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Know The Prospect: Anthony Edwards

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This guy does things.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

They call it the lottery for a reason. You only gotta hit once to change everything. The Knicks have been playing the lottery a while. A half-decade has yielded Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett, who will likely combine for zero All-Rookie First-Teams. The only home run in the past five drafts was Kristaps Porziņģis, whom they parlayed into Dennis Smith Jr. and a couple magic beans they hope turn into the chance to take some more chances. One of these years, the Knicks need to hit. Anthony Edwards could be the hit.

6’5”, 225 pounds with a 6’9” wingspan, Edwards elicits comparisons to Dwyane Wade, Victor Oladipo and Tyreke Evans. Even among pro athletes, Edwards an ath-lete. He’s also, as Barrett before him, a teenager with an NBA-ready body, belying his childhood nickname of “Ant Man.” His first sporting love was not basketball, but football: Edwards was ranked among the top 10-year-old running backs in the country by the kind of people who are morally comfortable nationally ranking 10-year-old football players.

In 8th grade, he lost both his mother and grandmother to cancer eight months apart. Edwards wears the number five to honor them both having died on the fifth day of the month. A year later the driven Atlantan was working on his game with D1 jugadores de baloncesto. The kid is a fighter.

One who’s only getting stronger.

But what about Edwards’ game? And potential fit with the Knicks? Great news! Edwards is really good.

The kid’s studied his Harden.

Barrett has a Beard-like talent for deceleration. It gives him the edge on defenders. Edwards explodes off his first step like Speedy Gonzalez.

More shades of Harden.

His lone season at Georgia provided some standout moments. In his sixth game, a Maui Invitational matchup with third-ranked Michigan State, Edwards exploded for 33 points in the second half. Those weren’t garbage-time buckets: in that half, the Bulldogs cut the lead from 28 to four. And they weren’t gimmes, either. Edwards was hitting deep turnarounds, transition 3s against multiple defenders and pull-up threes off the dribble.

The next day against Chaminade, he followed up a last-minute chasedown block with the game-winner.

One concern with Edwards is that he sometimes falls in love with his jumper to the exclusion of driving to the cup. That meant lots of passing up chances to overwhelm defenders with his strength.

Then again, Edwards doesn’t strike me as anybody’s fool. In the clip above he’s going at Florida’s Scottie Lewis, who’s giving up 45 pounds. That differential will be few and far between in Edwards’ professional forays. Perhaps he treated college as a training ground for the NBA and tried to avoid the midrange. Two-thirds of his total shot attempts were 3s and free throws, whereas on two-point jumpers he shot just 30%.

It’s near-impossible to predict how anyone’s game in college will translate to the Association. Barrett went from making 64% of his shots at the rim at Duke to 57% from 0-3 feet in NY. Knox fell from 67% at Kentucky to 50% his rookie year. Edwards, who shot 69% at the rim in college, is bigger, stronger and more athletic than RJ and KK. He gets to the line and made 77% of his free throws.

Edwards isn’t a primary playmaker (what Knick is?). He had five games last year with 5+ turnovers versus just one with 5+ assists. But as the old Prego commercials used to say, “It’s in there.”

Most of his looks aren’t that fancy, but he appears to be aware of a larger world outside him, something some pros never learn.

Still, it’s Edwards shooting that will determine his NBA fate. It’s fair to wonder how he’ll turn out when he shoots worse from the field and from deep than Barrett did at Duke. It’s fair to forgive Edwards for working with a higher degree of difficulty — he didn’t have Zion or Cam Reddish around to worry the defense. It’s fair to wonder if Edwards’ success at the charity stripe foreshadows improvement from the rest of the floor. It’s fair to wonder how many of your rods and cones will commit suicide before enduring Edwards and Barrett clanging away from outside while we pray they’re improving.

Over Georgia’s first 15 games, mostly non-conference tilts, Edwards had two games of 10+ free throw attempts and only one with 10+ 3PA. Over their final 17 games, mostly SEC matchups, he had just one game with 10+ free throw attempts versus seven featuring 10+ 3PAs. That may look concerning, like once the competition level increased Edwards retreated into his shell and just bombed away from afar.

But I’m not sure how much of a negative it is, given that more and more teams at the highest levels are encouraging their scorers to shoot from deep rather than push to the rim. And the noise of those numbers may hide a truth: Georgia was 10-5 in its first 15 games but just 6-11 in the final 17, when the quality of their competition intensified. Maybe Edwards was taking more 3s in that stretch because his team was losing more and needed him to swing for the fences.

Georgia’s roster included nine freshmen. Their highest-ranked recruit after Edwards was Rayshaun Hammonds, rated 49th in 2017. That, more than anything, may explain why — despite Edwards being named All-SEC Second Team and SEC ROY — the Bulldogs finished .500 overall and second-to-last in the SEC with a 5-13 conference mark. You can only work with the tools you’ve been given.

Check out the box score from UG’s 78-69 loss to Kentucky in January:

https://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/boxscores/2020-01-07-21-georgia.html

And the game after, a 22-point loss to Auburn:

https://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/boxscores/2020-01-11-12-auburn.html

Edwards had some stinkers, too, but he’s hardly to blame for Georgia’s shortcomings. As a learned man once spake:

The defensive potential is there, thanks to his wingspan and quickness. He led Georgia in defensive win shares, if that gets you hot, which whatever, you sicko, and the length is there to pester pick-and-rolls.

Critics say he needs to develop his off-the-ball game. Could playing with lesser talent have compelled him to force stuff one-on-one? Better talent around him could lead to more this:

Quoth a scout in a piece at The Undefeated, “[Edwards] is a pro, everything about him. Athleticism. Skill. The ability to score. He can defend. He is one of those guys that will be better on the next level because he will be playing with better teammates.” Maybe with a talent upgrade around him, Edwards could detonate on the league the way Donovan Mitchell did. He’s only 18. Oladipo took a big leap between his age 19 and 20 seasons at Indiana University. Ditto Luka Dončić, Brandon Ingram and Kevin Knox.

(Just wanted to see if you’re still awake. Shout out to the “Kevin Knox is just 19!” crowd. How I miss that simpler time of life.)

The only way the Knicks will be in position to even consider drafting Edwards is if they move up in the lottery, an event rarer than ice ages. Dan Gilbert is pro’ly not breaking curfew to pen Comic Sans fan fiction about a Collin Sexton/Darius Garland future. Chicago needs a backcourt statement piece to deflect from their frontcourt disappointments. Detroit’s highest-scoring guard was Derrick Rose.

Let’s say New York climbs to a top-three spot and Edwards is available. Does it make sense to pull the trigger? If they did, it’d represent one of the bigger culture shifts we’ve seen from them in years. Do you know the last time the Knicks used a lottery pick on a dude who was clearly the (figurative) big man on campus? It’s been a while.

In his lone year at Duke, Barrett Bruce Banner’d Zion’s Hulk. Four of Knox’s Kentucky teammates heard their names called along with his at the 2018 draft: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, P.J. Washington, Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt. Jordan Hill shared the spotlight with Chase Budinger at Arizona, where four years prior Channing Frye was but one ménage in the trois that was he, Salim Stoudamire and Hassan Adams. The last time the Knicks took a collegiate leading man that high in the draft was Mike Sweetney.

The Knicks are generally lacking in just about everything, something that’s far too often the case. Edwards offers athleticism, upside, creativity and offensive autonomy. If he and Barrett established themselves as wings and Mitchell Robinson did in the paint, you’d have the start of a coherent and intriguing roster. In the best-case scenario, the Knicks land a two-way wing who’s already advanced on some of the advanced moves an elite scorer possesses and who develops into a good enough shooter to leverage his first step, hops and pull-ups into an All-NBA player.

In the worst-case (and therefore Knicksiest scenario), Edwards and Barrett don’t fit together. Still, adding Edwards could mean converting RJ from one of the team’s foundations to someone they include in a deal for a true untouchable, without having to empty the cupboard completely. Or vice-versa.

For years the Knicks have talked about taking bold new directions while more often than not repeating the sins of the past. Hiring Tom Thibodeau is not a classic Knicks move. Drafting Anthony Edwards would be a departure, too. Maybe stepping outside themselves can lead the Knicks to where they’ve been trying to get the past 20 years.