Anthony Edwards was the fourth-ranked recruit in the 2019 high school class .
I wrote prior to the season that he was likely to end up the most appealing prospect in this draft class in terms of superstar potential and his time in the NCAA didn’t dissuade most people out of that notion, as he’s currently ranked first on ESPN’s top 100.
In his one year at Georgia, the six-foot-five scoring guard averaged 23.1 points per 40 minutes with a 30.4% usage rate, establishing himself as the sort of volume shot creator NBA teams usually seek at the top of the draft.
He took 505 shots in 1,057 minutes last season, with only Markus Howard and Jordan Ford, among those on ESPN’s top 100, attempting more field goals over the course of the year.
It’s not just the ability to get shots off in volume that pushes him to the top of this class, though.
Edwards has also shown glimpses of promising shot creation for others in middle high pick-and-roll against a set defense. He is the fourth-youngest player in this class, only turning 19 in August, and has a strong and well-developed 225-pound frame in the context of his age and his height as well.
The drawbacks surround his remarkably poor shot selection, with his .473 effective field goal percentage standing out as bottom 15 mark on ESPN’s top 100, and his indifference to defense, which makes you ponder how the effects of his lack of effort in the margins might negatively impact his ability to elevate the level of the team he is in. ESPN’s Mike Schmitz had a staggering note in his video profile of Edwards; in his time in AAU, high school and college, the teams he’s been on never finished a season above .500.
It’s important to point out that the Atlanta native didn’t go to a powerhouse academy in high school, didn’t join a superstar program in AAU, and that Georgia had lost 21 of its 32 games the year before he went there, so it’s not as if it can be determined that the weak points in his game have been weighing down otherwise strong teams. But it is, nonetheless, a striking detail regarding someone who is probably going to end up drafted first, as is the fact that a prospect of his caliber has never been a part of USA Basketball in FIBA youth competitions.
Edwards is primarily a one-on-one scorer who mostly looks to launch jumpers off the bounce, as he was not seen getting all the way to the basket all that regularly in his time at Georgia. His 371 total shots away from the rim is the third-highest mark among those on ESPN’s top 100 who played in college last season, as he took just 26.5% of his live-ball attempts within close range .
Part of the problem was the team, which was unable to space the floor properly. Tom Crean did have them standing in all the right spots, but the shooters never really demanded much attention, as Georgia ranked 327th in the country in three-point percentage , so there was always a wall to go through.
But watching Edwards play, it’s pretty evident that some of the many pull-up jumpers he took can be considered a natural inclination to act as a gunner. It doesn’t look very good in the spreadsheet but thanks to his arsenal of dribble moves to create separation, there are plenty of highlights to generate interest in his potential as a shot-maker who can buy a basket outside the system.
He has a smooth pull-up package, getting shots off the dribble via crossovers, step-backs, hang dribble, jab steps, going between the legs, stopping on a dime and stepping through, often fading away on his jumpers to get an extra layer of separation.
His shot selection is tough to stomach, though. He shot just 29.6% on those 371 attempts away from the basket, which is the sixth-worst mark in this draft class, among those on ESPN’s top 100 who played in the NCAA last season.
There is hope Edwards will develop a better feel for attacking in an environment that offers better space to drive because he’s equally as resourceful getting by his man and touching the paint.
He’s not super shifty but has shown side-to-side shake and stop-and-start quickness, displaying fairly remarkable ankle flexibility on a nasty low crossover. Edwards is also adept at playing through contact, absorbing the hit and powering through while maintaining his balance and his momentum forward, thanks to his 225-pound frame.
Besides gaining ground on physical talent, there were also glimpses of advanced ballhandling with a lefty in-and-out dribble, court vision by avoiding driving into crowds and awareness by tucking the ball to protect it in traffic. His average of 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes might seem unappealing on the surface but his 12.9% turnover rate looks more palatable in the context of his 30.4% usage rate.
Edwards has flashed very appealing explosiveness at the rim. He can go up with power off one foot, not just in transition but in the half-court as well and not just with an open path to the goal but with a help defender stepping up to the front of the basket as well. He shot 100% on his 27 dunks , while averaging 1.02 such makes per 40 minutes.
When forced to maneuver his way through tight spaces, he’s shown the explosiveness to gallop into a two-foot leap with power, but also footwork to weave his way through the crowd and act as a rim-level finisher via euro-steps, spin moves and step-throughs.
Edwards can’t be considered an advanced finisher at this point of his development but he’s shown to be developing some versatility at the rim, flashing the use of his left hand on his way down, a short toss-in off a step-through and a right-handed finger-roll off a spin move – converting 60.8% of his 102 layups.
He’s shown to be adept at finishing through contact but hasn’t yet developed a knack for drawing contact and living at the foul line, which someone with his combination of frame and dribble moves is expected to. Edwards averaged 6.5 foul shots per 40 minutes, which is impressive on the surface, but his 33.9% free throw compares unfavorably to other prominent shot creators like Tyrese Maxey (34.2%), Nico Mannion (36.2%), Tre Jones (36.6%) and Cole Anthony (37.1%).
The touch in his finishes from the in-between area leave something to be desired for now but the dexterity with which he launches runners and floaters is enticing.
Edwards has shown promising traits operating in middle high pick-and-roll against a set defense.
He hasn’t yet developed a bag of tricks to manipulate the on-ball defender into the screen but can attack either side of the pick and has flashed a good feel for circling back to use the re-screen.
Edwards can mix in a hesitation move into a quick first step to get by the big man approaching him above the foul line but seems more comfortable getting to his spots around the elbow or dribbling into a pull-up three-pointer against conventional drop-back coverage.
Much like his work in isolation, there are highlights of impressive shot making. Edwards nailed 39 unassisted three-pointers in 32 appearances last season. His average of 1.48 unassisted three-point makes per 40 minutes is the second-best mark among those on ESPN’s top 100 who played in college.
As a passer, he’s more of a mixed bag. Edwards can at times deliver to the roll man over the top, on pocket passes around the foul line and on bounce passes off a live dribble. He is not the sort of passer who anticipates rotations and passes people open but has proven himself capable of launching crosscourt passes to the opposite end and jump-passes to the opposite corner on premeditated reads – assisting on 17.9% of Georgia’s scores when he was on the floor.
But he’s just as prone to missing the roll man entirely and, despite all the promise he’s shown in his best moments, his approach to the game doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his ability to create for others. His 1.05 assist-to-turnover ratio rates as quite pedestrian for someone who had the ball as much as he did.
Post Up Offense
Edwards showed some comfort taking smaller matchups to the post every once in a while.
He hasn’t yet developed as deep an arsenal of moves to create separation operating with his back to the basket as he has handling from the perimeter, most commonly looking to set up a basic fadeaway jumper turning over left shoulder.
Edwards flashed a little bit of quick thinking on post up-to-pass situations on occasion but can’t be considered a reliable option to create from others out of the low post at this point.
In theory, he figures to be a terrifying ballhandler in transition; an absolute train whose momentum can’t be stopped when he is running downhill unless you send multiple people to force the pass.
And Edwards has flashed good court vision in some of these instances, showing the dexterity to launch monster bounce passes on the run and properly engage the last line of defense before dropping off.
However, what was most common seeing him do in his time at Georgia was stop on a dime or dribble into a pull-up three-pointer in transition.
Off Ball Offense
There were highlights of Edwards nailing contested long-range bombs in his time at Georgia, but he is mostly only a capable open-shot shooter for now – hitting just 28.9% of his jumpers off the catch .
His release looks pretty fluid and very projectable on his best attempts, when he catches it on the hop and goes through compact mechanics with a release out in front but getting superb elevation off the ground to be able to shoot over most closeouts comfortably.
His worst attempts don’t look as good, when he elevates off 1-2 footwork and goes up-and-down with little weight transfer built into his approach.
Edwards took most of his jumpers off the catch on spot-ups and out of ball reversals but has flashed a little bit of versatility to his release on the move; relocating off giving up the ball in transition, jogging around pindown screens and off an escape dribble. But the efficiency is simply not there yet.
He was also weaponized curling off staggered screens and flashed a floater off a pindown at one point but his most productive way of contributing off the ball was via smart cutting, with over a third of his makes at the rim assisted. In fact, Edwards had more assisted makes at the rim last season than Kaleb Wesson, Freddie Gillespie, Killian Tillie and Naji Marshall.
Given his frame, his length and his agility, Edwards profiles as not only someone expected to be good in individual defense but the sort of defender who offers versatility to switch up and down the lineup.
In his best moments, when he properly applies his physical talent with enough effort, Edwards looks good. He bends his knees to get down in a stance, reaches around for strips, has several lateral slides in him to stay in front out on an island and against handoffs, defends with his arms up near the rim to wall up and boxes out his own man.
But it’s just as common to see him standing upright in a soft stance and either getting blown by from time-to-time or giving up after a couple of slides. Despite his frame, it’s rare to see him playing with enough physicality to leverage his strength into chesting up to contain dribble penetration through contact.
He looks like a good option to defend smaller players out in space but doesn’t hold up against the pick-and-roll, unable to get skinny through a screen at the point of attack and playing with very little tenacity, thus not being expected to make a real impact in terms of hustling in pursuit to make plays from behind.
Those limitations have also resulted in him struggling to negotiate pindown screens and prevent him from being considered an option to chase shooters around the floor.
Off Ball Defense
Edwards wasn’t of great help away from the ball in his one year at Georgia.
Other than a deflection helping against the roll man here and there, or jumping a passing lane on occasion (1.6 steals per 40 minutes), he was not an asset flying around the perimeter, though he did contribute to the rim protection process by acting as a threat to block a shot on a hard rotation – picking up 18 blocks in his 32 appearances.
Nonetheless, Edwards didn’t help clog driving lanes much, wasn’t very adept at switching on the fly to make up for breakdowns against people movement and was quite prone to losing his man relocating around the wing.
His best contributions came on the defensive glass but they happened within the context of Georgia playing most of the time without a physically developed big man, which opened up opportunities for everybody to punch above their weight in terms of rebounding, rather than materializing as a product of Edwards impressing with his toughness joining scrums to boxout bigger players – collecting 14.8% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season.