Anthony Edwards Emerges as a Leader for the Timberwolves

Anthony Edwards: From Reluctant Newcomer to NBA Superstar

by Faruk Imamovic
Anthony Edwards Emerges as a Leader for the Timberwolves
© Getty Images/C. Morgan Engel

As the executive director of USA Basketball, Grant Hill is accustomed to players eagerly returning his calls, especially those eyeing a spot on the national team. Even during non-Olympic years, an invitation from Hill is something every NBA superstar anticipates. However, while assembling the 2023 FIBA World Cup squad, Hill encountered an unexpected hurdle: he couldn't get in touch with Anthony Edwards.

"I couldn't get ahold of Ant," Hill revealed to ESPN, referring to the then-21-year-old phenomenon shaking up the league. "I talked to [Minnesota Timberwolves president] Tim Connelly. I talked to all these people around him. But I just kind of got the vibes that he was on the fence about it and didn't really know why."

Edwards, young and relatively inexperienced in the FIBA arena, had only participated in a couple of training camps and never played for the national team. Hill never imagined Edwards might question his place on Team USA.

"I think it was the uncertainty of doing something outside of his norm," explained Justin Holland, Edwards' long-time manager. "He'd never been out of the country. He'd always preferred to work out solo during summers. So it was more about placing himself in an unfamiliar environment."

This introspective hesitation seemed at odds with the ultra-confident young star now dominating this season's playoffs. It highlights just how far Edwards has come within a year, transitioning from a player grappling with imposter syndrome to a poster child for the new generation of NBA superstars.

Just two weeks prior, the Timberwolves had swept one of Edwards' idols, Kevin Durant, and the Phoenix Suns in the first round. They had pushed the defending champion Denver Nuggets to a Game 7, the farthest any team had in two years.

Kevin Durant #35 & Anthony Edwards #5
Kevin Durant #35 & Anthony Edwards #5© Getty Images/Christian Petersen

Not only did Edwards become "the man" for Team USA, according to head coach Steve Kerr, but he also revitalized a Timberwolves franchise plagued by mediocrity and dysfunction since trading Kevin Garnett in 2007.

Throughout the season, the 22-year-old has emerged as Minnesota's indisputable leader, both on and off the court, steering his team towards their first Western Conference finals appearance in two decades.

A Natural Leader Emerges

During Minnesota's commanding 45-point Game 6 victory, ESPN's cameras seemed to be fixated on Edwards. From his 11 points during a decisive 24-2 first-quarter run to his energetic gestures urging the crowd to keep cheering "Wolves in 7!", Edwards was at the center of it all.

These displays of leadership were pivotal in cementing the team's culture and driving Minnesota to their highest win tally since the 2003-04 season. Despite turning 22 just 10 months ago and still being on his rookie contract, Edwards' maturity and leadership stood out.

"I've never seen a leader who was able to just... he acts like he's 30," Timberwolves center Naz Reid told ESPN. "You would think he's 30."

In a first-quarter timeout during Game 6, Edwards, flanked by teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaden McDaniels, and Reid, emphatically reminded them, "This is what I was talking about the other day. We get a lead and get comfortable." Holding an NBA playoffs towel and a water bottle, he urged, "Keep your foot on the gas."

The Timberwolves did just that, maintaining a lead that never shrank below 12 points and ballooning to 50 midway through the fourth quarter. Edwards, who scored a game-high 27 points, later used his postgame interview to praise McDaniels for his performance.

Fostering Team Unity

Edwards' leadership extends beyond the court. After a disappointing Game 1, he texted his teammates, expressing dissatisfaction with his shooting and inviting them to join him for a late-night practice session at a local college. Reid, McDaniels, and Alexander-Walker responded, understanding that Edwards' invitation was more of a directive.

"That's what you want, right?" Reid reflected. "For your best player to lead by example, not words? ... We're all super young, but we all know that the sky's the limit for all of us, especially him obviously, but he wants to bring us along and that's dope."

When Towns underwent surgery on his meniscus in March and missed five weeks, the Timberwolves managed a 12-6 record. Speculation arose that the team might perform better without him. Edwards swiftly quashed such talk, ensuring Towns felt valued and included during his recovery.

"He's an uplifter," assistant coach Micah Nori said. "Everything he does is to try to uplift."

Anthony Edwards #5 and Karl-Anthony Towns #32
Anthony Edwards #5 and Karl-Anthony Towns #32© Getty Images/C. Morgan Engel

Edwards maintained close contact with Towns throughout his absence and publicly celebrated his return. Towns appreciated the gesture deeply.

Drafted first overall in 2015, Towns experienced a series of disappointing pairings with co-stars. When the Timberwolves drafted Edwards in 2020, it was a final attempt to find the right partner for Towns. The pairing exceeded expectations, forging a deep friendship and mutual respect.

"It's led to a friendship and a relationship that I don't think many people get to have," Towns said. "I don't know many NBA players that get to have the kind of relationship where you truly know that it's purely love for each other. As much as he wants to see me win is more. I want to see him win even more."