In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this installment, we break down the play of Georgia guard Anthony Edwards.
Even optimists readily admit that University of Georgia guard Anthony Edwards is a frustrating player. Having a football player’s physique at 6’5 and 225 pounds, one would expect him to be a problem on drives, since he can simply overpower defenders on his way to the basket. And you would largely be correct, since he shoots 69 percent at the rim. The problem is he doesn’t seem to think that’s what he should do on the basketball court, since shots at the rim account for only about 27 percent of his overall attempts.
Too often, Edwards settles. In his scouting report on Edwards, Mike Gribanov of The Stepien light heartedly points out that Edwards takes a lot of “45+” shots, which are composed of feet away from the basket plus time left on the shot clock. These shots generally accomplish little, since they aren’t efficient looks and don’t involve teammates.
This introduction is not intended to condemn Edwards as a prospect, but to supply the context for a critical discussion of his merits. An optimistic case for Edwards builds from the concession that he needs to hone his tendencies to succeed. And personally, I find the optimistic case for Edwards to be compelling, particularly in a class such as this one with few obvious bets for star upside.
It’s extremely rare to find a power athlete like Edwards with legitimate pull-up shooting ability. Although his three-point percentage was below 30 percent in college, it should be pointed out that less than half of his made threes were assisted, and he attempted almost 250. Of course his efficiency will need to improve, but the high level shot creation is already there. In the playoffs, it’s easy to see how important it is to have players who can create and make difficult shots. Bearing this in mind, we can see the bullish case for Edwards.
In the NBA, Edwards will need to find more balance. I think his shooting is better than the percentages suggest, and he has the upside to be a prolific scorer. However, as we’ve seen in the case of Zach LaVine, simply being a great scorer does not elevate a team. Whether Edwards possesses the self awareness needed to improve in critical areas is an open question, but if he does, I do think he has the potential to be a No. 2 option on a contender if things bring right for him.
- Simply a scorer. It’s not hard to imagine Edwards being a big time scorer in the NBA, if not necessarily a highly efficient one. For all the frustrations regarding his decision making, he can pull off the spectacular, perfectly encapsulated in his second half against Michigan State in which he scored 33 of his 37 points in an unstoppable performance. He’ll need to shoot better and do a better job of involving teammates, but he can reach great heights as a scorer.
- Has few peers as an athlete, resembling more of an NFL linebacker than an NBA shooting guard. He possesses awesome vertical pop off two feet. The combination of his strength and creation off the bounce is tantalizing. Again, if he puts it all together, watch out.
- Despite his tendency to jack threes, his shot profile isn’t that terrible. Per Hoop Math, only 25 percent of his shots were two-point jumpers, so his shot profile is at least friendly in that regard. It comes down to reining in his excesses as a jump shooter.
- Devastating transition offense player. One of the best transition players in college basketball, Edwards is well suited to play at a high tempo. He’s a freight train.
- Not a good defender at all right now. For those who have seen less of him, that might come as a surprise because he looks like a good defender. He isn’t. Rarely engaged on defense, Edwards plays with an inconsistent motor. I don’t think he’s hopeless as a defender or anything, but needs to improve his awareness and consistency.
- With it already established that he is not currently a good defender, he absolutely has the potential to be one, having excellent tools. When locked in on-ball, Edwards can be a menace. He’s got quick hands and logged a respectable 2.3 percent steal rate. There is a mold here to work with. A good organization with proper development will seek to shape it.
Fit with the Hawks
In my opinion, Edwards fits better with the Hawks than any other realistic destination for him. For the simple reason that Trae Young has a guaranteed usage rate of over 30 percent, Edwards will have less opportunities to indulge his worst instincts. With a top offensive engine already in place, the Hawks are better equipped to develop Edwards in a more controlled environment.
Over the long haul, Atlanta will need to find a second star to pair with Young. Of course, it’s possible that player could already be on the roster, but it’s smart to keep swinging until you get a hit. When you look at Atlanta’s current young core, there are some questions about their collective self-creation — that is, their ability to get their own shots independent of Young. While his efficiency is still an open question, Edwards’ ability to get his own shot is not.
Owing to upside, Edwards is the top player on my board for the Hawks specifically (and a top two player for me overall). A Georgia native, Edwards also adds hometown appeal (not a bad quality to have in an era of nomad stars). While his defensive fit next to Young is suspect due to his poor defense in college, Edwards at least has the tools to excel on that end that a Tyrese Haliburton does not.
All in all, while a flawed prospect for someone projected to be selected in the top three, Edwards still offers a promising case for upside due to his remarkable physical tools and his high level self creation. Currently slated to pick at No. 6 overall, Atlanta will not be able to select Edwards without trading up barring some bizarre draft night machinations causing him to fall. Trading up is always a tricky business, and doubly so with a player of Edwards’ flaws; however, if the cost is reasonable, the Hawks might find it in their interest to take a chance on a hometown star.