Bulls

Making the case: What Anthony Edwards would bring to Bulls

Bulls

Between now and the 2020 NBA Draft’s currently-scheduled date of Nov. 18, NBC Sports Chicago will be making the case for the Bulls to select some of the consensus top prospects with their No. 4 overall pick. We broke down LaMelo Ball last week. Next up, Anthony Edwards.

Anthony Edwards and the Bulls might not be a perfect match — or even a likely one. The Georgia wing landing in the top 2 or 3 picks of this year’s NBA Draft is the closest thing to a consensus experts have reached as the most uneven offseason in league history commences.

But in an anything-can-happen type of year, perhaps there’s a chance he falls to No. 4 overall. And perhaps there’s a chance the Bulls’ front office views him as the highest upside prospect in the class. 

In that event, they shouldn’t balk at using their No. 4 draft choice on Edwards — roster redundancies or red flags be damned.

The appeal of Edwards as a prospect starts with his profile. While no official measurements are available yet, the amalgam of reputable scouting sites and evaluators pegs him in the 6-foot-5, 225 pound range, and with a plus-wingspan around 6-10. He boasts a tight end build, guard skills and athleticism that thrills. A “tools” guy if there ever was one.

In a wholly inefficient freshman season at Georgia, those attributes showed up most emphatically in transition, where he used 21.5 percent of his offensive possessions, per Synergy tracking data. Edwards logged 1.201 points per possession (81st percentile) while shooting 64-for-109 (58.7%) from the field across those 144 transition opportunities. 

 

It’s a context where his burst, strength and athletic flourish shine brightest, and a context in which he can help NBA teams lacking in all those categories immediately.

One of the most common critiques of Edwards’ underwhelming season, though, was his propensity to settle for low-percentage, pull-up jumpers instead of leveraging his physical advantages into more rim attempts and fouls, especially in the halfcourt. And it’s true: Nearly half of Edwards’ field goal attempts came from 3-point range, with just over a quarter of them at the rim. Per Synergy, he generated 0.825 points per possession in the half court (45th percentile), shooting just 34.7 percent from the field.

This is not a shot distribution chart that will please many NBA teams to look at, from a tendency or efficiency perspective. Given free reign in Tom Crean’s (mostly stagnant) offense, poor shot selection — some forced, some unforced — is hugely to blame for this muckiness:

 

% shots at rim

% shots 2-point jumper

% shots 3-point jumper

Anthony Edwards (2019-20)

26.5%

25%

48.5%  

 

FG% at rim

FG% 2-point jumpers

FG% 3-point jumpers

Anthony Edwards (2019-20)

69.4%

30.2%

29.4%  

via Hoop Math

On limited volume, Edwards was effective around the basket, converting nearly 70 percent of his looks at the rim, per Hoop Math. And even settling for too many contested outside looks, his 0.339 free throw rate (5.3 attempts per game) and 77.2 percent free-throw shooting are more than respectable. These are areas off which to build. If Edwards commits to getting downhill, he has the tools to make both strengths of his game as he matures. Finishing and foul-drawing are two essential boxes to check for high-octane NBA scorers. 

As is pull-up shooting. Again, for an upper echelon prospect lauded for his scoring prowess, Edwards was inefficient as a freshman. A player of his talent shouldn’t have advanced shooting metrics so woeful.

Anthony Edwards '19-20

True Shooting Percentage
52.0%
Effective Field Goal Percentage
47.3%

But some of the tough shot-making and space creation he displayed off the dribble was scintillating. The pull-up 3-pointer is the most devastating weapon a ball-dominant perimeter scorer can possess in this day and NBA age. Though Edwards’ handle is still developing, his explosive first step and, at times, impossible shotmaking opens up a world of possibility in that regard.

He canned just 24 of 83 catch-and-shoot attempts (28.9%) at Georgia, but the elevation he gets should translate with better structure and spacing at the pro level. Extending his range and shooting over length aren’t areas of concern.

The problem was that many of Edwards’ best scoring performances of the season — think his 33-point second half against Michigan State on Nov. 26 or his 32-point, six 3-pointer outing vs. Florida on Feb. 5 — felt reliant on torrid shooting streaks born out of endless opportunity. Depending on the situation, Edwards isn’t likely to step into 30+ percent usage immediately at the next level (his usage rate was 30.4% his freshman year as he took 19.1 field goal attempts per 40 minutes). He has all the skills to excel in a close-out-attacking, fast-break-barrelling, microwave scoring role as his defense and facilitating improve, but he must commit to a team construct. Georgia, as a team, finished 16-16 (5-13 SEC) and second-to-last in the conference last season. Edwards' culpability can't be ignored.

 

Decision-making can be coached. Edwards was a young freshman (he turned 19 in August) playing on an inexperienced Georgia team. He appears as affable and self-reflective as they come.

But mental lapses permeate his game on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he has the physical attributes and instincts to wreck possessions on- and off-ball; and as a distributor, he flashed some real passing chops both on the fastbreak and playing off his gravity as a ball handler. But in both contexts, too often either his reads were a step slow, or his effort waxed and waned. 

Edwards’ 0.58 assist-to-usage ratio puts him on a level with 2019-20 J.J. Redick and Buddy Hield in terms of NBA counterparts. And for all his athletic gifts, Synergy graded him out as a below average pick-and-roll and isolation defender (and that’s before addressing his sleepiness off-ball).

Both aspects can be corrected with time and instruction, but the time is nigh. His offensive skill set gives him a reasonable floor as a prospect but the supplementary facets of his game can lift him to a player that will return commensurate value for a top-three pick.

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How would Edwards’ fit on the Bulls? Put simply, it would be a little clunky. 

Defensively, he’d clutter up (and make worse) a backcourt in Coby White and Zach LaVine that is already burdened by questions surrounding its viability — and without bringing the same playmaking benefits of some of the lead guards atop the class.

And on the other end, Edwards' offensive repertoire is a bit redundant with White and LaVine’s; while, as written in the Ball-focused edition of this series, White and LaVine possess some untapped off-ball potential, Edwards isn’t the creator to immediately unlock it. And though his off-ball skill set is easily projectable, the jumper and off-ball IQ need to be proven before either can be relied upon. One ball might not be enough for the three of them.

Plus, it goes without saying that a third ball-dominant guard/wing wouldn’t immediately mesh with the Bulls’ current starting backcourt of Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr., neither of whom create much of their own offense at this stage, either.

 

The play for Edwards, then, is a play for the long-term. The case: Pair him with White, sell high on LaVine, coach up Edwards’ decision-making (and, in turn, efficiency) on offense and acumen on defense, and hope he grows into a better two-way wing creator that what LaVine is right now (no simple ask, it should be noted).

While Artūras Karnišovas has proven that positional overlap doesn’t dissuade him while drafting, that strategy wouldn’t necessarily jibe with the new front office’s labeling the Bulls’ current situation as a “retool” as opposed to a “rebuild,” nor the talking up of future cap flexibility as a primary asset for the team. But, in the unlikely event Edwards falls, there’s some logic to it.

At the least, he’s the specter of the uber-skilled, athletic, two-way wings NBA teams covet with a number of pro-palatable skills, from pull-up jump shooting, to driving, to foul-drawing, to bursts of hyper-active defense and rebounding. If developed properly — and the Bulls would have to bet on themselves being capable there — he could very well be the best in the class down the line.