Is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards a Worthy #1 NBA Draft Pick?

The 2020 NBA Draft has no clear #1 draft pick. Will Anthony Edwards be the belle of this year’s very underwhelming ball?

Brandon Anderson
Aug 20, 2020 · 19 min read

THE NBA DRAFT LOTTERY IS TONIGHT, and some lucky NBA team will win the #1 pick and their choice of the best college and international basketball prospects. The Golden State Warriors were the worst team in the NBA this season. They have the best odds for the #1 pick along with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, each at 14.0%. The Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Chicago Bulls are next, and seven other teams have a combined 18% chance at stealing the #1 pick.

Last year’s Draft Lottery was a literal lottery. The New Orleans Pelicans won the right to draft Zion Williamson, who was already a top-10 asset before ever stepping on an NBA court. This draft has no Zion, nor a Ja Morant. No 2020 NBA Draft prospect would have even been considered before those two last year, and I’m not sure anyone would go in the top three of the last five drafts.

Georgia’s Anthony Edwards is one of three names often seen atop mock drafts around the internet, along with LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman. I already made my case against Wiseman as a #1 pick. I don’t think he’s close and don’t even have him in my lottery right now.

Edwards is a much better prospect and a near lock to be drafted top five on draft day, if not #1. So who is Anthony Edwards, what are his strengths and weaknesses, and should he be the #1 NBA Draft pick?

EDWARDS’S BIGGEST STRENGTHS

His athleticism and body

Much like James Wiseman, the best thing about Edwards is his raw profile. There’s no way around it: Anthony Edwards looks like an NBA star. He’s 6'5 with long arms and a strong physical core, especially for a kid who just turned 19 this month.

Watch an Edwards highlights package and you’ll see an NBA player. Tune into any Georgia game and it’s immediately apparent which guy on the court is supposed to be the #1 draft pick. That matters. Edwards looks the part.

His body has pushed many to make the Victor Oladipo comparison. Edwards is so strong, especially for his age, and his strength should let him play bully ball and plow his way to the basket. His frame and wingspan also give him huge defensive potential, and the shot, when it’s wet, is very pretty. Edwards has that silky smooth, the effortlessness Tracy McGrady exuded, and he’s an excellent front runner who loves to play off the crowd and go for the kill shot.

Anthony Edwards looks like a future star.

His raw skills at his age

In any Edwards game, you’re certain to get at least two or three jaw-dropping flash moments that pop and look like a future NBA star.

I watched 12 full Anthony Edwards games this year, and the word “flash” was in my notes for seven of them. Here’s a small sampling of my notes:

  • “Flash moments so good. So young he can figure this out.” (vs MSU)
  • “A couple jaw-drop plays. Dominated physically against (probable 2020 lottery pick Tyrese) Maxey when matched and attacked. Gets hot especially at home. A tremendous front runner. Jump shot is *chef’s kiss* when he’s on. The flashes make me certain he has to go #1…” (vs UK)
  • “Clear NBA flashes” (vs Auburn and likely top-10 pick Isaac Okoro)
  • “When he gets fired up and engaged, it genuinely feels like he can do anything he wants on the court” (vs Arkansas)
  • “Crossover Euro-step reverse layup, just a jaw-drop, clear NBA play” (vs Alabama, see clip below)

When you watch a young prospect, it’s important to remember you’re not watching anything close to a finished product. The flashes matter more than the mundane in between. Anyone can be coached to play the in-between moments, but only a select few can have those flashes.

If you just took the five best Edwards plays from every game and put them on a highlight reel, I’m certain you’d think he’s a future star.

All the better that he’s making these plays as a kid. Edwards is one of the youngest players in the draft. Had the draft been in June like normal, he would still have been 18, meaning all of the notes above came from games he played as an 18-year-old freshman.

It’s important to remember that as we get to the long list of weaknesses to come. Edwards’s age is one of his greatest strengths. Cole Anthony is almost two full years older, and Obi Toppin is practically old enough to be his father. Is Edwards better than those players right now? That’s not the right question. The question is whether he’ll be better in two years than Cole Anthony is right now, and that question has a pretty easy answer.

Youth is potential and upside and time to develop. Youth is huge.

Edwards is a pure scorer

If you went back to the 90s when everyone was trying to find their own Michael Jordan at shooting guard, Edwards would be a clear top pick. He’s a natural scorer and a guy that can fill it up at all three levels.

One skill Edwards has that can’t be taught is his natural shake. Edwards can get his shot off anytime, anywhere, against any defender. That skill alone is going to make him hundreds of millions of dollars at the next level, no matter how much the rest clicks.

NBA teams will always place tremendous value on the ability to create your own shot. I think it’s an overvalued and certainly overpriced skill, but it portends well for Edwards’s bank account. When the game comes down to the final minutes, Edwards will always be able to get a shot up.

Much of the time, that’s a pull-up jumper. There’s very little defense for Edwards’s pull-up. He has the strength to shake off the defender, the quickness to side step or juke, and the quick leap ability to rise and fire. And hoo boy does Edwards love that pull-up . That’s his bread and butter, his moneymaker. When Anthony Edwards gets going and feeling good, you better believe you’re getting a shake-and-bake and a pull-up.

Edwards is more confident in that jumper than anything else, and so many of his points come from pull-ups off the bounce. Those aren’t particularly efficient shots right now, but his ability to get to them is a clear NBA skill and far more valuable in the NBA than it was at Georgia. That jumper looks wet when it’s falling, and he has clear NBA range. He’s going to take a lot of mid-range pull-ups, and he fits well in an NBA moving more and more toward dribble pull-up threes.

Edwards also uses his strength to get to the rim. He’s a good finisher who can finish through the defender and use both hands at the rim. Edwards made 68% of his shots at the rim, under half of them assisted (so they’re more difficult, self-created looks). I wish he attacked the rim more often, because it sure looks like he should be a beast of an attacker, and I wish he drew more fouls and got some easier and more efficient looks. But the ability appears to be there, if Edwards can be coached to make better decisions.

We’ll get back to that.

He flashes passing and playmaking potential

I’m not positive this is a significant strength, but there are flashes. Edwards is not a future point guard, and get outta here with the James Harden comparison. Harden is a top 25 all-time player, and it’s not fair comparing anyone to him as a 19-year-old. Edwards is not James Harden.

He does have some passing skill though, and it’s one area I see really strong instincts. Edwards has huge potential in transition, and some of his best passes came there when he was on the move and didn’t have time to think, just act. I loved his passing against Mississippi State, with some nice reads and real mustard on the ball in the flow of the game, and he had good reads in the half-court offense against Memphis. My favorite Edwards play in the breakout Michigan State game was not all the jumpers he hit, but rather a great fast break read bounce pass through four defenders.

This is not a primary ball handler. Edwards is a scorer through and through. But he’s going to have the ball a lot, and he has some nice passing chops if he can learn how to make the right decisions and reads.

Okay, so that’s the upside. What are the shortcomings? If you’ve been reading closely, you’ve probably already picked up on a few of them…

EDWARDS’S BIGGEST WEAKNESSES

His defense doesn’t match his potential

Victor Oladipo is the most popular draft comp for Edwards, but I don’t buy it because of the defense. Oladipo was a terrific defender at Indiana and an all-around contributor, even when his shot is not falling.

On the ball, when he’s engaged, Edwards is a strong defender. He has the frame of a wing, and his body and athleticism give him big defensive potential. When Edwards is motivated to stop the man with the ball, he can swallow him up. And, consistent with his profile, he has some great flash plays with big athletic blocks or steals.

But those highlights don’t show the real Edwards on D, the one who falls asleep in team defense and consistently loses his man. Edwards loves to make the big play, which causes him to gamble for a steal he sometimes gets but puts him out of position far too often — think Russell Westbrook.

Edwards is constantly losing his man, and he hasn’t figured out that defense is not just played by the one guy defending the ball. That’s a problem on both ends for Edwards. It’s like he hasn’t learned that basketball is a team game involving all five guys, like he thinks only the ball matters at any given time. He has poor off-ball awareness and doesn’t get back in transition D.

There’s potential here, especially on the ball, but he’s going to need a lot of coaching to get there. That’s not a death knell for someone so young. Edwards’s size and defensive potential make him an intriguing fit next to a point guard like Trae Young, letting Edwards defend the point of attack and hide Trae off the ball against a weaker player.

But he needs to learn team defense too. That’s even more important.

The questionable shot-making

If you read closely above when I talked about Edwards’s jumper, I always specified that it looks great when it’s falling. But does it fall enough?

That remains to be seen. Edwards shot 4-of-17 against Memphis. He was 2-of-13 in his final game in the SEC Tournament, with only six points in 40 minutes against a bad Ole Miss squad. He scored 18 on 15 shots and struggled physically against Auburn, including 2-of-9 on threes. Edwards is one of those guys that can hit a landslide of jumpers, like he did against Michigan State, or go completely cold or MIA for an entire half.

For the season, Edwards shot 40.4%. That’s not great. He made just 29.4% of his threes but attempted almost eight per game. Hi again, Westbrook! It’s theoretically good that Edwards is so confident in his jumper. It’s almost always a good sign for shooting potential when a player is willing to shoot (and given the green light from the coach). But those are really rough numbers. Edwards made 77.2% of his free throws and has a very nice stroke. That’s much more encouraging.

Per Stepien shot charts, Edwards made 34% of his threes above the break, much better than his ugly 20% on the wings, most of them from NBA range and more than half self-created. He shot only 30% from mid-range including an ugly 25% on long twos with far too many attempts. Just under half of Edwards’s shots this season were threes, and he didn’t get to the rim or line nearly enough. His 52% true shooting is poor for a volume scorer, even at his age.

Edwards is a three-level scorer, but how valuable is that scoring if the shots aren’t dropping? The shot always looks good out of his hand, but I felt like far too many of Edwards’s shots hit the outside of the rim, often left or right.

Not a great sign, but many of those looks were very difficult shots. Hopefully he’ll shoot better with better teammates and looks, and he was terrific in catch-and-shoot situation — he just didn’t have many of them. There’s reason to believe in his shot, but the results are inconsistent at best for now.

He floats in and out of games and doesn’t impact enough

Any Edwards profile is sure to start with that Michigan State game in Maui. Edwards went full on Damian Lillard in the second half, single-handedly dragging Georgia back from down 28 to within two in a 10-minute window with 28 second-half points and a full on barrage of jumpers. Those 10 minutes basically cemented Edwards as a top-five pick.

But what about the 24 minutes before? In those minutes, you’d never know Edwards was a first-round pick, let alone a potential #1. He was invisible, and that was the case far too often this season for a player this talented. Edwards’s aggression comes and goes in waves, and I don’t see a raw hunger.

In the MSU game, his coach challenged him to guard Cassius Winston in an effort to engage him. That worries me. This is Michigan State in Maui on national television! You shouldn’t need any extra motivation.

In another huge spot against Memphis with a gym full of NBA scouts, Edwards was again too quiet. He took 17 shots but many were just waiting for his turn and jacking up a contested jumper. Where’s the fight and killer instinct? I’m not sure Edwards knows how to impact the game when he doesn’t have the ball. Too often he just stands there at the arc waiting (Hey again, Russ!).

Georgia’s Tom Crean was also the college coach for Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Wes Matthews. Those three are great NBA shooting guards, like Edwards hopes to be, and all three are known for their tremendous work ethic and for maximizing every ounce of their ability. I’d love to give Crean some truth serum and ask him how Edwards’s work ethic and fight compares to those three. Pretty sure I already know the answer.

Edwards struggled against long, physical defenders like Florida’s Scottie Lewis or Auburn’s Isaac Okoro, two are terrific NBA defenders, but guess what? There’s a lot of NBA defenders in the NBA. Too many times, Edwards got taken out of a game physically. Too many games, he just floated through an entire half and only took a couple of shots. You’re Anthony Edwards and your team stinks! Get some shots up!! I can’t even count how many times Georgia blew a late lead this season. Where was the killer instinct from Edwards to take over late and get that winning bucket?

After the season, I watched the McDonald’s All-Star Game from before the college year. Edwards didn’t stand out or make his mark in that one either. You’re playing against the best players in high school, dude! Why don’t you care? Serious Andrew Wiggins vibes, and that is not a compliment.

His lack of basketball IQ and decision-making skills

The mental side of the game is by far my biggest concern with Anthony Edwards. I just don’t trust him.

It’s always tough to judge the mental side of the game from the other side of your television. I obviously have no way to know how hard Edwards works in practice and can’t in good faith question his heart or his desire to win. Teams will have to test that for themselves in interviews with Edwards and his teammates. All we can do at home is judge what we see on the court.

And it’s not just the heart. The much bigger and more obvious problem is the lack of basketball IQ and high-level decision making.

As a physical specimen, Edwards has all the natural talent in the world. But I don’t see any natural feel for the game of basketball. That’s a problem. He’s a preternatural talent, but the instincts aren’t there.

Edwards reacts to the game in front of him instead of pre-acting. The best NBA players anticipate what’s coming before it happens. Right now, Edwards can use his athleticism to make up for that split second he lost waiting to recognize a play or find an open man or driving lane. At the next level, that athletic advantage is gone, and the other smarter player will already have moved into that open passing or driving lane.

That ability to be an excellent front runner? I feel like it could drive a coach crazy. Edwards’s version of hero ball is a lot of dribble pull-up heat checks. As Jeff van Gundy likes to say, there’s another word for a heat check: a bad shot. Watch those shots against Michigan State sometime. They’re horrible shots for anyone not named Steph or Dame. They’re Edwards feeling the crowd and playing like he’s at an AAU game, shots that get almost any other kid benched.

Edwards needs to work on his shot selection in a bad way. It’s great that he can always get his shot off, but I almost wish he was 20% less confident in that ability. Maybe then he’d put the ball on the floor and attack the rim more often, get to the line, and improve his efficiency. And yes, naysayers, efficiency matters. I’m not excited about a volume scorer that puts up 21 points on 19 shots. That’s not going to help a great team. Do it on 12 shots instead with a few threes and a bunch of boring free throws and now we’re talking.

The brighter the spotlight got — and there admittedly wasn’t much of one on Georgia this season — the more I questioned Edwards’s decisions. He had a terrible intentional foul down three with under a minute to play against Alabama. In another game, he had two ugly turnovers late including one where he just flat out had the ball stripped right off of him.

The mental side of the game is the problem on defense, too. Edwards doesn’t stay engaged enough, and team defense is all about understanding the game and making good decisions. Edwards loses his man instead and is forced to react instead of pre-acting, and in the NBA, that will be too late.

Again, it’s really important to remember that Anthony Edwards is young and raw and not a finished product. I do not want current Anthony Edwards on my NBA team. If I’m drafting him, I’m drafting the raw tools and profile and hoping my coach and staff can teach him the rest.

In many ways, Anthony Edwards is a potential #1 pick but also a project. He’s not going to be a winning basketball player on a good team for years to come.

OVERALL NBA EVALUATION

What is Anthony Edwards in the NBA?

Edwards is a scoring guard who will likely be a volume scorer and a decent but not great shooter. He’s one of those guys a typical NBA fan will probably like a lot more than me because he’s going to put up numbers, and those numbers are going to get him paid.

Edwards is more of a scorer than a pure shooter. He’ll need time on the ball and he’s going to get buckets. And he’s going to get them mostly for himself.

It’s not normal for a shooting guard to go #1 in the draft. Even Michael Jordan went #3. In fact, unless you count Allen Iverson, Edwards would be the first shooting guard to go #1 in the draft since Doug Collins in 1973.

Where does Edwards fit?

As a lead player on a bad team, I really worry about Edwards. Typically that’s what a top draft pick would be. I don’t want Edwards playing hero ball on a young team with bad teammates. I don’t think he’ll ever be a franchise player or a #1 option.

As a second or third player, I’m more intrigued. And in this year’s draft, we just happen to have a bunch of teams near the top of the draft where Edwards could enter a positive team situation as the second or third best player.

The Warriors, Hawks, and Timberwolves in particular are interesting fits. Those were three of the four worst teams in the NBA this year, and they have a combined 40.5% chance at the #1 pick, but they’d each be adding Edwards to an already existing core.

All three of those teams have a good point guard to facilitate the offense, so Edwards doesn’t have to do that. All three already have a scoring engine or two to lead the way. You don’t want Edwards initiating the offense. We saw that at Georgia and it was inconsistent and frustrating. Maybe that develops later, but it’s not the role for him right now and not what I want him developing as he learns the NBA game.

For the Warriors, Wolves, and Hawks, Anthony Edwards can be a third scoring option. He’s never going to take more shots than Steph and Klay, DLo and KAT, Trae and Collins, and if he tries to, he’ll get benched. But he can benefit by doing more with less.

Show me you can use 10 or 12 shots efficiently in the flow of an offense first. I don’t want to see 21 on 19 shots. If a team like the Cavs, Knicks, Pistons, or Bulls get the top pick instead, that’s what I’d fear. Edwards is also a good cutter and spot-up shooter. He didn’t get to do much of that at Georgia, where he didn’t have much help.

You wouldn’t normally draft someone #1 to not have much of the ball, but this is not a normal draft. There’s not the typical talent at the top, and the teams picking at the top don’t typically have this much star power already. Edwards can fit some of these teams specifically by not being a star.

Edwards will be extremely team dependent in the NBA. I’ll like him far more or less depending on where he lands. He badly needs a team with a strong development program and a smart coach to push him the right way.

Who is his NBA comp?

Everyone loves a good comparison, and I already threw out Victor Oladipo. Edwards just doesn’t match Dipo’s defense or all around game and feel. I mentioned Russell Westbrook a few times, but that’s not a comp I’d make either, outside of the frustrating mental parts of the game.

I’d compare Edwards to some 90s scoring guards, since that’s sort of the mold he’s in. Mitch Richmond comes to mind, if the shot improves. Maybe a cross between Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, only a little worse at the things they do best. Stephen Jackson or Michael Finley could work, but both of them only got valuable once they learned to D up. Michael Dickerson didn’t last long with injuries, but he also fits.

More recently, Joe Johnson’s game feels similar. Iso Joe was a walking bucket who could always get his shot, but it’s interesting that the best teams Johnson were on were those early Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns when he was in a complimentary role.

What about R.J. Barrett? Edwards is younger than Barrett was with more natural skill and athleticism and a wetter shot, but Barrett had more polish as a prospect and is far better with the ball in his hands. Both have similarly maddening mental lapses.

I think if you’re drafting Anthony Edwards at the top of the draft, you’re maybe hoping for something like Donovan Mitchell or Bradley Beal.

Beal was super young coming out of Florida and took years to hit this All-NBA level, but and he had similar shooting percentages to Edwards in college. Mitchell is far more dynamic with the ball driving to the rim, but those are skills you can see Edwards developing. Neither is a great NBA defender, like Oladipo, but both can hold their own on the right team.

Is Anthony Edwards worth the #1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft?

That’s a complicated question.

It depends partly on which team wins the pick. If it’s Golden State, Minnesota, or Atlanta, they’ll have to take a long, hard look at Edwards. Teams don’t get a top-three draft pick often, and none of those three teams will be picking at the top of the draft again anytime soon. Adding quality players is nice, but the NBA is about stars and sometimes you have to take a risk on star potential.

Is Anthony Edwards a #1 pick?

It doesn’t feel like it. If you made it this far, it should be pretty clear that I have serious doubts about his game. He’s not Zion Williamson, not Ben Simmons or Karl-Anthony Towns.

If you’re asking me if Anthony Edwards feels like a #1 pick, then the answer is no, he definitely does not.

But guess what? There is no Zion or Simmons or Towns in this draft. And there’s no such thing as “a #1 pick” because it’s all draft dependent. Ja Morant definitely go #1 in this draft, were he available. But Morant was in Zion’s draft, so he went #2 instead. There is no “#1 pick” in the 2020 draft, but someone’s gotta be it. And with the options available this year, Anthony Edwards just might be the best option available.

In my Kentucky notes above, I only included half of my final note. Here’s the whole thing: “The flashes make me certain he has to go #1… but I’d hate to be the guy with my job on the line.”

In many ways, this is how I felt about R.J. Barrett last year. The physical tools are clear, but I worry greatly about the NBA fit and value and about the mental side of the game. But in the end, Barrett was still worth the shot because of his star upside, and so is Edwards.

Is Anthony Edwards a #1 pick?

That question is irrelevant.

But Edwards might very well be the #1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. ■

Follow Brandon on Medium or @wheatonbrando for more sports, television, humor, and culture. Visit the rest of Brandon’s writing archives here.

SportsRaid

Original reporting and curated sports data journalism.

Brandon Anderson

Written by

Sports, TV, NBA, NFL, culture. Words at SI's Cauldron, Sports Raid, Action Network, others @wheatonbrando ✞

SportsRaid

Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

Brandon Anderson

Written by

Sports, TV, NBA, NFL, culture. Words at SI's Cauldron, Sports Raid, Action Network, others @wheatonbrando ✞

SportsRaid

Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store