves guard D'Angelo Russell said. "I keep it simple in how I express how I feel about Ant — I think he's special. Whatever he gives the game, he's going to receive. I think he has all the intangibles to be great in this league."