With a bounty of draft picks from the 2019 Tradepocalypse summer, the Thunder will be scouting young prospects at the top of recruiting and draft classes once again. Daily Thunder will keep you informed on whether those players look like good targets for Oklahoma City.
At a glance
The first thing you notice about Edwards’ game is how strong he is at the guard position at such a young age. He’s one of the younger players in this class — he won’t turn 19 until next August — but is already a solid 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. He’s powerful enough to explode to the rim and skilled enough to get to his dribble pull-up game before a defender can contest. His 5.1 free throw attempts per game put him eighth in the SEC and first among freshmen.
Defensively, the potential is there. Hampton is listed at 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, but there’s room for him to add to that frame. If he does stick as a true point guard, he has excellent size, length and athleticism to defend his position well. He will need to add strength and improve his defensive instincts, but there’s plenty of potential for him to be an above average defender in addition to whatever he becomes on offense.
Athletically, there’s not much more you could ask for. Edwards is strong, fluid and skilled enough to do almost anything you want from a guard on the basketball court. Perhaps most importantly for the modern game, he has the range required to stretch the geometry of an NBA floor. So far this season, he’s made 33 percent of his 3-point shots at a clip of seven attempts per game.
If you want to get a good grasp of Edwards’ game, I recommend watching the second half of Georgia’s game against Michigan State earlier this season. He keyed a 23-4 run by doing all sorts of things well (scoring and passing in transition, an off-the-dribble three, attacking a closeout and burying a midrange jumper, knocking down free throws, and playing solid defense).
However, Edwards also displayed a few of the question marks — not quite red flags at this stage — about his game during that stretch against the Spartans. His shot selection was poor at times, he was rarely active away from the ball and his defense was inconsistent. All of those things are fixable and should become less of a concern as he plays more high-level basketball and receives coaching from Tom Crean. But those factors also essentially boil down to basketball IQ — which is not something you want to have questions about in a potential No. 1 overall pick. And while his shooting is not a concern at this point, it has slowly dropped from 38 percent from deep to 33 percent over the last few weeks.
Thunder Fit: Could he play alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
Putting Edwards next to Gilgeous-Alexander would be a very interesting experiment. Both have great size and length for the guard position and both can score, although they do so in very different — but complimentary — ways. There would be some obvious pros and cons to this arrangement, should OKC be fortunate enough to be in position to draft Edwards in the top 5.
Let’s tackle the negative first. To this point, neither SGA nor Edwards have proven to be a dynamic distributor. It’s possible neither of these players are a true lead guard, but rather a secondary ball handler who can make plays when needed (a la Donovan Mitchell or Dwyane Wade). It’s also possible one of them develops that ability, like Russell Westbrook did after Oklahoma City selected him No. 4 overall in 2008.
On the plus side, Edwards is exactly the kind of scorer that the Thunder should want to develop alongside Gilgeous-Alexander the next couple years. He can score at all three levels, and is only going to get better as he matures. With a 6-foot-9 wingspan, he’d also make an excellent backcourt pairing with SGA on the defensive end of the floor.
Making the pick
Even if you don’t think Edwards or SGA are pure lead guards, putting them together would be too enticing for OKC to pass up. As of now, Edwards is a legitimate contender to go No. 1 overall in the 2020 NBA draft. If he’s available when Oklahoma City is picking, it’s hard to imagine Sam Presti passing him up.
At this point, it appears the Thunder won’t get that chance. They’re sitting in the 7-seed and well out of the lottery as momentum is ramping up for Edwards to top the 2020 NBA draft.