Anthony Edwards has asserted himself as a true No. 1 pick prospect on the back of his elite scoring profile. How does he find so much success, and can it translate to elite NBA scoring?
Georgia’s Anthony Edwards has been the star of the college basketball season so far. While other names like Myles Powell and Kaleb Wesson have probably been more notable to college basketball fans, NBA Draft fans have focused in on Edwards as a possible top overall pick. The 6-foot-6 wing has displayed elite athleticism, a comfortable shooting stroke and an explosive scoring profile that has allowed him to average 20.6 points per game on 54.3 percent true shooting. Edwards has shown a lot of promise as a potential NBA lead ball-handler, and that puts him front and center for the draft class.
The potential diversity of Edwards’s scoring is what makes him very exciting at the upper level. Edwards is scoring at this rate with a high degree of difficulty of shots, and doing so rather efficiently. He’s shooting well from outside, hitting 37.5 percent on seven attempts per game, and combines that with an elite finishing profile, at 69.7 percent for the year so far. So even though he’s living in the mid-range to a degree so far, it’s easy to see how he could win at the NBA level.
To discuss how that should happen for Edwards, we should first talk about another premier young scoring threat that Edwards looks similar to.
The Kentucky version of Devin Booker was not the scorer we see today in Phoenix. As a de facto sixth man, he didn’t carry an astronomical usage at just 22.8 percent, and he was much more reliant on assisted scoring than he has been so far in the NBA. Like Edwards, he also thrived in the mid-range, deriving much of the pull-up action that he’s been successful with in the NBA from simple one- or two-dribble jumpers off secondary actions.
Booker rarely used the post-up scoring that has made him such an NBA weapon, lacking the shake with the ball that makes that type of shot a higher percentage look. On rare occasions where Booker did score in isolation, they were in tight spaces, where he relied on his signature high release to clear the extra space needed to fire off a good shot.
When Booker got to the NBA, the extra space and more frequent transition opportunities allowed him to use his improved footwork to better clear space for pull-up jumpers.
As Booker got stronger in his second season, he was able to use more advanced moves like shoulder dips and ball fakes to create even more separation.
You can see a pretty linear progression in the development of Booker’s post and isolation scoring games. Start with a baseline high shot release and handling ability, add the natural progression of footwork improvement and strength gain, and it better allowed him to weaponize that handle and shooting touch into becoming the closest approximation of the Kobe Bryant scoring profile in today’s NBA. Part of what made Booker look like an immediate star talent was how predictable this type of development seemed given where he started from as a rookie, and in terms of shot making, Booker has taken the predicted leaps needed to become a perennial 20-point per game scorer.
This all applies to Edwards because he shows similar traits that should make a similar progression likely at the NBA level. Edwards wins in different ways than Booker in college, but the same tools are present that should allow Edwards to have a similar development curve.
The high release is there, with Edwards’ 6-foot-9 wingspan and moon boot hops allowing him to clear space vertically in ways that other shooters can’t.
Edwards also has the comfort level and technique on a pull-up 3, a staple of the Booker experience that was evident in his ability to gather and shoot off curls from mid-range, and in Edwards, manifests in transition looks like this one under pressure. Edwards killed Michigan State with these, and against low-major talent, is unguardable at the college level with them.
Edwards isn’t Booker as a catch-and-shoot weapon, with about 42 percent of his 3s being assisted compared to 98 percent for Booker (at a 41.1 percent clip). However, he has comfort in that area as well, and his lack of opportunities there is assuredly due to role, as Booker was almost exclusively a spot-up weapon for a stacked Kentucky team, while Edwards is functioning as a primary initiator.
This allows us to get a glimpse of where Edwards has advantages over Booker in that regard. Most notable among these is functional strength and body control, because Edwards is able to get to the rim seemingly at will at the college level.
It also allows him to get into real post possessions, because he has the strength and base to set up shop in the paint and manufacture quick buckets that way.
Edwards is also much more fluid in terms of footwork at this stage than Booker, allowing him to flourish as a pull-up shooter in isolation. While Booker was more rigid as a rookie in trying to create space with his step back, Edwards is both a better ball-handler and more nimble changing directions, and that sets up the obvious “once a class” elite shot-making potential that is the initial draw to Edwards.
With these tools, it’s easy to see how Anthony Edwards can follow a similar archetype to Booker’s scoring profile, and possibly exceed him in effectiveness as a primary scorer. With Edwards’ elite strength and ball-handling, there’s a likely natural progression to him being able to shake opponents in the pick-and-roll and contested transition at the NBA level, and his step-back and driving game are already further ahead than Booker was as a rookie. While Edwards is a hair smaller than his closest NBA cousin, incremental improvement and comfort with performing in college may make the post a more frequent and effective weapon in Edwards’ arsenal.
Edwards is also a better passer than Booker at this stage, with a slightly better assist-to-turnover ratio despite much more on-ball responsibility. This is an area where Booker struggled to adjust to NBA offensive leadership, and Edwards should hopefully fare better here as well, particularly thanks to his abilities as a half-court passer.
The Devin Booker archetype isn’t one that gets people excited in the modern pace, space and shooting NBA. However, it’s one that still wins if you’re elite at it, especially in the playoffs, where having a guard who can both pull up on a dime and take opponents into the post creates the mismatches necessary to beat playoff defenses. Based on his play style, athletic profile and skill set, it’s easy to see a path to Edwards becoming a Booker-style physical isolation scorer, capable of beating slower, bigger defenders off the dribble and taking guards into the post. And with the physical and experiential advantages Edwards has functioning in this role currently, it’s easy to see him not only following in this path, but becoming even better at it than Booker’s near All-Star level to date.