Wolves’ Edwards seizing openings to ‘manipulate’ defenses

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  • Chris Finch
    American basketball player-coach

OKLAHOMA CITY – As Anthony Edwards glanced down at the box score following the Timberwolves' 135-105 victory over the Thunder he said, "Efficient, baby."

Among the litany of stats Edwards called out to highlight for himself and his teammates was his seven assists.

Friday marked the fourth time in his career Edwards hit that mark, his career high.

"I know I can score the ball whenever I want, so now it's like I'm just trying to manipulate the defense," Edwards said. There were a couple plays I was telling the guys, 'I see you.' Then I make the pass and they make the shot. Just trying to manipulate the game at this point."

Edwards' ability to create for his teammates can be another step in the maturation of his game if he can play like that on a consistent basis. With teams paying more defensive attention to Edwards, this can be one way to counteract the additional pressure. That's a point coach Chris Finch was trying to hammer home to Edwards when the Lakers were double-teaming Edwards last week.

"When teams show these different coverages, it's showing them he has to get off of it," guard D'Angelo Russell said. "He has to trust guys around him sometimes. Being a young player, it's hard to realize when and when not to. When we're making shots around him, it's easy for him to just close his eyes and get off of them instead of making it harder than it has to be."

Of course, getting seven assists also depends on those teammates hitting shots. Russell was doing that Friday in knocking down 11 of 12. Edwards assisted Russell twice and also got Karl-Anthony Towns three easy buckets.

Finch said he was impressed with how Edwards learned from Wednesday's matchup against Oklahoma City to Friday's.

"He has the ability to make plays because he draws a crowd," Finch said. "They're loading up on him and he was off that thing nice and early, finding his teammates, driving and kicking, and yeah, so I think when you play a team in back-to-back situations, what's most important is that you learn. You see the defense and you learn, and he did a really good job of that."

Russell said he thinks Edwards can have seven assists or more on a nightly basis.

Defenses are going to keep keying on Edwards, and if they can hit those open looks — and Edwards can make the right decisions — it could help the Wolves take a step forward from their 23rd-rated offensive efficiency.

"Teams focus in on him so much to try to keep him out of the paint or wherever he's trying to go," Russell said. "They have to pay attention to him, so it's easy for guys to get a lot of catch-and-shoot looks."

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