The 18-year-old scoring wing Anthony Edwards is already among a select group in contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Combine the modern-day importance of players who can drive to the rim and either kick to shooters or create shots for themselves with the ever-valuable skill of isolation scoring and it’s clear why 18-year-old Anthony Edwards made the leap to Georgia this summer, reclassifying to the class of 2020 in the process. Few basketball players as young as Edwards are as gifted when it comes to shot creation and functional athleticism. The freshman is already among a select group in contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Everything starts for Edwards with what he does at full steam heading toward the basket.
Elite footwork, tight handle and monstrous athleticism simplify scoring
Like many of the best creators in driving situations in the NBA, Edwards is able to force his body low to the ground without sacrificing ball-handling ability or court awareness. Once he gets into the paint, he’s boinging around like Tigger in the Hundred-Acre Wood.
Edwards is a master of the Euro-step and hesitation dribble. Like a running back, he can head fake defenders out of their shoes. He gives the impression of changing speed even when he doesn’t, and dribbling through all of the misdirection is effortless. The young man is just a load to deal with if you only send one defender at him.
As seen in the clips above, Edwards is just as effective rejecting a screen and getting downhill as he is using the screen to eliminate his defender. Once in space, Edwards can stop on a dime, has solid footwork finding his footing on pull-up jumpers, and is just flat-out smarter than most of the young players he competed against in high school and AAU.
The basketball intelligence, at least when finding his own shot, is the primary thing that sets him apart from other gifted young scorers. Sure, Edwards can leap out of the gym and is more muscular and physically developed than most high school seniors, but he’s also a smart player. It’s not a surprise he was recruited by Tom Crean at Georgia, who has turned brainy athletes from Dwyane Wade to Nic Claxton into special prospects.
The next step for Edwards’ game is to grow as a playmaker for teammates. Most of the time, he beat his man in high school. When he didn’t, his athletic burst and the shake he possessed as a ball-handler were enough to create a fissure in the defense that made passes pretty simple. Against SEC competition, holes won’t open up as easily, teams will send piles of help defenders, and Edwards will need to be smarter about finding and executing next-level passes.
Here’s an example of an isolation play in AAU in which Edwards missed an incredibly ill-advised shot with shooters all around him:
In pick-and-roll, transition and post situations, Crean can create space for Edwards that allows the freshman to take advantage of his vision and create for others.
Shooting: Real or fake?
Another example of Edwards’ surreal intelligence is how twitchy he is in hand-down, man-down pull-up jumper situations. Shooting is Edwards’ second or third option after smashing dunks on guys. Still, he is aware at all times of moments in which he can launch jumpers against hapless defenders.
Edwards’ footwork is consistent (though his flailing lower body may need fixing by people at Georgia or the NBA who know a lot more about shooting mechanics than me), and his outside jumper looks mechanically similar to how he shoots from mid-range. The problem is Edwards takes a whole lot of these types of shots even when there are better opportunities available. The hope has to be that playing with four 4-star recruits at Georgia this season will lead to greater trust in teammates.
If Edwards can nail these shots at a solid rate, then maybe they’re reasonable attempts. Even a tiny amount of progress as a passer combined with his finishing ability and high-volume, deep 3-point efficiency would make Edwards a solid offensive player right away in the NBA.
Tools go a long way on defense
Non-big men rarely pop defensively in high school. Their potential impact as defenders is more theoretical than measurable, and Edwards is no exception. Long arms, a chiseled frame and high-level intelligence and athleticism should help him greatly. Coaching from Crean will help. But at this point in time, Edwards’ track record defensively is inconsistent.
No one is going to ask the hotshot scorer on an AAU team to lock down, so Edwards wandered around a lot for ATL Express. “Helping” on defense was mostly a swipe here or there from the weak side, always looking for the next transition opportunity.
In the few instances in which Edwards put in effort as a prep player, his tools flashed. Recovery in help situations is easy for him physically, and he can stay with mostly any perimeter player. When all else happens on time, Edwards will rise up for a nasty block. Again, with Crean’s track record bringing more out of Wade and Victor Oladipo, two similarly undersized but gifted defensive guards, we have to hope Edwards can glean enough in one season to improve on D at Georgia. But we won’t know for a bit.
Until Edwards can couple self-creation with more consistent pop as a passer, shooter or defender, he won’t separate himself as the clear top prospect. But it’s very possible that over the course of his freshman season, the youngest lottery prospect takes the top spot.