To Anthony Edwards, basketball is like a job. It’s not football, his “first love.”
The Internet has made a big deal about Edwards’ recent comments in an ESPN story that included Edwards saying this line: “I’m still not really into (basketball). I love basketball, yeah. It’s what I do.” People have questioned whether that means the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft out of Georgia has what it takes to make it in the NBA, especially when Edwards added that he’d be fine to leave basketball behind if he was drafted into the NFL.
Questioning whether that one line is a red flag for Edwards is silly, though. There are lots of people who view what they do as a job and not a game or a love and still do it very well. Serena Williams has been quoted as saying, “I never actually liked sports.” Bubba Watson said his own sport, golf, is boring. Anthony Rendon doesn’t watch baseball, but he plays it nearly as well as anyone, just as Williams does in tennis and Watson in golf.
Whether Edwards lives up to his possible top-three selection in Wednesday’s draft will come down to things much different than some “love of the game” cliche. An All-Star or Hall of Fame career for Edwards will see his occasional flashes of passing genius become frequent, his athletic-looking jump shot become deadly, his jumping ability become unstoppable in transition and on defense. Any bust questions you have about Edwards should center first and foremost on what he can do on the basketball court, when the lights are on, when the clock is counting down and the former top draft pick needs to make a play.
In case you don’t believe us, here: This is a basketball-focused look at how Edwards can become a star or wind up a bust.
NBA Draft 2020: Top-60 big board | Mock Draft
One magical half against Michigan State
The best 20 minutes of Edwards’ one season at Georgia came on an NFL Sunday afternoon in Hawaii. The Bulldogs took on No. 3 Michigan State at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. The game was on ESPN2, but you’d be forgiven for not having paid attention.
To watch Edwards in that half, in which he scored 33 points and made multiple world-class passes, was to see the player NBA teams hope they’re getting at the top of the draft. He shot heat check 3-pointers after difficult footwork and knocked them down. He flew into the lane to attack the basket. He threw one particular nearly full-court bounce pass that would get anyone out of their seat.
That was an 18-year old in his sixth college game giving work to Tom Izzo’s Spartans. It wasn’t enough to lead what would’ve been a glorious comeback, but it was more than plenty to mean that from that point forward, Edwards was near the top of everyone’s draft board.
The efficiency concerns with Anthony Edwards
For someone who shot so much, Edwards wasn’t a model of efficiency. He made 40.2 percent of his field goals at Georgia, and a poor 29.4 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Edwards could get to his stepback jumper whenever he wanted, but that didn’t automatically result in lots of makes.
Of course, part of Edwards’ shot selection had to do with the underwhelming UGA team he played on. No one else on that roster was going to get semi-decent looks late in the shot clock. Edwards could get those with ease.
But a lot of these same worries about Edwards exist for Cole Anthony, who was regarded as highly as Edwards at the beginning of the college season but fell down draft boards despite facing similar struggles on a bad team. Edwards’ strong, athletic frame might give more confidence that he can overcome poor shooting than Anthony, but the shooting numbers aren’t something to be ignored altogether.
Can Anthony Edwards do anything but score?
At 6-5, Edwards did a decent job of getting to the defensive glass in his freshman season at Georgia with 5.2 rebounds per game. But his assist-to-turnover ratio evokes similar concerns that Jaylen Brown had coming out of Cal.
Edwards dished out 2.8 assists per game while turning it over 2.7 times per contest. He won’t be expected to be a point guard or even lead ball-handler much in the NBA, so maybe that’s not as concerning as at first glance. Like with Brown, Edwards playing on a poor college team meant he was often asked to do too much.
If Edwards settles into an NBA wing role like Brown has in Boston, this shouldn’t really be a concern. Even just in the Michigan State film above, it’s easy to see that Edwards has high-end passing vision. As long as he pulls it out at the right time and combines effort with his athleticism defensively, Edwards should be more than a scorer.
Anthony Edwards vs. LaMelo Ball vs. James Wiseman
Of course, it’s not Edwards’ fault he’s being considered for the top overall pick. The 2020 draft class is regarded as weaker than some, and certainly is lacking a generational prospect like LeBron James or Anthony Davis or Zion Williamson. Whether Edwards busts or not will not be so much as to whether he lives up to past No. 1 (or No. 2 or No. 3) picks but if he outperforms the players being considered around him.
Compared to LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman, Edwards could seem like a risk-free endeavor. Ball’s shot selection is probably regarded as even worse, and he spent the past year playing in Australia’s NBL. Wiseman played three college games before a suspension and subsequent draft declaration. Betting on both of them comes with risk, too.
But with the risk of each of these three prospects comes upside, immense upside. There’s a reason these three have separated themselves in the running for the first overall pick — they can all be special. And for Edwards specifically, it doesn’t really matter whether he loves basketball or not. What matters is if he figures out the small intricacies of basketball that’ll allow him to become a star.
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