Analyzing Anthony Edwards and A.J. Lawson

February 26th, 2020

by Alan Lu

Today, I took the time to watch Anthony Edwards and Georgia play against A.J. Lawson and South Carolina in what was another SEC college basketball game between them that took place.   South Carolina had thoroughly dominated to get a blowout win in their previous meeting, and I was expecting yet another rout once again, but I also expected Anthony Edwards to play well. To my surprise, not only did Edwards play very well, but he was outstanding in this game, and Georgia was actually quite competitive, as they managed to send it to overtime. Anthony Edwards nearly willed his way to get his team the victory, as he was practically carrying Georgia upon his back. But South Carolina proved to be too much for any one man to defeat, and their solid interior play, defense, and ability to attack the basket helped get them an adventurous and eventful overtime win over Georgia in their bid to try to reach the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Here are my prospect evaluations on Anthony Edwards and A.J. Lawson, as well as how their games may fare in the NBA.

Georgia's freshman guard, Anthony Edwards provided the most compelling reason to watch this game, as he poured on 36 points in his team's overtime loss to South Carolina.   (Photo: @UGAbasketball Twitter, via Dawg Nation.)
Georgia’s freshman guard, Anthony Edwards provided the most compelling reason to watch this game, as he poured on 36 points in his team’s overtime loss to South Carolina. (Photo: @UGAbasketball Twitter, via Dawg Nation.)

Georgia’s freshman guard, Anthony Edwards put forth a tremendous performance in his team’s overtime loss to South Carolina, as he may have made his strongest case to be the top pick of the 2020 NBA Draft as he managed to score 36 points in which he made big plays down the stretch, and he also played solid defense in this game.

Edwards did a very good job of getting scores off the dribble. He excelled at scoring on speedy, strong drives in transition, as he would often get past his man to score on layups, and he also managed to score on a thunderous dunk on the break. He also used a quick spin move to score on a strong drive to the hoop, and he also showed a knack for drawing fouls upon his defenders.

Plus, he also excelled at scoring on quick cuts to the hoop. He managed to score on a powerful dunk off of one backdoor cut, and he also would cut to the hoop to get the ball, as he would drive in to get fouled in order to get to the free throw line.

He also showed a decent ability to knock down jumpers to provide floor spacing for his team. Edwards showed a knack for making spot-up threes off the catch, as he can make them from way out, and he also can run off the ball to knock them down. Edwards also used a ball fake and a side step move prior to making a pull-up three to show his ability to make long-range shots off the dribble. Plus, he also drew three free throws on a corner three. If there would be any sort of criticism on his game, it would be minor. He did go for a few stretches when he hoist up threes that would end up missing, and he also missed on a step back, pull-up, mid-range jumper on the break. He also had his shot blocked in the post despite using a quick rip move to get to the hoop. Edwards was a bit streaky with his jump shot, but he was able to make some impressive long-range jumpers to keep his team in the contest.

Also, he displayed adequate playmaking skills in this game. Edwards showed off solid court sense, and he is a talented player that can get to where he wants with the ball, and he can deliver some nice passes to get assists. He tends to make solid reads, and he tends to pass well on the move. On the downside, his team was also really struggling to make shots on offense apart from him, so there would be times where he would really try to force the issue that would lead to turnovers. It seemed that having to try to do everything would sometimes hamper him, as he would get a little too much mustard on his passes, and he would aggressively go hard to the hoop, but was sometimes prone to over-dribbling into traffic, which would occasionally result in ball-handling turnovers. Edwards showed a knack for passing off the dribble, as well as throwing nice dishes to teammates in transition to pick up assists. As the primary shot creator on his team, it was necessary for him to try to create off the dribble and to make strong passes to get his teammates open looks, but because his teammates also had trouble making shots, his opponents could collapse and crowd him to get him to commit some turnovers.

He also did a good job of rebounding the basketball. Edwards was quite active at crashing the glass, and he would chase down balls to get defensive boards to help his team.

Edwards also played solid defense. He is a rangy defender that showed a penchant for quickly jumping passes to get steals, as this would often allow him to score on fast breaks the other way. He also will look to poke balls away, as he was able to help his team force another turnover when defending on a drive. Plus, he also was active in contesting three-point shots to force misses, and he also showed off a good motor on a play where he tried to save a ball to a teammate in an effort to try to help his team collect another steal. On the downside, he can gamble a bit too much defensively. There was one play where he whiffed on a steal attempt, as it led him to be out of position and unable to get back, as his team allowed a dunk in transition. He also was sometimes a bit too aggressive in trying to defend his man, as he ended up picking up a couple of touch fouls as a result.

In general, Anthony Edwards had a terrific showing in his team’s loss to South Carolina. It was not wholly unexpected that his team would lose, in fact, for most of the game, it seemed like an inevitability. The fact that he was able to score 36 points and help out in virtually every phase of the game, and that his team even took the lead late in this game is a testament to how truly gifted he is as an overall player. It’s a shame that such a talented player chose such a bad team to play for in college basketball, and Georgia probably won’t make the NCAA Tournament, which would be a shame.

Edwards turned in a dominant performance in his team’s loss to South Carolina, and this may be the first game where it has opened my eyes as to how truly good he could be in the NBA. I’ll admit, I’ve had some reservations about him in the past as I have debated between him or James Wiseman to go number one in 2020.  While there are obvious reasons to pick Edwards, there are also have been some compelling counters as to why someone may be a bit hesitant to make that choice, at least prior to today.  He’s been a really good player on a bad team, and he’s had some games where he’s displayed questionable shot selection and porous defense, but not tonight. His shot selection was on point, partially also because he did such a tremendous job of making them, and he also seemed to give his best defensive effort of the season among any game that I’ve tuned in. If Edwards is the player that we saw in this game against South Carolina, then he should be the number one overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, as he is a player that has the talent to be a perennial All-Star in the association.

South Carolina managed to eek out an entertaining, overtime victory over Georgia, but A.J. Lawson put forth an uneven performance as his performance was a bit lackluster in his team's win.  (Photo: Field Level Media, via Saltwire at https://www.saltwire.com/sports/basketball/south-carolina-slips-past-georgia-in-overtime-416364/.)
South Carolina managed to eek out an entertaining, overtime victory over Georgia, but A.J. Lawson put forth an uneven performance as his performance was a bit lackluster in his team’s win. (Photo: Field Level Media, via Saltwire at https://www.saltwire.com/sports/basketball/south-carolina-slips-past-georgia-in-overtime-416364/.)

If Anthony Edwards was my main reason to tune in, South Carolina’s 6-6 sophomore swingman, A.J. Lawson was my secondary line of reasoning to watch this game. Whenever I’ve seen him play, he seems to be up and down, and so has his draft stock, or so it seems. As of right now, his draft stock seems to be at a season low, as ESPN has recently dropped him off their board. Still, I focused on him as well, as I had regarded him to be South Carolina’s best prospect, but in this match, he was far from being South Carolina’s best player of the game in their overtime win over Georgia.

Lawson didn’t seem to be much of a shot creator, and he would rarely look to score on half-court drives to the hoop. If anything, he showed a knack for drawing fouls on cuts as well as in transition, as he would often get to the free throw line. The problem was that he also would often miss when he was there, as he really struggled to make his free throws at the charity stripe. He showed a good ability to run the floor, and he can use off-ball motion to get open, but he will need to focus on his free-throw shooting in order to be a more consistently productive offensive player in games.

He was inconsistent in making long-range jumpers from beyond the arc, and Lawson had trouble making three-point shots for long stretches. On the plus side, he was able to make a couple of open corner threes off the catch, and he was able to make a long-range jumper down the stretch to keep his team in it.

Mostly though, he looked to pass and to facilitate, and Lawson basically operated as the team’s point forward on the floor. He can throw solid interior passes to notch assists, as he will find cutters, and he also can make nice drop off passes off the dribble to set up scores for his teammates on the break. He will often look to find the open man, to the point where it seems like he may even not take enough shots. However, Lawson would sometimes over-dribble and play too out of control, as he had a ball poked away on a drive, and he also got tied up when handling it another time that led to turnovers. He also threw a pass that was picked off, and there would be times where he would play too recklessly on offense.

Lawson did a fairly good job of rebounding the basketball. He would chase down balls to get defensive boards to help his team on the glass, and sometimes he would bring the ball up the floor to create early offense and transition scoring opportunities for his team. On the downside, he also can be too aggressive in trying to make plays, as he also was called for a foul on an opponent’s put back, which led him to commit his fourth foul of the game.

However, he did not seem to play very good defense in this game. For the positives, Lawson is an active help defender that can make some plays on the ball. He was able to jump a pass to get a steal, and he also contested a deep three to force a miss another time. However, he often had trouble guarding opponents off the dribble, as he would tend to be out of position and trail his man, and it would lead him to commit fouls and allow scores. He also was on the wrong side of defending a cut, which led him to foul an opponent on a high post drive off of a cut another time.

In summary, A.J. Lawson was able to make some good plays at times, but his play this season overall has been confounding and enigmatic, and it has been frustrating to watch him to play so poorly in some moments, and then suddenly play well in other junctures. Unfortunately, as of right now, he’s looking to be less of the first-round prospect he was billed to be to start the season, and Lawson is looking to be more of a bubble second-round prospect.

The concerns despite his obvious athletic gifts are that he’s not an especially gifted shot creator in the half-court, is way too streaky with his jump shot, struggles to make his free throws, and it also seems as if he’s getting roasted defensively all too often lately. He may need to go back to the basics, which would be to focus on making shots and defending well, and then he can see his draft stock pick back up. Currently, he may be slated to be a second round prospect, as he may have a moderately high ceiling but also have a low floor, which could potentially be enough to scare NBA teams away from drafting him if he decides to declare for the draft later this year.

In conclusion, watching this game seemed like a futile enterprise, as I was half expecting this match to turn out to be as lopsided as their match in the previous meeting, but even so, I was nevertheless determined to do so. I came in knowing all too well that I’d likely be seeing Edwards play his heart out in yet another loss to a conference opponent.  He poured in 36 points as he clearly dominated the entire match, but the rest of his team made under 40% of their field goals and they struggled to make shots apart from him, and it looked pretty clear to me that unless he would have the game of his life, his team would ultimately lose to South Carolina. They did end up losing in overtime, but Edwards took over for long stretches that made me think that just maybe Georgia could pull out the victory in the unlikeliest circumstances.

In terms of why I decided to see A.J. Lawson play live, I feel he’s a very athletic swingman that possesses considerable upside, as he’s shown flashes of brilliance, but other times seems like he can get lost in the shuffle. I’ve seen him thoroughly dominate in a U19 World Cup basketball game and he played very well in his first meeting against Georgia, but he also didn’t seem to show up in his team’s loss to Wichita State, and he seemed to blend into the background a bit too much at times in this game in his team’s second meeting against the Bulldogs.

Still, Lawson’s ability to knock down jumpers and score on cuts and in transition seem to be intriguing, along with his ability to facilitate and defend on the floor. His draft stock has fallen considerably since the start of the season though, as ESPN no longer lists him as a top 100 draft prospect surprisingly, but that didn’t deter me from seeing this game because I specifically tuned in only to watch Anthony Edwards and A.J. Lawson play. So for a guy like Lawson, I’m sort of divided about him as a prospect, yet the prospect of his upside seems to be tantalizing. I see a bit of some Kevin Martin in him, as Lawson to me has shown flashes of star potential, but I also could see him end up being like an R.J. Hunter like player in the NBA.

For most of regulation, South Carolina looked to be in control, as they received strong post play from their big men, most notably from Alanzo Frink, but Jalyn McCreary and Maik Kotsar also played well. Keyshawn Bryant showed impressive athleticism by scoring on a couple of eye-popping dunks in this game. They played solid defense for the most part, except they couldn’t contain Edwards, as was pretty much expected. But in the 2nd half, South Carolina had trouble making their free throws, and they went on cold spells down the stretch, and suddenly the idea of a comfortable win for them was in doubt.

South Carolina then relied on their big men to dominate in the post, and Lawson was able to make spot-up three late in the game while also continually getting to the free throw line to help his team towards the end of regulation. Edwards continued his onslaught, but South Carolina proved to be too much for Georgia, as the Gamecocks went on to win in overtime. Undoubtedly, South Carolina is a more talented team top to bottom, and they relied on their depth and superior post play to get them the victory.

As for Anthony Edwards, he looked every bit like the number one overall pick he’s been billed to be for the 2020 NBA Draft, and he put forth his best performance I’ve seen yet, as he scored 36 points in his team’s gut-wrenching loss to South Carolina. (For those of you who are wondering about the Michigan State game, yes, he did play very well in that one, too, but no, I did not see that game, because it was on pretty early in the morning, and my schedule wouldn’t have allowed me to see that one live. As for the other players not named Edwards or Lawson, there were plenty of other players that also played well, but my energy has been spent, and I’ve decided not to provide analysis or in-depth look on the other guys.)

Ultimately, Anthony Edwards was the best player on the floor, and he was every bit as good as advertised, and more so, but at the end of the day, this game still proves that basketball is a team sport, and good coaching and teammates are needed to help teams get wins.