The start of Anthony Edwards’ college career at Georgia hasn’t been the grand coronation expected from a potential No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick. The freshman shooting guard entered the Maui Invitational shooting only 41 percent from the field. When he arrived in Hawaii, he started with his journey with a clunker against Dayton, scoring only six points in a blowout loss.
Edwards had an opportunity to redeem himself the next day against preseason No. 1 Michigan State, but he was off to another rough start: Georgia found itself down as many as 28 points and Edwards had only scored four points at halftime. That’s when he went nuclear.
Edwards dropped 33 second-half points, connected on seven threes, made multiple breathtaking defensive plays, and threw a transition bounce pass for an assist that might have been his most impressive highlight of the night. Georgia clawed all the way back to make it a two-point game, but would lose in the end. No matter: on national TV and in a gym packed with NBA scouts, Edwards announced his superlative talent to the world.
Edwards has been our No. 1 prospect since our first 2020 NBA mock draft in June. He’s remained in that position even before his breakthrough performance against the Spartans because he has the highest long-term ceiling of any player in the class. Edwards is just starting to learn how good he can be. The growing pains along the way only make the interspersed moments of greatness even more mesmerizing.
Edwards isn’t a household name like LaMelo Ball. He was never going to be a pantheon-level prospect like Zion Williamson. But amid a 2020 draft class that looks weaker than the last couple years, Edwards has a slight edge on North Carolina’s Cole Anthony for the best college hoops has to offer.
Edwards’ physical talent is undeniable
Edwards has two big things going for him as a prospect. The first one is youth: born Aug. 5, 2001, he will be among the youngest prospects in the draft. The second is a physical canvas that will allow him to compete with the best players in the world when it reaches its final form.
Edwards has similar measurements to Donovan Mitchell with a chiseled body currently listed at 6’5, 225 pounds, with a 6’9 wingspan. Everything he does is powerful. That sentiment mostly applies to his ability to attack the rim, but Edwards also uses that power to get in and out of crossovers and step-backs. This was gorgeous.
What. A. Performance. pic.twitter.com/MwHp88G6zP— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) November 26, 2019
Scouts wanted to see Edwards prove his shooting ability this year at Georgia. While it remains a work in progress, it’s clear he has a strong foundation to eventually become a dependable shooter. His mechanics are clean and consistent, his release is quick, and his footwork is already advanced for his age. Even if he’s never an elite shooter, he should be a capable one. Against Michigan State, Edwards’ shot-making display on some incredibly difficult looks was so impressive that it’s worth reconsidering just how high his ceiling is as a three-point shooter.
Edwards was too busy draining threes to show off his slashing ability against MSU, but he did put his physicality on display on the defensive end. Edwards ended the game with four steals and three blocks, leveraging his immense strength and athleticism to forcefully take the ball away from the Spartans. This is a rare play to make for any shooting guard, let alone one that’s 18 years old.
Monster rim rotation from Anthony Edwards then draws the foul. Wow. pic.twitter.com/wLQ8UyNtyD— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) November 26, 2019
Edwards feels like a ball of clay right now. The Atlanta native chose to stay home and play for a non-traditional power in part because head coach Tom Crean helped develop Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade, two athletic, similarly-sized players whose games took off at the college level.
It’s unfair to compare anyone to Wade, who is arguably the second-best shooting guard in NBA history (sorry, Kobe stans). Oladipo was one of the 15 or 20 best players alive when he was fully healthy for the Pacers. Edwards doesn’t need to be the next Wade or even Oladipo to be a success, but it takes a special kind of strength, explosiveness, body control, and coordination just to be mentioned in the same breath. These are the stakes he’s working with as an 18-year-old with this level of physical talent.
Edwards still has a lot to learn
The physical component is only one part of what it takes to become a star in the NBA. There’s also a huge degree of mental acuity required: players have to process defensive coverages, makes reads as a cutter, screener, and passer, and know where to be on the defensive end before a play even develops. In addition to that, a player has to be programmed to play hard every possession and to play for the team instead of himself.
These abilities fall under the broad strokes of “feel for the game” and “motor” in the scouting world. These are the areas where Edwards needs to continue to improve.
Edwards only had one block total in the five games he played before his breakthrough vs. Michigan State. He has a tendency to settle for bad shots too often with his jumper instead of using his physicality to get to the rim. He isn’t always attentive on the defensive end, especially when tracking his man around screens off the ball. These are little areas that add up to make a big difference.
There’s a reason it was a bounce pass from Edwards that stood out even while he was unconscious from three-point range. The vision to see it and the touch to throw it hint at what he can one day become when his full skill set is flushed out. The degree of difficulty on this pass is wild, and the alternate angle might be even better.
Insane pass from Anthony Edwards pic.twitter.com/0xc32TvY1c— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 26, 2019
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Edwards has time grow in all of these areas. A season in the SEC playing for Crean under the national spotlight will only help him on the little stuff. When the little stuff is straightened out, it should add up to a big impact.
Why Anthony Edwards is our No. 1 NBA Draft prospect
Edwards is 15 months younger than Cole Anthony. As a ball handler, he has the ability to impact the game as a lead offensive initiator in a way that Memphis’ James Wiseman can’t at center. Edwards is so much more explosive physically than Ball, he has higher defensive upside than Nico Mannion, he’s bigger than Tyrese Maxey, and he’s more capable as a scorer than international prospects Deni Avdija and Theo Maledon.
Edwards isn’t a flawless prospect, but he’s damn good. It takes a hell of a talent to put together a half like the one Edwards had against an opponent as good as Michigan State. We can’t wait to see where he takes his game from here.