With the draft less than 10 days away, we take a look at a Draft Twitter darling and how he could help the Sixers as soon as 2022.
I don’t really like baseball. The game just moves too slow for my liking and takes away the abundance of chances and opportunities that are ever present in a game such as basketball. However, one of my absolute favorite movies is about baseball — Moneyball.
And when I think about Kessler Edwards, I’m reminded of this very scene in that film, as Peter Brand played by Jonah Hill describes free agent pitcher Chad Bradford (start at around 2:45 in the video):
“This is Chad Bradford. He’s a relief pitcher, and he is one of the most undervalued players in baseball. His defect is that he throws funny. Nobody in the big league cares about him, because he looks funny. I think this guy could be not just the best pitcher in our bullpen, but one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of baseball.”
In my opinion, Edwards should be rated by the consensus draft prognosticators much more highly than he is. Most have him pegged for the late first round or early second, when in reality he should be a selection in the post-lottery teens or early 20’s, and the main reason he is underrated is that his shot looks a bit funny.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that belief. This is an actual screenshot that exists of him moments before taking a corner 3:
Now that’s an outlier bad form that resulted from a very awkward situation, but on the whole, Edwards does have a unique shot form that is jarring to the eye at first glance (Edwards is No. 15 in blue at the top of the key, and the one who takes the shot, obviously).
It’s weird. His chest is leaning in front of his toes on the rise. He kicks his right leg forward at an odd angle and then lands with his feet split north-south. And yet, the junior out of Pepperdine has shot 39.0 percent on 374 3-point attempts over three collegiate seasons. Funky as it might be, Kessler can flat out shoot that thing.
More importantly, notice what Edwards was doing prior to receiving the pass. He’s constantly shuffling his feet, hunting for that opening from behind the arc. It’s that aspect of his game that makes me such a big defender of his game. He has a knack for off-ball movement as a 6-foot-7 shooting force. Standstill marksmanship from a non-guard is valuable. Versatile, motion-based shooting from the same type of player can be life-changing for an offense.
A play that I’d like the Sixers to incorporate more into their playbook in 2021-22 is double drag, where the ball handler receives two consecutive ball screens in hopes of getting the defense in a confused, switch-heavy mess. To my recollection, Tobias Harris most often ran this play for Philly, followed by some Seth Curry possessions, some others for Tyrese Maxey, and the occasional hilarious snug double drag run 15 feet from the basket for everyone’s favorite non-shooter, Ben Simmons.
Often in double drag, one screener pops while the other one rolls, and Edwards is perfect in that popper role. Not only is he a threat the defense has to respect, but should an opponent properly dissuade the action, he won’t just stand idle and let them off the hook.
On that play, Edwards sees that BYU has all the primary options covered, and that things should have stalled all the way out. However, he notices a cleared corner to his side, and expertly slides along the perimeter to open up a pass for his teammate and a shot for himself.
A player who thinks of himself as a floor spacer stands still and lets the offense flow into its next attack. A player who knows that he is a sniper keeps on moving, hoping to punish a defense for any momentary mistake, and Kessler Edwards is one of those players.
Yes, Edwards clanked that shot, but that’s an open look for a good shooter, and the way he went about creating that opportunity was flawless. As Sam Hinkie taught us, leaning on process over immediate results can lead to quite a bit of good.
In terms of how Edwards shoots, he’s from the JJ Redick and Landry Shamet school of “running to the right” while shooting. You’ll often see him curling around the three-point line, hoping to swing that top leg around on the catch and square himself to the bucket while rising up for the shot.
You can see it on this absolutely gorgeous opening set that Lorenzo Romar dialed up, having the Pepperdine big man set a pin-down for Edwards immediately after being a screener in the initial horns action, allowing Kessler to quickly curl for the 3:
This set Pepperdine ran for a Kessler Edwards three to start their game vs Gonzaga is absolutely NASTY #SixersDraftSzn pic.twitter.com/0tr458qQpJ
— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) June 22, 2021
Similar to how I desire for the Sixers to run more double drag actions next season, they could stand to use more ghost screens at the top of the key, having a shooting threat feint the ball screen and slip for an open 3. They most often used this with Seth Curry and Furkan Korkmaz “ghosting” for Ben Simmons, and with Korkmaz likely departing for a new home in free agency, replacing one 6-foot-7 shooter with another is very enticing.
Now it would probably be better for Edwards to rise up in both of those clips without hesitation, as that pause gives the defense a chance to recover. However, I appreciate his bold, aggressive nature, understanding that his height gives him an advantage in being able to get these shots off, and he has no fear of taking a “bad shot” in the face of a contest. The Sixers need 3-point shot hunters, and that mentality is 100 percent embedded in Edwards.
Additionally, while Edwards is far removed from being a primary creator or menacing dribble drive threat (only a 31.3% Free Throw drawing rate and just under three at-rim attempts per game, according to BartTorvik), he is not a guy who can simply be run off the line by a hard closeout.
As with most things Kessler Edwards-related, his pull-up jumper looks pretty weird, leaning over as if he’s about to fall. Yet it remains effective, as the Pepperdine junior shot a very respectable 46.3 percent on non-rim two’s on decent volume (121 attempts). The Waves even trusted him enough to operate as the handler in a ball-screen action at times, having a guard set the pick for him with hopes of creating a pull-up opportunity.
Of note, similar to how he prefers to be circling to the right as he hunts a catch-and-shoot 3, Edwards is far more comfortable attacking right off the dribble than he is with his left. He’s more inclined to pull-up from 12-15 feet, rather than gliding all the way to the basket, However, he occasionally could ramble all the way home when driving right, whereas going left he’s much more hesitant.
Edwards has a step on Corey Kispert in both of those plays, yet picks up and passes early for seemingly no reason other than he just didn’t want to get into the paint that way. Maybe it’s a lack of feel and play recognition that he doesn’t look up to see the opening. Maybe he’s just trying to adhere to the set motion of the play. Either way, he appears uncomfortable moving left and wastes the advantage that’s been created for him.
Compare that to when he gets to turn the corner with the ball in his right hand, and the change in driving aggression is blatantly visible.
A college team where Edwards is far and away the best player can’t consistently scheme up those momentum-based drives to the right with his teammates unable to draw attention off of him. An above-average NBA team with an MVP-level player like the Sixers can.
He’s not going to be a high usage player with large box score production. He was very clearly the best NBA Draft prospect on his college team for three straight years and only cleared 20% usage once, with that being a mere 22.2%.
What he does project as is a perfect 4th and/or 5th option in the lineup of a good team, offering an NBA-level skill without forcing superiorly talented players to trade off their own usage, but with enough ancillary offensive skills that he cannot be taken away with one strategic move from a defense.
Defensively, Kessler is not a one-on-one stopper, but he is what most wings with length and mobility are — versatile and trustworthy. As PD Web told me on the Sixers Draft podcast, Edwards is practically a scheme perfect defender, almost always in the right position off-ball with his hands up, active and calling out other actions to his teammates.
He can guard positions 2-4 pretty comfortably, and against non-spectacular 1’s he should fine, but guarding up to the center position is a big ask given his current build. Edwards tested at only 4.3% body fat at the NBA Draft Combine, which is great for being in shape, but not great for his chances at banging with dudes inside.
He’s got a high center of gravity and has trouble maintaining position when directly attacked by bulkier players. Fortunately, developing physical strength is something NBA staffs are generally good at, and playing on a team with powerful post defenders such as Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and (for now at least) Ben Simmons would mean Edwards wouldn’t be asked to handle that responsibility.
The Sixers this year reminded me a bit of the 2019 and 2020 Bucks teams, in that they had a great fastball, but the lack of curves and changeups killed them in the postseason (two baseball references in the same article, sheesh I must be slipping). They played one specific way on both ends of the court all season and were very good at it, but when confronted by a team who simply couldn’t be out-talented in Atlanta, they were unable to adjust or throw a counter. Part of that falls on Doc Rivers for failing to make those changes, but it also falls on the roster construction that relies on so many non-versatile players, guys who can only exist in one context or lineup.
Kessler Edwards is the opposite of that notion. He is useful and can fit into just about any lineup or role required of him. Need someone to come off the bench and keep the offense from devolving into contested mid-range floaters from Shake Milton with his dynamic shooting? He can do that.
Need someone with more size to spot Seth Curry some minutes when Kevin Huerter is going to work on him from the mid-post without sacrificing spacing or shooting? Edwards is your guy too.
He’s a proven shooter who doesn’t rely on stationary attempts, while also possessing the athletic traits and basketball acumen needed to function in space when facing wings of similar ilk at the NBA level. And yet, a decent number of draft boards would have you think he’s more likely to be a target for the Sixers at the 50th pick rather than 28th.
As Jonah Hill turned Peter Brand told Billy Beane following his Bradford monologue, “This guy should cost you one million dollars a year. Instead we can get him for $237,000.”
Edwards shouldn’t be available by the time the Sixers pick, yet somehow it seems very likely that their $237,000 will be more than enough. Here’s to hoping Daryl Morey and Co. spend it the right way.
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