The Timberwolves were down 18 to Oklahoma City in March at a mostly empty Target Center. Their play, as it too often did last season, matched the lifeless atmosphere of the arena.
The lineup coach Chris Finch had on the floor made a late run, and he stuck with a group that didn't include struggling rookie Anthony Edwards, who was accustomed to closing games. The Wolves came up short and Edwards didn't see the floor. When asked if he was OK with that, Edwards said, "No, I wasn't. I wasn't."
In the moment, it seemed as if he might have been mad at his new coach. But the anger didn't last. He and Finch met the next day and went over what Edwards needed to do in order to stay on the floor in those situations.
In retrospect, it seems the then-teenager might have been more upset with himself than with Finch.
"He responded like a very mature professional," Finch said of that moment. "He understood. He said he didn't want it to happen again. He wasn't mad. He didn't pout. He didn't sulk. He didn't complain. He didn't blame. He did what you want him to do, which was try to be better in those situations."
That speaks to the kind of player Edwards, now 20, has shown himself to be. There is Edwards the showman, who feeds off the adoration and energy of a crowd, like telling the Rockets bench to call timeout Wednesday during a hot streak in the season opener. There is Edwards the comedian with a propensity for joking around that launched several viral sound bytes on social media last season.
But along with that is Edwards, the student of the game, someone who seems determined to build off the improvement he made last season, and someone who has grand designs for his career even as he has yet to complete a full year in the NBA since being drafted first overall last November.
"I'm still learning I don't know a lot," Edwards said. "I don't know anything, really. All I do is go out there, grab a ball and play and have fun. So whatever there is for me to learn, I'm ready."
Never a dull moment
Josh Okogie was talking on one side of the Mayo Clinic practice courts while Edwards was on the opposite end shooting half-court shots at the end of practice against a few teammates. It wasn't hard to tell how Edwards was doing in the drill. His boasting filled the gym and interrupted Okogie.
"You hear him?" Okogie said with a smirk.
It's hard not to hear Edwards, who enjoys the smack talk. But it's never done in a malicious way, almost always with a smile.
"A lot of that jovialness, if you will, is what actually triggers the competitiveness rather than hides it," Finch said. "He starts joking around and then he draws somebody in, and now he's kind of in some sort of contest with them, whether it's a one-on-one workout or even when we're playing."
Edwards has been through tragedy, with both his mother and grandmother dying of cancer, but he still carries one of the most upbeat personalities on the team, if not the NBA. Rare is the time you won't find Edwards smiling or having fun — as in media sessions when he asked how his diamond earrings were "dancing," or told a reporter from Ireland his accent was "tough" or said, "I'm smarter than a lot of people think. I just look like this."
"I just try to light everybody's day up," the 6-6 guard said. "I try to have fun with everybody, get to know everyone. I'm always smiling, always laughing, trying to lighten the room. I just enjoy waking up every morning. As long as I wake up every morning, I make sure everyone around me is having a good time."
Passion for the game
The boisterous personality can mask how seriously Edwards says he takes his craft. One of the knocks on him in the pre-draft process, after his only season at Georgia, revolved around a frustrated comment he told ESPN "to be honest, I can't watch basketball." But there hasn't been any talk about Edwards' passion and love for the game since he joined the organization and fans saw how much fun he was having.
He also got better as the season went along. His field-goal shooting increased from 37% before the All-Star break to 45% after it. His three-point percentage increased from 30% to 35% and his points per game went from 14.9 to 23.8. His finishing around the rim also improved from 53% to 65% in the restricted area.
"I would say Finchy [hired on Feb. 22] did a great job of just letting everybody play," Edwards said. "Be themselves and just go out there and be mistake-free and just have fun with the game."
He went into the summer building on that momentum.
"Like I tell people I was on a 9-5 this summer in the gym," Edwards said. "So it feels a lot easier. I'm a lot more comfortable.
"Right now it's just basketball and weights, and I don't really know too much more. Know what I'm sayin'?"
What was he working on? A lot on defense. Edwards recognized he needed to get better away from the ball and guard ball screens better.
I feel like I'm bad on ball screens," Edwards said.
Finch and his teammates saw improvement on that end, though he does want Edwards to be a better rebounder.
"He's not your typical young player and he seems impervious to these type of things most young players go through," Finch said. "He just attacks everything he does."
Looking to the future
That kind of mindset has endeared Edwards to Patrick Beverley, the veteran statesman who has taken it upon himself to challenge and help mold Edwards.
The reason? Edwards is a "willing learner."
"A lot of young guys, especially No. 1 picks — that's no discredit of course to anybody — guys think they've got it figured out already …" Beverley said. "He's always wide-eyed, bushy tailed and eager to learn. He's like a sponge. He soaks up everything. So to have a player like that — his size, athleticism, ability to put the ball on the floor, ability to defend and is a sponge up top, you've got a good recipe for some really good pasta at the end."
Beverley said Edwards could be as good as others he has played with, including James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
"I wouldn't have came here if I expected anything less," Beverley said. "But it's my job to push him."
Edwards dazzled in his season debut Wednesday night. All the elements of his personality and game were on display. An improved jump shot (6-for-12 from three-point range), crowd-roaring dunks and the entertainment, like telling the Houston bench to call timeout after one of his threes.
The fun helps drives Edwards, and it's also there to inspire his teammates. He senses a shift in their attitude this season.
"Last year everybody was just comfortable," Edwards said. "We were losing, everybody was just coming, just practicing and going through it. This year we got energy. Everybody happy. We want to see our brothers succeed."
They also want to see him succeed.
"He's special," guard D'Angelo Russell said. "Whatever he gives the game, he's going to receive. He has all the intangibles to be great in this league. … He considers himself one of the best players in the league already. Just that mentality will only help him get over a learning curve that may happen in the future."