2019 NBA Draft Profile: Gauging Anthony Edwards’ Ceiling

Georgia’s high-flying wing Anthony Edwards owns some of the best physical gifts and skills in the 2020 NBA Draft class. Thanks to his agility and creativity, he’s made one of the strongest auditions for the No. 1 pick so far.

Through nine games, the 6’5” freshman shooting guard is posting 19.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists in just 29.2 minutes per contest. His 33-point second half against Michigan State in the Maui Invitational put him on the public’s radar, but he was already a must-watch for scouts, executives and all draft aficionados.

We know he’s an explosive weapon for coach Tom Crean’s Bulldogs, but exactly how good could he become in the NBA? How does he stack up against some of the other top draft prospects in recent years?

Let’s dissect the Atlanta native’s demonstrable skills, stats and traits, trying to identify which areas are conducive for growth in the NBA.

Scoring offense

Nov 27, 2019; Lahaina, HI, USA; Georgia Bulldogs guard Anthony Edwards (5) takes a shot against the Chaminade Silverswords in the second half during the final round of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Edwards’ greatest scoring strength is his combination of power, nimbleness and creativity when attacking the hoop. He has a quick first step, long strides to maneuver around challengers, and tremendous body control when elevating.

When aggressive and in attack mode, not much can stop Edwards from getting deep into the paint. He can dribble-drive hard with either hand and, although he’s right-handed, he’s shown glimpses of strong lefty finishes as well. Edwards is the type of guard who’s strong enough to score through contact and not just flail for a foul call. A little over a quarter of his shots are at the rim, and he’s converting 73.0 percent of those attempts (per Hoop-math).

He’s committed a couple of charges when he drives too recklessly, but he’s also shown the capability to avoid that most of the time. Edwards’ body control and deceleration help him make more calculated moves at the end of drives, rather than relying on sheer power. He can change directions on his way to the basket, and he can also change his scoring angle in mid-air.

If there’s one stat that best illustrates his talent as a driver, it’s his free-throw rate: Edwards is putting foes in foul trouble frequently, taking 5.8 charity tosses per game and 7.9 per 40 minutes.

Edwards is dangerous enough in a crowded collegiate half-court setting. But he’s exceptionally dangerous when in space. During transition or broken plays, he seems more like a 6’8” NBA star than a 6’5” freshman guard. The league’s pace and improved floor spacing will weaponize his’ creativity and acrobatics.

Like any NBA wing, Edwards’ slashing prowess will only be maximized if he establishes himself as a competent shooter. Fortunately, his ceiling is pretty high in that department too.

His decision-making and consistency all need some polishing. However, his shot-making ability and range are there. Edwards has hit 21 treys so far, some of them from NBA range. His second-half eruption against Michigan State was pretty much all the evidence we needed to know he has tangible potential as a marksman.

Edwards can get his shot off in nearly any situation because he gets off the floor quickly and bounces above most defenders. His shooting motion is a bit of a push instead of an ideal tossing motion, but it’s repeatable and he releases it fairly quickly.

Sam Vecenie of The Athletic explained that Edwards’ exceptional control over his feet and hips empowers him to execute jumpers that are off-limits to most other players:

Edwards is so good at keeping himself balanced and in rhythm, even when his hips aren’t square to the basket yet. And because he’s so good at his foot preparation and adjusting his hips on the fly, he can take and make shots from a variety of angles. The way he can get downhill with forward momentum quickly, stop on a dime and rise up… is impressive…

Edwards likes to set up his jumpers with a quick lefty dribble or a jab step, keeping his defender moving horizontally so he has space to rise and fire. Right now, he’s more comfortable executing those off-the-dribble jumpers than catch-and-shoot attempts. His catch-and-shoot footwork and execution just aren’t as polished, so that’s an area he must address if he wants to be a well-rounded 2-guard.

Edwards is also somewhat inefficient in the mid-post and mid-range. He’s shooting just 25.6 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-math, thanks to shaky shot selection and fundamentals. Sometimes he forces difficult shots when he’s trying to carry the Bulldogs’ offense. In many cases, a kick-out pass or drive to the rim would be wiser.

Nevertheless, his ability to elevate over opponents on post-ups and dribble pull-ups offers long-term value. Those are nice skills to have when you need them in a pinch.

Non-scoring offense

Scoring will always be Edwards’ top on-court attribute, but he’s heady enough to contribute in other ways. We’ve seen a few eye-popping passes from him that indicate he’ll be a valuable teammate in the right NBA environment.

Check out the vision and precision on this 45-foot dime in transition to Rayshaun Hammonds against Michigan State:

And here’s a less electrifying example, but one that shows his awareness and restraint on a drive-and-dish:

Edwards has done a solid job collaborating with teammates considering the roster’s mediocre talent level. He’s chipping in 3.0 assists per game, and 4.1 per 40 minutes—and that’s without high-caliber scorers to finish plays and space the floor.

Georgia doesn’t have anyone who’s scaring opponents from three-range this season (other than Edwards), and most of their rotation is unreliable or worse. None of Georgia’s key players are shooting better than 33.3 percent from deep. Therefore, Edwards is dealing with sub-optimal floor spacing. He’s working extra hard to create opportunities for himself and for his Bulldog comrades.

On a typical NBA roster, Edwards could be dynamic as a secondary facilitator. He has good court awareness for his age and position, and his slashing threat should open up opportunities for teammates. His ambidexterity helps him quickly feed open cutters and shooters.

However, he must take better care of the ball and curb the turnovers: He’s averaging 4.0 giveaways per 40 minutes, which his high for a non-point guard. I’m not too alarmed about the high turnover number, considering Edwards’ high usage rate (31.9 percent) and his overall production.

Edwards isn’t corralling many offensive boards so far this season (just 0.7 per game), but his ceiling is lofty in that department too. Given his physical gifts, he should out-rebound most other NBA 2-guards—a nice bonus for his suitor.

Offensive Ceiling

Edwards has an All-Star ceiling on offense if he puts it all togetheror even just most of it. His combination of slashing and shooting potential could make him the top scoring option on a playoff-caliber team.

I don’t envision him as a 6 or 7-plus assist guy in the mold of a peak Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. But he could still dish 4-5 assists per game in addition to 20-plus points, like a Donovan Mitchell or Victor Oladipo.

In the prime of his career, Edwards’ optimistic per-game production could look robust: 26-28 points, 4-5 assists, 4-5 free-throw attempts, 48-50 percent field-goal shooting and 35-37 percent three-point shooting.

Defensive Strengths and Concerns

Nov 26, 2019; Lahaina, HI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Cassius Winston (5) brings the ball up court against Georgia Bulldogs guard Anthony Edwards (5) during the second half of round two of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

While Edwards might not have quite as much natural defensive talent as a Wade or Oladipo, he could get there in his prime. His quick feet, long arms, strong frame and predatory aggressiveness could make him one of the most physically imposing 2-guards in the league.

As a one-on-one stopper, Edwards’ versatility stands out. His quick-twitch lateral movement and 6’8” wingspan make it difficult for drivers to get around him. His 225-pound physique slows down aggressive forays to the rim. Lastly, his vertical explosiveness disrupts all sorts of shots, even when he’s slightly out of position. He could rapidly develop into an upper-tier on-ball defender if he applies himself.

The only thing that could possibly prevent a player like Edwards from being consistently elite is indeed himself.

When his focus lapses, he makes mistakes and his defense isn’t airtight. Sometimes he’s overzealous trying to strip opposing ball-handlers, something that will burn him in the NBA until he gets more disciplined.

There’s a similar theme with Edwards’ off-ball defense. He shows flashes of terrific alertness, timing and positioning, which often manifest itself in bad shots or turnovers for opponents. On the flip side, he occasionally misses rotations or is out of position on the weak side.

We don’t have a huge sample size, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Edwards is snagging a bunch of steals by disrupting passing lanes and getting deflections. As long as he continues to learn when to gamble and when to stay home, he’ll grow into an invaluable team defender.

Assuming Edwards puts in the work, what does his defensive ceiling look like? His mix of lateral agility and size should effectively check most guards and wings in the league. He should be able to switch positions 1-3, giving his NBA coach lots of schematic flexibility.

Athleticism and long reach are more important than height in the modern NBA. So if Edwards stays in the weight room, he could even challenge small-ball 4’s in the post. He won’t be Marcus Smart, but even a low-calorie version of Smart is a handy asset.

Where does he stack up?

Nov 26, 2019; Lahaina, HI, USA; Georgia Bulldogs guard Anthony Edwards (5) takes a shot against Michigan State Spartans forward Julius Marble (34) during the first half of round two of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When you add up Edwards’ upside on both offense and defense, his candidacy for the No. 1 pick and eventual NBA stardom looks strong.

While someone like James Wiseman or LaMelo Ball may sway decision-makers in June, that doesn’t change Edwards’ long-term ceiling.

How does he compare to recent No. 1 prospect candidates? He’s somewhere below Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson and Karl-Anthony Towns, but definitely above wings like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Look for an impact and playing style that blends Donovan Mitchell, Victor Oladipo and Jimmy Butler.

Not a generational talent, perhaps, but one that’s really freaking good.