Allow me to channel my inner Wolf Blitzer on Election Night.
It's time to call the race.
While it's only early-July and there's still time for separation and analysis through the draft process, I've seen enough to believe Anthony Edwards out of Georgia is the highest blend of athleticism, alpha gene and likelihood of succeeding that another pick with the first overall selection would befuddle me.
Edwards has always been number one on my big board, but I wanted to wait until doing a thorough dive into all other players before proclaiming him as the clear top target. With over three months until the actual draft in this unorthodox calendar, plenty of time remains for consideration. I'd caution against straying too far from a normal draft plan. Time can lead to over-analysis and doubting what you already know. That can be paralyzing.
So, allow me to remind everyone why Edwards has star potential few others in this class do. To illustrate why what he's already shown is the game-changer all lottery teams look for. To quell fears that, while he has his fair share of needs to improve, his floor is much higher than most give credit to.
Standing 6'5" with a 6'9" wingspan, Edwards starts with elite size for a guard. His ball handling is pretty strong in functional terms. He doesn't have a ton of flash or tight control, but he's developed it enough to get to the spots he needs to.
What he relies on as a driver is his really strong frame, propensity to draw contact and supreme athleticism. His combination of speed, power, bounce and lateral quickness are untaught traits, and they not only are incredibly rare but make up for a lack of skill or technique in some areas. It's unfair, no matter how much we want a high level of polish and dedication to their craft to win out.
Some guys are just naturally more talented.
Edwards is a scorer, drawing comparisons with his mentality and shot selection to the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Donovan Mitchell or Russell Westbrook. Some compare him, with his size and athleticism, to guys like Dwyane Wade or Victor Oladipo.
To me, the best comparison for his role and what he offers is akin to the bigger version of Gilbert Arenas. Like Agent Zero, Edwards has a score-first mentality while sufficiently filling the state sheet in other areas. He relies on his athleticism and high volume to produce, but he's neither inefficient nor highly efficient.
In this class, Edwards is the only scorer who can get the ball on the wing or elbow and I'd trust to get a bucket, no matter what coverage or defender awaits. His isolation arsenal is weighed heavily on jab steps and the threat of his immediate or pull-up jumper. His athleticism gives him cushion one-on-one to where he can't be crowded, and his shot making is strong enough that he can't be dared to shoot every time.
It's important for a guy like him to become a dynamic pull-up shooter in the mid-range, even while analytic wisdom dictates fewer shots. He's such an imposing athlete that defenders will move backwards as he drives, worried about the needed strength to contest at the rim. He'll have space for his pull-up and needs to nail it.
Edwards was a very good 16-for-40 (40 percent) on long mid-range pull-ups.
He's already got a deep back of tricks he can continue to refine. Step-backs, side-steps, great pace and hesitation moves to freeze primary and secondary defenders. His between-the-legs step-back is a trademark he should get to immediately.
The 3-point consistency was poor on his high volume at Georgia, but there's nothing mechanically flawed about his shot. Rhythm is hard to come by when he's the only scoring option on his team. He never got effective on catch-and-shoots (28.9 percent).
But the athleticism is very real, and few others can anchor an offense the way he has already proven capable. He can use that athleticism on the defensive end, and has done so for stretches. If you want to see Edwards at his best, go back and watch the game against Michigan State from the Maui Invitational or their game at Florida.
Polish isn't a word that goes to describe Edwards' game right now, which is strange for someone with such a diverse array of scoring to his credit. The issue with Edwards is more with knowing when to go to certain moves or take certain shots, not whether he'll be able to make them.
Shot selection is a skill he must learn in order to harness his unique talents. Focusing on non-scoring plays and energy is another.
They're a big deal, and placing him as the top prospect on my board shouldn't minimize their need to change.
Going in order from the video, Edwards played far beneath his ability on the defensive end. He seemed caught between carefree and exhausted, neither of which are valid excuses for his lack of production. There were plenty of occasions where he seemed to fancy himself a shot blocker, opting for highlight-reel stuffs rather than meaningful contests.
For such a great athlete, Edwards doesn't have great closeout skills, routinely missing the mark laterally when he'd rush from helper to guard the ball. The NBA is progressing away from catch and triple-threat and towards making quick rips or running through passes, so he'll need to tighten this immediately.
The next two categories are incredibly related, and one solution likely fixes both. Edwards' issue isn't that the game moves too fast for him to process the right reads so he fires up a shot. It's that he has such overconfidence in himself that he guns. Perhaps this is due to a lack of trust in his teammates, or it's a product of trying to play himself into being the top pick.
Either way, the concern is that he'll wind up on a lottery team with similarly few weapons and fire away, reinforcing those bad habits early in his career.
Learning to read defenses is a huge part of his progression. Edwards has always been a top scorer, but he's rarely faced nuanced defenses. In AAU, a culture predicated on one-on-one play and filled with pride that prevents frequent traps or doubles, Edwards didn't have to think about what he was facing too much. In high school, he could really do whatever he wanted, and most defenses he faced were full doubles, denies or plays that make it easy to read when to kick.
He faced different defenses at Georgia. Georgia Tech box-and-one'd Edwards, as did a few others. Stunters helped in different ways. It takes time to learn to read the nuance, and this kid is still only 18. I'm not one to jump on a kid for not knowing how to play yet at his age.
Many of these skills and traits can be taught and honed in on, but they're dependent on how receptive he is to making these changes. From an arm's length, there's no blatant personality red flags popping up for Edwards on his personality, and his film breakdown segment with Mike Schmitz was revealing that he's a bright, self-aware and engaging personality.
In that film session, Edwards talked about the rhythm where, right now, his default is to try to get a shot off when he runs into resistance instead of trusting his teammates. His level of maturity and honesty with Schmitz was inspiring and, for me, comforting that he can become someone who reaches his potential.
The potential is there.
Overall Analysis and Draft Projection
The conversation around this year's top pick is littered with "high risk, high reward" anecdotes. The three names most commonly found atop draft boards– Edwards, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman– are all risky in their own regard. Wiseman a bit of an unknown after only three college games, and his tremendous physical gifts are somewhat stunted by a desire to be a frequent jump shooter. There's also a worthwhile conversation about how high a big man should go when alpha-male perimeter players are still on the board.
Ball is a tremendous passer, but an even more wretched defender than Edwards with less athleticism. Edwards doesn't defend because he prefers not to. Ball has the same problem but doesn't show tremendous natural tools in spurts. Ball and Edwards were both inefficient scorers, particularly from 3.
What people hang their hat on with Ball is his ability to be a passer and playmaker, one of the signature skills in this draft class. Apparent in all he does, Ball has to temper shot selection in the same ways Edwards does, which stands as an obstacle to who LaMelo can eventually be.
So why Edwards above him? To me, they face the same problems, but I'm much more drawn to three traits about Edwards:
As for seeing what he can become, I feel like the negative connotations around Gilbert Arenas make that comparison feel like he should be less worthy of the top pick. Gilbert was the 31st pick in 2001, and that draft had some certified names in it: Pau Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Joe Johnson, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Gerald Wallace. And while many went on to win championships and become franchise staples, I'd argue none of them had a higher peak of productivity than Arenas.
From 2002-2007, Arenas averaged 24.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 3.5 turnovers, and shot 36.1 percent from 3-point range. He anchored the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards, making three All-Star appearances and propelled the Wiz to the NBA playoffs. Injuries quickly shortened his career and limited him to 47 games in the next three seasons. The firearms incident was the icing on the cake to topple him from the mountain a couple years later.
But it's easy to dismiss just how high Agent Zero was on that mountain and how beloved of a player he was despite his inefficient scoring. An NBA Live cover athlete, he scored 60 in a game once, and less than a week after dropped 54. Here are the only players since 2000 to score 50 points or more three times within a single season: Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. Arenas is the only one who won't end up in the Hall of Fame.
He averaged as many as 10 free throws per game back in 2005-06. He hit deep shots and was a 3-point gunner before the trend was cool. He hit game-winners in the postseason and had clutch performances. In 2006, he averaged 34 a game in the postseason.
How do you turn away a player with similar upside an impact offensively in this draft class? Arenas would be a shoe-in for top pick over LaMelo if we recalled how amazing he was to watch and how rare it is to handle that large a scoring duty:
At the end of the day, we're trying to evaluate the tools inside his toolbox, not necessarily that he's an effective carpenter. What Edwards already possesses are natural skills with his physical profile that allow us know his toolbox is deeper than others.
If you ask me, I'd rather teach someone how to use the tools they have than to add new tools. Why? Because the process of teaching someone how to play basketball at a high level inherently teaches certain skills. By learning when to pass, he'll become a more nuanced pick-and-roll handler and improve at things like snaking, reading help defenders and looking off defenses with his eyes.
Those skills are meaningless if he isn't a good enough scorer to have the ball in his hands.
Are there risks to Edwards? Absolutely. And they're clear downsides that he demonstrated on several occasions at Georgia. But the upside is high enough for me to buy into trying to fix them. If he reaches his potential and sharpens up those aspects of his game, he's a clear home run.
But the notion that Andrew Wiggins isn't a worthwhile basketball player to have on your roster, with all his scoring and the things he does well, is a bit overblown. Guys who produce as scorers are valuable and worth swinging on because, even if they don't hit it out of the park, they're still excelling at the most important skill in the game.