Anthony Edwards Ignites No. 1 Pick Conversation at Maui Invitational

Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards made his case to be the top pick in the 2020 NBA draft after erupting for 37 points against Michigan State in the Maui Invitational.
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Marco Garcia/AP/Shutterstock

Marco Garcia/AP/Shutterstock

You may have already heard that top draft prospect Anthony Edwards arrived on Tuesday in Maui, or rather, he detonated, to the tune of 33 second-half points, albeit in Georgia’s second loss in two days. He brought the Bulldogs back from down 21 points at half against Michigan State with a transcendent stretch of pull-up threes, highlight passes and out-of-nowhere defensive gambits that almost made Bill Walton combust on-air. These are all things that, to varying degrees, bolster his candidacy as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, which is where we projected him on our first mock draft of the season. If nothing else, it’s the first significant piece of his résumé, and it’s a big one.

To scout the first leg of college basketball season is essentially to canvas for the best possible answers—first impressions are pivotal, players establish early sample sizes, and teams aggressively scour the non-conference slate to understand what exactly it is they’re working with, in regard to the draft. Doing diligence also tends to involve deeply inhaling a lot of badly-played basketball, but who’s to say. Edwards’ showing was perhaps the most substantial development in that regard to date, with a bevy of executives and scouts on hand at the Maui Invitational, a capable defense unable to slow him for an extended period of time, and, well, see for yourself.

There are simply not many prospects capable of scoring the way Edwards can, certainly not in this year’s draft class, and his performance underscored every aspect of his gifts. It also delineated some of NBA teams’ ongoing concerns about his tendencies. You’ll see the jaw dropping highlights broadcast all the way through draft night, but in reality this game was full Jekyll and Hyde. It is hard to omit the fact that Edwards had done basically nothing for the first 24 minutes of the game. Still, by the end of this one he’d racked up 37 points on 26 shots. The volume was substantial but the results were there by the end, and as he began to see the ball go in the basket, his confidence peaked in a major way and his defensive effort also improved. It’s amazing what playing oneself into a good mood can do.

Few college players can legitimately qualify as unguardable; Edwards was that. And three weeks into the season, we now have a much better grasp of his strengths. He’s actually more like 6’3” than his listed height of 6’5”, but in one as as that hardly matters. with the way he can create separation off the dribble and get to his streaky yet potent jumper. Multiple scouts I spoke with expressed concerns over his tendency to settle for deep threes, but when they’re going in it’s hard to argue with Edwards’ decision-making process. Tuesday brought the hottest of heat checks, and an NBA caliber display of sustained shooting off a variety of gathers. There was one mid range jumper from the left baseline where he contorted nearly full-180—in midair—with his back to the rim and squared up successfully. Not many people on the planet can hit that particular shot. His ability to create on the perimeter, use his individual threat to playmake for others, and cover tons of ground on the defensive end add up into potential stardom. Sure, there wasn’t a whole ton of pressure to perform down 20, but he single-handedly did bring his team back into the game. The upside is rather obvious.

At the same time, Edwards was bailed out by Michigan State fouls while going to the basket on multiple occasions. His continued struggles finishing in the paint are minorly alarming, particularly for a guy with his type of physical strength and capacity to get into the lane. He’s a powerful athlete, but not a powerful finisher, though perhaps this is more of a confidence thing than a true hole in his game. For a guy who’s big, he does not always play big, and a key component of being efficient enough to shoulder an offense night to night is being able to go get the easy baskets. You’d like him to be more aggressive attacking the rim. Suffice it to say, over his first handful of games he’s been more perimeter-oriented than you would hope. Hoisting 16 threes in one game is a lot for anyone, and if those hadn’t started to fall, this could’ve gone south quickly. Still, if the Edwards from Tuesday is the guy who shows up more often than not, it may not matter.

Thankfully, we have a full season to assess his progress against tough SEC competition. For context, Edwards is not a Zion Williamson or a Ja Morant, but had he been in the 2019 draft, off potential alone, Edwards might have been the third guy off the board. Teams are still figuring him out, but nobody walked away unimpressed. Safe to say, Edwards’ candidacy for number one has begun in earnest, and it’s a battle for position that very much has yet to be resolved. LaMelo Ball has begun to play much better over in Australia, including a notable triple double on Monday in leading his team to an overtime win. James Wiseman remains sidelined by suspension and probably sits behind the other two guys in a vacuum, although his fate could be determined by simple way of a team in dire need of a big winning the draft lottery. If nothing else, Edwards has given us a small shred of clarity in the bigger puzzle. For that, we can be thankful.