On the surface, Purdue junior guard Carsen Edwards isn’t much of an intriguing NBA Draft prospect. He’s 6 feet tall, had more turnovers than assists this past season (113 to 104), and put together highlight-infused scoring flurries that belied his overall efficiency and impact. But this is where context becomes so crucial, and in this case, it ultimately molds Edwards into a consensus top-40 prospect.
This year, Edwards had a usage rate of 37.3 percent, hoisted 10.6 3-pointers per game, and shot 35.5 percent from deep. Only one other player in the Sports Reference database (2009-10 and onward) has eclipsed those marks: Campbell’s Chris Clemons this season. Lower those marks to 37, 10 and 35, and it’s a four-man class of Edwards, Clemons, Trae Young, and Jhivvan Jackson. Aside from Edwards, Trae is the only other player from a power conference.
The proliferation of the 3-pointer surely accounts for this newly established club to an extent — all four hit these thresholds over the past two seasons — but it underscores the unique context of Edwards’ role. He generated moderate scoring efficiency on historically high volume and usage. It wasn’t just the quantity of Edwards’ attempts either. It was the degree to which he relied on pull-up shooting. According to Synergy, he was one of 10 players to register 200-plus off-the-dribble jumpers this season, and of those 10, only one other played in a power conference (Markus Howard, Marquette).
Even when factoring in those details, skepticism persists — and justifiably so. Not every college star is fit for a scaled-down NBA role. Some dudes just constantly need the ball in their hands to be effective and those opportunities don’t always extend to the league. Edwards is not one of those players.
As a sophomore, with significantly more talent around him, he didn’t shoulder the same burden. His usage rate was *only* 30 percent, 59.8 percent of his 3s were assisted upon (47.4 percent this year), and he buried 40.6 percent of his long balls on 6.5 attempts a night. Last season, he took 142 shots off the dribble and ranked in the 95th percentile. Among the 365 players with 100-plus possessions, Edwards finished 10th in points per possession at 1.134. When he wasn’t forced into as many contested, off-balance and bail-out jumpers, his pull-up shooting efficiency was essentially elite. Year-to-year variance certainly comes into play here, and Edwards might not be quite as good as the ranking suggests. Regardless, it’s clearly a valuable strength of his and one that projects to remain as such in the NBA when he’s not the focal point of an offense.
Here’s a brief summation of his elite shot-making in 2017-18:
Carsen Edwards was basically an elite shooter as a sophomore:— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 7, 2019
- 40.6% from 3 (6.5 attempts/game, 40% of makes were unassisted)
- 42.4% on 2-point jumpers (74% of makes were unassisted)
- 95th percentile in off-the-dribble jumpers
- 76th percentile on catch-and-shoots
Detractors might point to his decision-making/shot selection as a primary reason his scoring efficiency plummeted (59.6 percent true shooting in 2017-18), though he was far more judicious in a complementary role the prior year. It’s clear he can temper himself when constrained by a shorter leash. Personally, I have Edwards 17th on my Big Board. I’m not generally drawn to 6-foot guards who lack primary initiator upside, but Edwards is different. Because I see him optimized in an off-ball role next to a wing-sized lead ball-handler — the type of team construction that can be tough to find — he slid a few spots; I’d have him top-15 otherwise. But with Ben Simmons (and maybe Jimmy Butler), the Sixers have exactly that: a jumbo initiator who allows Edwards to defend opposing 1s while manning the off-guard spot offensively. Plus, his gravity as a pull-up/spot-up shooter will perfectly complement Simmons in transition, alleviating defensive pressure at the rim or providing a release valve on the wings.
Unlike many high-usage, ball-dominant collegiate guards, Edwards isn’t foreign to operating off the ball. That’s another reason I’m high on him. The way he was used in college partially represented how NBA teams will (or should) utilize him — at least in the sense that he understands how to maneuver around off-ball screens. There will be a learning curve, but it won’t be as steep as many other score-first guys. Often, he didn’t even initiate the offense or dribble up the floor for Purdue, and instead, began near the corners and flew around picks to get the wheels spinning.
He takes tight routes past screens to generate separation from defenders, has concise shot prep with his footwork, holsters a quick trigger, and can bury contested or off-balance jumpers. The elevation he gets when he shoots helps to offset his lack of size, too.
The pull-up shooting equity only strengthens his case as an elite shooter. Whereas some players can be easily skirted off the line and forced to keep the ball moving, mitigating some of their shot-making prowess, Edwards is capable of working off the bounce. If defenders hastily exile him from behind the arc, he’ll simply recalibrate, take a dribble and fire away. Catch-and-shoot guys have significant value, but in the playoffs, when opponents key in on the weaknesses of one-dimensional marksmen like that, their impact as floor-spacers is diminished. At least as a shooter, Edwards won’t have that issue.
Even if he struggles at the rim (52.7 percent the last two years) and defenses attempt to funnel him there, he’s displayed a knack for impressive pull-up shooting in traffic. That’s not usually a trait I’d point out, but Edwards consistently cashed in with defenders locked on his hip/back or in his face. He functions well in tight spaces, excels at change-of-direction moves, and can create space in a crowd. When paired with the other types of shooting equity he provides, it’s a worthwhile skill.
*As an aside, Edwards shot 57.3 percent at the rim in 2017-18 and 49.2 percent this season. Finishing inside is by no means a strength, but I don’t believe it’s quite the glaring weakness some seem to peg it as. When he’s not tasked with a towering offensive burden, he appears to be a merely below-average scorer at the rim, rather than a historically below-average one. His shiftiness, body control, and horizontal burst are all pluses inside, while decision-making and lack of vertical explosiveness hold him back.*
It’s not just the off-movement value that Edwards provides — his mere threat as a shooter from all areas of the floor draws defenders and stretches the court. Gravity is sometimes an overstated buzzword these days, but his is legit and nearly omnipresent past half-court.
Edwards’ quick trigger and ability to get open off of screens constantly drew double-teams from defenders. Sometimes, he merely shrugged off the pressure and looked to score anyway, though I largely think that was a function of his role and less of an indictment on his decision-making; in 2017-18, he was noticeably more frugal with his shot attempts. But other times, he swiftly spotted the open man and zipped simple reads for shots. It wasn’t usually anything overly complex, but the quick processing system is encouraging. Capitalizing off of your own magnetism and creating easy looks for others isn’t something every shooter, even at the NBA level, can do. Edwards flashed the requisite facilitating chops to provide ancillary playmaking in his role as an off-ball scorer.
Some of those passes came off the catch, while others were out of the pick-and-roll. JJ Redick is capable of making some of the former, but not the latter. This iteration of the Philadelphia 76ers hasn’t had a pull-up shooting threat like Edwards yet. Butler can score off the dribble, but he’s nowhere near as willing or deadly from deep as Edwards. Redick is one of the league’s best shooters, but he doesn’t derive much value as a self-creator. Edwards, more or less, is a blend of both traits and would infuse a new dimension into the Sixers’ offense.
When a guy has range from 30-plus feet off the bounce, it alters how teams defend him. When you shoot 313 of your 380 total 3s from NBA range (114 of 313, 36.4 percent), it only heightens the respect. Look at these open shots that Edwards helps spark without the ball in his hands:
(If it’s not clear in that second clip, #3, Dylan Windler, completely ignores the inbounder to deny Edwards the basketball 35 feet from the hoop. The inbounder, Ryan Cline, executes a give-and-go, the big has to close out, bites on a shot fake, and Cline skates right by for a layup.)
You could argue that NBA teams won’t offer the same level of attention as collegiate defenders. But I’d push back against that and point to the way Trae Young was guarded as a rookie — regularly trapped just beyond half-court — even when his 3-point percentage hovered in the 20s. I’m not paralleling him and Edwards as overall prospects, not even close; I simply think their shooting equity is on similar levels. Both were dynamic shot-makers on and off the ball in college and carried enormous magnetism. Trae struggled out of the gates, but defenses still viewed him as a lethal shooter; I’m betting they do the same with Edwards.
Here are two examples of how some teams (read: Virginia, in these pictures) sold out to stop him at Purdue. Just imagine the open real estate other guys will feast on, assuming Edwards promptly makes the correct passing read:
As it pertains to Edwards’ specific fit in the Sixers’ offensive scheme, he projects as hand-in-glove. Essentially, he could emulate Redick’s usage with added versatility off the dribble. He’d flow through floppy sets, work those 1-2 pick-and-pops with Simmons, and tango with Joel Embiid in the dribble hand-off dance. And at 6 feet, 200 pounds, he has the frame to serve as a screener, particularly on those flex screens for Embiid, much like Redick. He wasn’t utilized as such very often in college, but he’s not incapable by any means. Watch this hard-nosed pick:
What really hammers home Edwards’ ideal fit in Philadelphia is if Butler re-signs. Doing so would allow the Sixers to potentially pair Edwards with a wing initiator at all times, which, again, is the best way to maximize him on both sides of the floor. In second units, he could even operate on the ball, given his pull-up shooting and decent vision in the pick-and-roll (his size limits him to a large degree at times). Off the bounce, he utilizes his compact frame to create space by bumping defenders out of rhythm, and applies rare leg strength to maintain balance on violent step-backs or pull-ups.
All of those clips and words might paint Edwards as a budding offensive superstar whose frame is the only hindrance on his path to NBA greatness. In fairness, and to acknowledge the counterargument to being high on Edwards as a prospect, there are downsides. While I’m confident his erratic shot selection was a product of an astronomical workload this season — largely evidenced by the added discretion that lorded over his game as a sophomore — it’s possible those deep-range, off-balance 3s give him the quick hook if they don’t consistently fall. As a passer, his 6-foot stature caps his capabilities. When he attacks the rim, he’s prone to missing reads and forcing shots. Offensively, he needs to be close to elite as a shooter to provide proper value. I buy him as one, but the margin is undoubtedly thin. Maximizing his value requires a specific role, one that Philadelphia can provide: off-ball scorer with intermittent pull-up shooting.
Reinforcing my belief in Edwards is his defense. A high-usage, 6-foot guard doesn’t seem likely to be a positive defender, but from my vantage point, he is. On a simplistic level, he’s competent enough to make basic, but important decisions: tagging rollers, stunting on drives, and closing out in a disciplined manner with high hands (his leg strength enables quick, controlled closeouts).
Edwards boasts a 6-foot-6 wingspan, springy lateral quickness, and abnormal strength for a point guard. At the NBA Draft Combine, Edwards was a headliner in certain areas, ranking seventh in lane agility, third in the shuttle run, and sixth in max bench press among 58 participants. Unlike some players, he applies those athletic measurements well, especially on the ball, where he harnesses upper body physicality and impactful lateral mobility:
He’s prone to overinvolvement and off-ball lapses; sometimes, he’s flat-footed and that 200-pound frame prevents him from recovering quickly enough to stay in front of ball-handlers. But the overzealous nature of his off-ball defense — hunting to make a direct impact on plays — seems like a tendency that can be reined in, because Edwards does generally seem to have a grasp of how to operate on that end. At times, he’s flashed anticipatory reads in the passing lanes, evidenced by a 2.3 percent career steal rate.
Given his length, strength, and quickness, it seems like Edwards should be a competent defender across both backcourt spots. He doesn’t have much, if any, versatility beyond that, and isn’t a scheme-altering presence, but there are enough indicators to imply he’s nowhere a disaster-in-waiting. With Philadelphia having employed a switch-heavy approach last season, Edwards’ potential as a two-position defender is a positive, albeit slight, asset, as most 6-foot, off-ball dynamos don’t stand a chance against anyone but point guards.
The Sixers long for more off-movement shooting flanking Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Carsen Edwards needs an NBA home that allows him to play off of a bigger ball-handler. Philadelphia offers that situation, while Edwards fills a clear need️. Beyond that, I simply buy into Edwards as a top-20 prospect because of his elite and versatile shooting value, better-than-suggested playmaking, and serviceable guard defense. He has NBA-level athleticism and knows how to apply it on both ends. There’s a chance Edwards tops out as a bench spark plug, but given all that I’ve seen on tape and statistically, I’m betting his shooting carries him to a far more important role.