Bradley’s Buzz: True confession - I had no idea Anthony Edwards would be this good

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards gestures as time runs out in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards gestures as time runs out in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

I like to think I know a bit about basketball, though evidence to the contrary exists. I came away from an NBA summer game at Life University – this was before the NBA realized it might better marketize such sessions if they were staged in Vegas, as opposed to Marietta – believing I’d seen a future Hall of Famer. His name: Jonathan Bender.

(To be fair, Bender had knee issues that didn’t resolve.)

To my credit, I did – after arriving at Greensboro Coliseum on MLK Day 2003 as a bit of a skeptic – rise from my seat at halftime proclaiming that a St. Vincent-St. Mary senior was the greatest high school player I’d ever seen. His name: LeBron James.

OK, so pretty much everybody babbled about LeBron. But people babbled about Anthony Edwards, and I was among that group – at first. As a senior at Holy Spirit Prep, he had an NBA-ready body. (More than anything else, NBA teams look at body type.) But he wasn’t a raw talent. He was already skilled, which meant he’d been coached and taken well to coaching.

I got to know some of the people around him – Winfred Jordan, Edwards’ coach for the AAU Atlanta Xpress; Tysor Anderson, his coach at Holy Spirit (and the grandson of Lefty Driesell, Hall of Famer), and Tom Crean, then at Georgia after tutoring Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo at previous stops. Regarding Edwards, none voiced a discouraging word.

He was taken No. 1 overall by Minnesota in the COVID-delayed 2020 draft. By then I’d seen Edwards in person – he was great down the stretch against Georgia Tech in November; he made the difference in a February upset of No. 13 Auburn – but my last look left me wondering, not that I hadn’t been wondering already. I couldn’t square a player of his magnitude leaving so small an imprint.

After a decent-but-not-great showing in pre-conference games, Georgia hit a wall. At tipoff against Auburn on Feb. 19, it was 2-10 in SEC play. Edwards had had a touch of flu, but still: This team should have been better. Junior Rayshaun Hammonds was a good college player. Fellow freshman Toumani Camara just completed his first NBA season with Portland. Sahvir Wheeler would lead the SEC in assists twice.

In the cold light of hindsight, it’s apparent those Bulldogs never found a working mesh. Maybe they had too many gifted freshmen. (Theirs was the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class, per 247 Sports.) They had no big man. (UGA took to labeling each Bulldog as a “B” – as in “basketball player,” as opposed to “G” or “F” or “C.”)

We can’t say Edwards didn’t see the ball. He took an SEC-high 505 shots – 160 more than Hammonds, who finished second among Bulldogs in FGA. (Edwards also had 91 assists, UGA’s second-most.) But he settled for too many 3-pointers: He tried 245, the second-most among SEC players; he made but 29.4% of those.

At times – the astonishing second half against Michigan State in Maui being Exhibit A – it could seem Edwards was the only Bulldog on the floor. At others, you’d almost forget he was there. My final in-person glimpse of that team was in Nashville on the first night of the 2020 SEC Tournament. Edwards scored six points, missing 11 of 13 shots. The next day, the world shut down.

On March 11, 2020, if you’d have asked, “How good will Edwards be in the NBA?”, my answer would have been a hedge. He had the body and the fundamentals, and he seemed as grounded as an 18-year-old of such celebrity can be. That said, I was reasonably sure he wouldn’t have been the No. 1 pick had Zion Williamson been in his class.

I didn’t imagine that, four years later, I’d be comparing Edwards to the incomparable Michael Jordan. But here we are, and that’s what I’m doing, and I don’t think this is just me being fanciful.

As much as I’d love to say I saw this coming, I didn’t. But you know who thought it might? His college coach. In February 2020, Crean said: “Anthony has made so many strides. I’ll give you an example: Friday’s practice didn’t start out very well for him, and then he turns it up. He’s learning to take it to another level. Everything he learns at the college level is for the first time.”

Four years of NBA learning have taken Edwards from gifted prospect to global sensation. He had the tools, and he has put them to use. He has made himself great.

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