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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Whether Edwards is ready or not, his bright future is already arriving

Anthony Edwards (Wikipedia)

By James L. Edwards III / The Athletic

Anthony Edwards, a guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, can be silly, lovable, intelligent, country. He is also a competitor, a trash talker. He wears it all, loudly and proudly.

Add that up and you have a star. Throw in his 43 points in a 106-99 win over the defending champion Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Saturday -- which followed a 40-point performance in a 122-116 victory over the Phoenix Suns on the previous Sunday, which gave the Timberwolves a sweep of their first-round NBA playoff series -- and you start to enter superstardom.

Yet, Edwards, 22, is afraid to go there. For as honest, brash and confident as he is, there is an underlying bashfulness in him when it comes to talking about his stature within the sport.

A year ago, before a first-round loss to the Nuggets, Edwards said he could not consider himself a young star until he “wins in the playoffs.”

A year later, he did it. Edwards, whose nickname is Ant, not only won in the playoffs, but he was the alpha in a first-round series that featured Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, his favorite player. Edwards led his organization to heights it had not seen in 20 years, the second round of the NBA playoffs. He did it with rim-rattling dunks, a sweet shooting stroke, gnaw-your-arm-off defense and leadership, all while giving an earful to Durant, a player he has looked up to since he was 5.

It is what stardom looks like.

“Nah, not yet, man,” Edwards said Sunday. “Not yet.”

When you score 40 points in a series-clinching victory, on the road, you’re a star. When you played 79 regular-season games and were the best player for a team that was one game short of having the top record in your conference, you’re a star. When you’re one of 12 players picked to represent your country in the Olympics, you’re a star. When you make everyone laugh every time you’re in front of a microphone, you’re a star.

“He’s the face of the league,” teammate Karl-Anthony Towns said. “He hates when I say it, but it’s true. Like I said, ‘Future so bright, got to put the sunglasses on.’”

Regular players do not decide to dominate when they have a chance to end their opponent for good. They do not have that ability. Stars shoot 11-of-15 from the floor for 31 points in the second half when their team is trailing at halftime, as Edwards did Sunday. Stars get on their other star teammates amid the chaos when they do something wrong, as Edwards did when Towns committed an unnecessary foul with the game in the balance.

Edwards cannot run from it anymore. If he does not want to be a star, he should stop playing like one.

“He rises to the occasion,” Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson said.

Stars also make their teammates better. That’s the point of having a star. The gravity of one person makes the existence of others more meaningful.

Edwards picked apart the Suns’ defense as a playmaker. The 40 points will make the headlines, but he also had six assists with only two turnovers in 41 minutes.

There were signs throughout the season, but it was in the series against Phoenix that Edwards blossomed as a creator for others. There were times early in his career when it felt as if he passed because he had to. There was nowhere else for him to go.

As the season went on, and this playoff series played out, Edwards was welcoming defensive blitzes so that he could create advantages to make the pass to an open man and get his teammates involved in the flow of the game.

But, yeah, Edwards is not a star.

“He is a good person,” said Micah Nori, a Minnesota assistant coach who filled in for coach Chris Finch after a collision on the sideline in the fourth quarter left him with a leg injury. “And what I mean by that is, they trust him. He’s got some self-humor. You’ve seen all of his interviews. He’s the first one to congratulate and move all of his glory over to his teammates. They all love him.

“When he plays, makes the right play, and they know he cares, not only about himself but the team. He’s done a good job of stepping up in that regard.”

Edwards can keep running from the label all he wants, but if he does not want to embrace it out of fear of being content, then it will never go away. His mindset is correct. His intentions are good. But it’s impossible for anyone with two eyes and a pinch of sense not to see a star when looking at Edwards.

There is no point in even asking Edwards about it anymore. He has spoken, with his play and his personality.

“He’s my favorite player to watch,” Durant said of his star pupil after the Timberwolves’ completed the first-round sweep two Sundays ago. “He’s just grown so much since coming in the league. At 22, his love for the game shines so bright. That’s one of the reasons I like him the most: because he just loves basketball and is grateful to be in this position.

“He’s going to be someone I follow for the rest of his career.”

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