Addressing the Biggest Questions About NBA Draft Prospect Anthony Edwards

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 27, 2020

Georgia's Anthony Edwards jogs down the court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The front office that selects first in the 2020 NBA draft will debate and consider Georgia's Anthony Edwards. He checks the talent box for a top pick with 6'5", 225-pound size and explosive athleticism. Skill-wise, he's highly advanced with sharp creation and three-level shot-making, strengths he backed up by averaging 19.1 points per game. But can he impact winning?

         

Stats over impact?

Georgia finished 13 out of 14 teams in the SEC standings. Edwards' style of play produces flashy highlight reels, but it doesn't always result in efficiency or performances that elevate the team.

"He'll struggle with called plays and slower ball," said one NBA executive. "AAU product. Low basketball IQ."

Karen Pulfer Focht/Associated Press

Edwards shot 40.2 percent overall and 29.4 percent from three with 91 assists to 87 turnovers. The analytics aren't approving either: 3.6 win shares and a 5.1 box plus-minus, both noticeably lower numbers than those of recent NCAA lottery picks.

The challenge in assessing where to draft Edwards stems from the perception that he's a lock to produce, but there are questions about whether his methods for producing come at a cost. Then factor age (18) and room/time to improve into the equation, plus the fact that this year's draft lacks obvious star power and sure-thing alternatives.

          

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Pull-up game and confidence: Gift or curse?

Edwards' signature shooting off the dribble has its pros and cons. The pull-up allows him to score regardless of who's defending, while his easy-to-ignite confidence leads to stretches of takeover offense.

It reminds scouts of NBA microwaves like Zach LaVine, Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker.

On the other hand, Edwards was one of 75 college players to attempt at least four pull-ups per game, and his 28.6 field-goal percentage on those shots was tied for 71st, per Synergy Sports.

He settles. He has trouble resisting hero-jumper urges. Despite possessing a special mix of power, quickness and explosion, he took 270 jump shots to 97 shots around the basket in the half court. He prefers the space away from the hoop. He's shown limited faith in his floater and short-range games, having shot just 5-of-22 on runners and 6-of-23 on jump shots inside 17 feet.

Teams have to decide whether they should question his frustrating shot chart and percentages—or if they should look past them and buy his 2.3 threes per game, special one-on-one package and chances of improving his execution and shot selection.

ATHENS, GA - FEBRUARY 19: Anthony Edwards #5 of the Georgia Bulldogs gestures during a game against the Auburn Tigers at Stegeman Coliseum on February 19, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

          

Inefficiency at Georgia: How much can be attributed to teammates, role and age?

For a potential top pick, Edwards' inefficiency would be historically low. But should scouts give him a pass based on his teammates, role and age?

Georgia played nine players at least 10 minutes per game, and Rayshaun Hammonds was the three-point leader among them at 35.0 percent. As a team, the Bulldogs tied for No. 326 in the country (30.0 percent), so it's fair to question the space Edwards had to work with.

He also registered a 30.4 percentage usage rate, the only power-conference freshman guard used in over 30 percent of his teams' possessions.

Edwards' 52.0 true shooting percentage and 47.3 effective field-goal percentage were on par with California's Jaylen Brown (51.8 TS, 47.1 EFG), the lowest among freshmen (since 2009) drafted in the lottery after being used in at least 30.0 percent of their college possessions. That short list includes RJ Barrett, Trae Young, Collin Sexton, Markelle Fultz, D'Angelo Russell and Jabari Parker.

         

Defensive asset or liability?

Strong defensive tools don't always translate to plus defense. Scouts saw both sides to Edwards at Georgia.

His strength, length and foot speed led to steals and recovery blocks. He's built to guard power wings or quicker ball-handlers. His lack of focus and effort were also evident in certain games. He'd lose his man off the ball or make lazy, flat-footed attempts to contest drivers as a help defender.

Should scouts put more stock in his potential or the lapses? Ben Simmons didn't always defend hard at LSU, and he turned into a valuable pro defender. At Kansas, Andrew Wiggins' defensive upside shined with his 6'7" size and lateral quickness, but defense hasn't been a strength in his NBA career.

If you're expecting Edwards to have trouble making reads or staying engaged, how much should it reflect on his overall evaluation? If you think he's going to give opposing wings trouble with his positional tools and athleticism, and that the inconsistency at Georgia was more of a result of immaturity that's improvable, how much does that upgrade Edwards' outlook as a two-way player?

ATHENS, GA - FEBRUARY 19: Anthony Edwards #5 of the Georgia Bulldogs gestures to the crowd in the final minutes of a game against the Auburn Tigers at Stegeman Coliseum on February 19, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

          

Better fit: Veteran or young team?

Edwards' fit and role could factor heavily into his effectiveness and value after his first few seasons.

Is he better off going to a younger (weaker) team where he'll absorb a higher usage and receive more reps early? That situation could resemble Booker in Phoenix. Edwards would put up numbers faster and receive immediate experience working as a top option. But he'd also be vulnerable to falling back into bad habits with a greener light.

Or would Edwards benefit from joining a veteran team with a strong supporting cast, like Jayson Tatum did in Boston? His shot selection would naturally tighten in Golden State playing alongside All-Stars—he just wouldn't be as involved early. And throughout this past season, there were games when Edwards became passive if the offense wasn't running through him.

Teams on the clock that feel he's the best player available must envision how he'll fit before determining if that answer should influence their decision to draft him.

Should the Warriors worry about adding another wing to a roster that already has Wiggins, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Should teams with more blank-canvas rosters (Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks) think twice about building around a guard who struggles with inefficiency and making others better?

         

Edwards in the draft

Despite concerns, Edwards sounds locked into the draft's top three, a projection that can't confidently be used for any other prospect. With a couple of inches on Mitchell, 25 more pounds than LaVine, superior explosiveness to Booker and moves/shots from each of their bags, the eye test sees a pro scorer.

In this particular draft, that guaranteed scoring holds extra value. LaMelo Ball shot 37.3 percent through 12 games in Australia. James Wiseman lasted three games at Memphis. Dayton's Obi Toppin has already turned 22.

Practically every lottery team has room for an additional scorer, so fit won't be a reason why anybody passes.

The questions with Edwards' focus on whether he's built to lead an NBA offense, whether he can reduce the mental mistakes and what fit would optimize his particular brand of scoring.

         

Stats courtesy of Sports Reference and Synergy Sports.


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