Why Carsen Edwards Could Be One Of The Best Picks In the 2019 NBA Draft
When the NBA draft begins at 7 PM Eastern on June 20th, all eyes will be on the green room prospects Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, Jarret Culver, De’Andre Hunter, etc. Rightfully so, the top picks will highlight what looks to be a spectacular draft this year. However, an underrated prospect who shouldn’t be overlooked is a 6-foot guard from Purdue University: Carsen Edwards.
You might know the two time AP All-American for heroically carrying the Purdue Boilermakers to a surprising Elite 8 run (and a Mamadi Diakite buzzer-beater away from a Final Four). However, Purdue had to rely on Edwards all season long last year. Before reflecting on last year, it’s important to mention that in Edwards’ magnificent sophomore season, he was rewarded with the Jerry West award; the award earned by the best sophomore in college basketball in a given season. After Edward’s sophomore season, Purdue lost four starters to graduation (with Edwards being the only returning starter) and the majority, if not all college basketball analysts were predicting Purdue to regress in 2018-2019, some expecting Purdue to be a bubble team to even make the NCAA tournament. With a ton of pressure to lead the team in his junior season, Edwards delivered and successfully put the team on his back with an astounding 37.3 percent usage rate. To put that usage rate in perspective, the Houston, Texas native was 5th in the nation in usage rate and the only major conference player with a higher usage rate was Wooden award candidate Markus Howard (at 37.4 percent). The usage rate was still executed at a very productive level as Edwards was the catalyst of the 4th most efficient offense in the country. Purdue having a motion-based offense with a more free-spirited style of play, they set the Big Ten Record for most three-pointers made (365 three-point field goals converted) in once again a very efficient offense. Undoubtedly earning his first-team All-Big Ten selection, Edwards actually led the Big Ten in points per game averaging 24.3 points (27.4 points per 40 minutes as well). In a strong Big Ten Conference, Purdue won a share of the Big Ten title with a 16-4 record.
Now his regular season was incredible, but his stretch during March Madness was otherworldly. A 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Purdue took down the Conference USA champion Old Dominion, the defending national champions in the Villanova Wildcats, legitimate title contenders in the Tennessee Volunteers, and was seconds away from a Final Four appearance and defeating the eventual national champions, the Virginia Cavaliers. Coming into the tournament with a shooting slump, Edwards might have shined brighter than any other March Madness superstar this year. In a 4 game stretch, Edwards set the NCAA Tournament record with 28 three pointers made at a 55 percent clip. He wasn’t a one-dimensional scorer though, as he averaged a ridiculous 34.8 points per game. Against the 5th best defense in the country (ranked by Kenpom) and the 2019 national champions, the Virginia pack line defense centered their attention around Purdue’s focal point in Edwards. Not to mention Virginia limits the possessions of their opponents by playing at the slowest tempo of all college basketball teams (353rd ranked out of 353), the highly scouted guard dropped 42 points shooting 56 percent from the field, 53 percent from 3-point range (several three pointers were beyond 27 feet) and 100 percent from the free-throw line. Despite not winning the region, Edwards was rightfully awarded the South Region’s most outstanding player. After declaring for the draft, Edwards finished his Purdue tenure with 1,920 points. Now with that all being said about his college career, you are probably wondering how Edwards could be effective at the highest level of professional basketball. Will the former Purdue star’s game translate to the NBA? My answer: Yes. Yes indeed…
Edwards says he patterns his game after Damian Lillard. He certainly isn’t wrong as these two do have many similarities, but the player that might resemble Carsen Edwards the most is the Los Angeles Clippers undersized (6’1) star point guard/shooting guard Lou Williams. Arguably his best attribute on that has Edwards has on offense is his consistent ability to create his own shot. Give Edwards the ball in isolation and more times than not you are in trouble. As Purdue coach, Matt Painter will tell you, “He’s aggressive. So, if you get up into him, he’s going to drive the basketball. If you give him space, he’s going to shoot. Just a dynamic scorer.” A dynamic scorer is right; even though most of Edwards shots are from three point territory, he’s going to tear up the opponent and score in so many ways. Just like Lou Williams, Edwards demonstrates on a nightly basis that he can hit shots off the dribble. While he can definitely make shots from simply catching and shooting, Edwards will take and make most of his shots off the dribble, creating the vast majority of his buckets off the bounce. He broke Purdue’s all-time single season three point record and he didn’t usually let his teammates do the work to get him open. Part of knocking down shots off the dribble is the pull-up jump shot. The pull-up jump shot is arguably the most important shot to master in the modern era of basketball and it doesn’t take long to realize Edwards has mastered the pull-up. Countless times in basically every game, Edwards demonstrated he could knock down the pull-up jump shot; whether it was unexpectedly pulling up from incredibly deep three point range after a made basket from an opponent, pulling up in transition, pulling up in isolation, off limited dribbles, at the end of the shot clock, you name it. Not only can Edwards create his own shot, but he has also proven he is very effective off the ball. With admittedly limited playmaking ability coming into the draft, Edwards might even be better off as a small shooting guard with a high IQ playmaking point guard. Back to the Williams comparison, Lou Williams has put up All-Star numbers coming off the bench and both players are fantastic at creating their own shot, especially off the dribble, and both players are very effective being an undersized shooting guard (and both players average around 3 assists per game).
Despite of his leadership and scoring abilities, there are definitely weaknesses in Edward’s game that justify why he is projected to go in the 27-30 range of most NBA drafts. As alluded to earlier, Edwards is very undersized. A big problem that exists right now and makes his height more concerning is his lack of playmaking abilities. Edwards averaged 2.9 assists per game in his junior year. Additionally, his turnovers per game increased from 1.7 TPG to 3.1 TPG from his sophomore to junior season (this was often overshadowed by 42 steals sophomore year and 48 steals junior year). Edwards is certainly not unathletic, but there’s no question his size and athleticism are limiting him to a better pick. On one hand, critics are right to say that a lack of size can hurt you. On the other hand, it is still true that undersized guards can still be very effective and make up for their height in numerous different ways. While many guards will make up for their size through high IQ instincts and mastery in the pick and roll (Chris Paul and Tony Parker for example), Edwards mainly makes up for his size by being a lethal shooter from everywhere on the court, length, speed/quickness, effectiveness in transition and having an overall strong build. Edwards can obviously drill shots from the parking lot, but that shouldn’t overshadow his speed and quickness to blow by a defender and finish at the rim. He might be 6’0, but he possesses a lengthy 6’6 wingspan (more to come on why his wingspan matters). In transition, he is very controlled and will make the right play more times than not. Whether it’s a pull-up three, stop and go to the basket or finding open teammates, Edwards is confident with the ball in transition and he knows what to do. Now, that’s not to say he can’t develop mastery in the pick and roll or develop a higher basketball IQ. The more film he watches, the veterans he plays with and now with more time on his hands from no longer being in college, Edwards will learn the right reads to pick apart defenses not just from scoring the ball but finding teammates. Edwards will have more room to space the floor and he will be playing with significantly better teammates. In terms of pick and roll action, it will definitely take time to master but there’s no question it can be done and could elevate Carsen’s game. The athleticism of Edwards is not off the charts, but I do think he is more athletic than people give him credit for. Science says that the three areas that define athleticism are strength, speed, and endurance. With a strong, muscular frame at 201 pounds, the 6-foot guard still has the strength to absorb contact and finish powerfully at the rim (even if he doesn’t have the highest vertical). There’s no doubt he has the speed to play in a fast-paced system. As he is controlled in transition, he is still very quick and shifty on the fast break (he’s not just shifty in transition, he’s shifty in general). Purdue didn’t play at a very fast tempo, but that speaks more to the coaching of Matt Painter as he has never had a top 50 fast tempo team at Purdue since being hired in 2005, frequently having teams outside the top 100 and top 200 in tempo (this is not a knock on Painter as he is a tremendous coach with 11 tournament appearances and was named the NABC coach of the year last season). Not only that, Carsen himself describes his game as “very uptempo. Very up and down.” What helps with his speed is his awareness/ability to change gears, which creates space for not only himself but his teammates. Reflecting on his endurance, Edwards had the endurance last season to play an average of 35.4 minutes per game and 39+ minutes in every March Madness game, all while being the focal point of the offense with the opposing team zeroing Edwards with the priority to try to shut him down or at least contain him. Plus, he was one of the top guards in the shuttle run during the NBA combine. Another con to the scouting report, however, is partially due to his relative lack of height, but Edwards is also considered to be a defensive liability. Admittedly, Edwards showed concerns at the defensive end of the floor last season. However, his defensive potential shouldn’t be overlooked. As mentioned earlier, his 6’6 wingspan can only help him because this will make it much easier for him to steal the ball in the passing lanes (likely leading to a transition basket) and swipe the ball from the defender when guarding on ball. He did average 1.3 steals per game in his junior season. Being physically stocky won’t allow other guards to bully him in the post, to a certain extent holding his own in the paint. Furthermore, that endurance comes into play again as he will be able to exert much more energy and effort on both ends of the floor with his minutes probably being reduced. Edwards has a standing reach 1 inch away from 8 feet. Maybe a little far fetched at the moment, but his standing reach combined with his wingspan could maybe even turn him into a serviceable defensive rebounder. Edwards is certainly not one of the more promising defenders into the draft, but don’t rule out the possibility of him being at least an average defender.
Carsen Edwards is a mature 21 year old prospect who will contribute immediately in the NBA. If this hasn’t been implied by now, Edwards is an absolute scoring machine. While he won’t be asked to take over a game as he did in college, there’s no doubt that he can be the spark plug off the bench to begin his career. As mentioned earlier, Edwards is projected to go in the 27-30 range in most mock drafts and Edwards can definitely help a championship contender like the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors or learn from some of the best by playing under Coach Popovich in San Antonio or be the backup point guard to D’Angelo Russel or maybe Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn (Brooklyn also possesses the 31st pick). In Milwaukee, Edwards could replace George Hill as the Bucks will almost inevitably waive Hill. While George Hill was a great veteran presence for this Bucks team and he played really well in the playoffs, the Bucks will look to avoid picking up his 19 million dollar contract by releasing him. While Eric Bledsoe doesn’t have that much of a similar game to Edwards, he is also an undersized guard with a strong frame. Another plus playing in Milwaukee would be that the Bucks could cover up the defensive liabilities Edwards could have. In Golden State, the bench depth was exposed by the Toronto Raptors in the finals. Edwards could have been the spark plug the Warriors needed. It’s self-explanatory why being the backup for two time MVP Steph Curry is beneficial, but it will pay further dividends for Edwards considering Curry is another lights-outs scorer who entered the NBA as an underdog with a heroic run in the NCAA tournament.
Edwards probably won’t end up being the generational talent that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant are supposed to be but down the road to 5, 10, 15 years from now, Carsen Edwards could certainly be one of the most notable selections of the 2019 NBA draft and have a solid career.