Carsen Edwards’ NBA Draft Profile

Carsen Edwards’ NBA Draft Profile

Feature image from @PurdueOnBTN

Carsen Edwards has declared for the NBA draft, plans to hire an agent, and is closing the door on his memorable Purdue career.

It’s always weird to elevate anyone to “Legendary” status while they’re still around a program, without the benefit of time to bolster his status. But Carsen’s combination of dynamic scoring, unlimited jump-shooting range, electric athleticism, and ability to seamlessly take roles as a role player or centerpiece made him my favorite Purdue basketball player of all time, and his resume makes him one of the most accomplished Boilermakers ever.

His jump to the NBA was expected, especially after he captured the imagination of every NBA fan and media member who only watches college basketball in March.

It’s also an informed decision, one year after Carsen attended the 2018 NBA Draft combine and got a feel for the process. (A fun Purdue wrinkle: Isaac Haas was the tallest player at the combine, and Carsen Edwards was the shortest.)

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing all year about whether Carsen’s abilities can translate to the next level, about “unfinished business” at Purdue, and about the ever-changing NBA Draft eligibility rules (aka: “Carsen could still come back!”). Let’s run through those one at a time, ending with Carsen’s and weaknesses as an NBA prospect.

 

New rules for the NBA draft

After the college basketball corruption scandal that somehow simultaneously shook the foundations of the NCAA and resulted in zero repercussions for anyone implicated, a few new rules were put in place to ease the transition between college, international, and NBA basketball.

College basketball players are now allowed to be represented by NBA Players’ Association-approved agents, if they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Agents can pay for meals and travel for each prospect’s visit to NBA team events (with their families included), and that player-agent relationship must end if they return to school. This change is good for pretty much everyone, as it gives players a more realistic way to navigate the NBA landscape and it removes all conflict-of-interest resulting from NBA recommendations flowing through college coaches.

Similarly, players that participate in the NBA Combine can return to school without losing eligibility if undrafted. This would have been applicable for Carsen last year, as he got a last-minute invite to the combine but was unlikely to be drafted had he not withdrawn.

This year…well, that’s not as relevant. I know Carsen hiring an agent now isn’t as binary of a line as it used to be, and you never know what could happen in the NBA draft. But let’s be honest with ourselves – Carsen was an under-recruiting borderline 3/4-star recruit out of Texas who is one of the marquee names in college basketball, and is on the precipice of having his childhood NBA dreams becoming a reality. After his 2019 NCAA Tournament performance, he’s on every single two-round Mock Draft you can find on the internet, and isn’t going to suddenly get 4-inches taller between now and the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s had a wonderful Purdue career, and belongs in the NBA.

Some key dates: April 11 is the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation request deadline, and April 21 is the Early Entry deadline. April 26-May 3 are when combine invites are sent, and May 15-19 is the NBA Draft Combine.

May 29 is the NCAA Early Entrant Withdrawal Deadline (primary deadline for college basketball entrants), and June 10 is the NBA Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline (primary deadline for international entrants).

The NBA Draft Lottery is May 14, and June 20 is the 2019 NBA Draft.

 

Carsen’s accomplishments at Purdue

Let’s just list the quick resume:

Two-time First Team All-Big Ten (2018 & 2019), Jerry West Award for Best Shooting Guard (2018, 2019 finalist), 2019 Second Team All-American and 2018 Third Team All-American, and 2019 South Regional Most Outstanding Player.

Carsen’s 2018-2019 season produced the second-highest points scored in Boilermaker history (874 points with 24.3 per game, behind only Glenn Robinson’s legendary 1993-1994 season of 1,030 points), finishing 7th on Purdue’s all-time scoring leaders with 1,920 points. Carsen is Purdue’s all-time leader in 3 pointers made, with 281 made threes in only three seasons of play.

He also leads the country in most hearts won and most “OH MY GOD” shots made and best smile and National Player You’d Want To Go To War With.

Most importantly, Purdue won 83 games over Carsen’s three years, finished all three years ranked inside the AP Top 15, won two Big Ten Regular Season Championships, and reached two Sweet 16s and one extremely memorable Elite 8. All this after two catastrophic first-round NCAA Tournament losses in 2015 and 2016, completely reinventing the Boilermaker basketball brand.

Let’s dive deeper into the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Carsen led Purdue to its first Elite 8 in 19 years while averaging 34.8 points in four games on 45% shooting from the field, hitting 28 three pointers on 46% shooting, and playing an average 42 minutes per game.

There are only 40 minutes in a regulation college basketball game. Carsen sat exactly 2 minutes during the entire tournament run, after weeks of speculation that he had dead legs and some hidden injury.

There’s no two ways about it: Carsen Edwards will go down as one of the best basketball players and one of the most consistent winners in Purdue history.

 

Measurables (2018 NBA Combine)

6’0” tall in shoes, 6’6.25” wingspan. 195.6 lbs.

21 years old, as of March 12, 2019.

Carsen was the shortest player at last year’s combine, with the shortest standing reach at 7’10.5”. That’s…not great.

But two numbers that will undoubtedly help are his wingspan and his body fat.

A 6’6.25” wingspan as a sub-6” tall guard is a phenomenal ratio, one typically unseen in NBA guards. Add a 6.3% body fat rating (an impressive number that will almost assuredly improve this year) along with Carsen’s 195lb+ thick frame, it’s extremely difficult to find size comparisons for a guard with his weapons.

I mean, just look at Carsen’s legs and tell me he needs another year at the collegiate level:

This man is walking on tree trunks and belongs in the Association.

 

Strengths

Shotmaking

Ok, let’s get this out of the way right now. Carsen already has NBA range, and has no hesitation pulling up when given even a millimeter of space on the perimeter. Don’t believe me? Here are some shots he made during the Elite 8 game versus Virginia:

That wasn’t an aberration hot streak, though it was the best shooting game he’s ever had in a Purdue jersey. He’s got legitimate 25+ foot range, shooting at percentages that genuinely change the geometry of half-court defenses. Much like Mike D’Antoni’s recent strategy in Houston, encouraging three-point attempts from several steps outside the line from not only James Harden but complementary shooters like Eric Gordon or even Ryan Anderson last season.

The result: guards must defend the shooter tighter, and off-ball movement is given significantly more space to develop. Open driving lanes, free cutting lanes, and pick-and-roll matchups developing on the weak side…all because a shooter can get hot from an absurd distance.

Listen, it’s absurd to put anyone’s shooting abilities in the Curry/Harden/Damian Lillard category. The obvious characteristics that set them apart from even brilliant shooters like Carsen are their consistency over an 82-game season, and their passing vision to set up teammates getting open off-ball. But every team is looking for this type of lead-guard shooting option off the bench, and with Carsen’s ability to get lava-hot in an instant he’s a surefire bet for ample opportunity at the next level.

I mean, come on.

 

Shot creation and generating space off screens

Yes, Carsen can make shots. But his ability to navigate a maze of screens and gather the pass with complete balance is a testament to his fitness and leg/core strength, and his basketball smarts. Check this play from January’s IU visit to Mackey:

Carsen navigates through a series of three baseline screens, is immediately double teamed, dribbles to exactly the correct angle where he knows he’ll have a clear passing lane to an open Matt Haarms, and delivers it in stride. Haarms didn’t finish that play, but the setup was entirely a result of Carsen’s balance off screens and his court vision.

Carsen will be a scoring guard off the bench in the NBA, necessitating efficiency in both on- and off-ball roles. Pairing his ability to make space off screens with his shotmaking and court vision presents a creative coach with a wealth of opportunities for bench lineups, making Carsen a real asset in the late first/early second rounds.

 

Iron man build and durability

Again – Carsen sat exactly two minutes during Purdue’s 2019 NCAA Tournament run to the Elite 8. This was after averaging 35+ minutes per game all season, and didn’t miss a single game due to injury during his entire three year Purdue career.

There was talk of a lower back injury towards the end of Big Ten season this year, and there was a stretch in February where his lack of consistency amid high minutes and potential dead legs were a question.

And then one of the best four-game stretches in NCAA Tournament history happened and any doubts were silenced.

This is an afterthought whenever observers are dazzled by Carsen’s offensive wizardry, but he’s always attacking. He’s a relentless attacker, with defenses always feeling the danger of his boundless energy always in motion.

And that’s not just in seeking out jump shots. Carsen’s thick frame and explosive athleticism is paired with his calm and patience with the ball, resulting in a probing style that counts on defenses to break down and exposes weaknesses inside the arc. Check out his highlights from Texas in December, where he used his 7/14 three-point shooting to take advantage of wide-open lanes to attack:

Carsen added 8/12 shots from inside the arc on his way to 40 points, putting pressure on Texas from every spot on the floor. Carsen’s lack of fear and complete composure while driving to the basket, and ability to modulate speeds while attacking, is a professional skill. Pair that with a career 82% shooting from the free throw line and he’s a versatile offensive weapon in a 6’ package.

 

Team fit

Carsen Edwards is college basketball royalty, appearing on every All-American preseason list a year after a breakout sophomore year and living up to every standard set by the time Purdue’s tournament run ended. He’d undoubtedly be on every list again if he would have returned to Purdue for his senior year, and Purdue would get marquee TV slots entirely on Carsen’s superstar status.

But the transition from team superstar to off-the-bench role player is the reality for almost every player that enters the NBA, with very few college basketball stars matching that status in the league. (This is where I am obligated to mention Steph Curry as the obvious exception.)

That transition to role player is often the most difficult for college stars, who rightfully feel like they’re good enough for ample opportunity at the next level but are rarely given the trust of their coach early in their careers.

And that’s where Carsen stands out – there are few college basketball superstars that can say they’ve thrived equally as a role player and as the core superstar, both on the floor and as a teammate.

Carsen’s ability to work both on- and off-the-ball, Carsen’s unrivaled confidence on the court paired with his polished presence off the court, and his track record earning trust from an old-school coach in Matt Painter all plays into his ability to thrive in any situation, a vital characteristic for every NBA team looking to stockpile talent while balancing personalities.

As you can see in pictures after the Villanova win and after the Virginia loss, Carsen cares about his team, and cares way more about winning than any individual accolade.

 

Q-Rating

Let’s be completely honest – Carsen Edwards was the second most famous name in college basketball after the 2019 NCAA Tournament. (Finishing second to Zion Williamson ain’t bad.)

And that might be the biggest reason to leave for the pros right now – on college basketball’s biggest stage, with Purdue’s season on the line, as Purdue’s only blue-chip player, Carsen stepped up and delivered for four games in a row with one immortal performance in Purdue’s losing effort against Virginia.

This would be another of those vague “intangibles” that’s difficult to project, but for Carsen to perform unphased under those bright lights portends well for his transition to the spotlight of the NBA.

 

Weaknesses

The NBA position adage “you are who you can guard”

For all of Carsen’s energy on the offensive side of the ball, he has the tendency to float in and out of concentration while defending the opposing team’s shooting guard. This is a real issue, as his steal rate and block rates are extremely low for a player with his strength and wingspan.

That’s the biggest knock on Carsen defensively – while wingspan is often used to mitigate defensive concerns for guards, disguising any lack of production in the all-encompassing “potential” category, Carsen hasn’t really shown the ability to put together consistency on the defensive end of the floor.

He’s got the ability to play well for single high-impact possessions, particularly at the end of tight games, but never had to defend the best opposing guard with Nojel Eastern’s bulldog defense on the floor. With Carsen’s measurables and lack of production defensively, it seems inevitable that whatever team that drafts him will have to hide him on defense. Pairing Carsen with a big point guard that can defend shooting guards, similar to Nojel, will be crucial.

For a microwave scorer off the bench, this could be a risk teams are willing to take in the late 1st/early 2nd rounds. But this is where draft luck plays a role – for Carsen to stick in the league, he’s going to have to land with an NBA coaches who is willing to trust a young player with clear defensive liabilities. That shrinks the teams Carsen could potentially thrive with, and is a real point of improvement for him at the next level.

 

Height

There’s really no getting past it – Carsen is short. Not, like, for a human, but for an NBA increasingly filled with 6’6”+ players with guard skills. Again, his wingspan and build helps, but this will be a liability regardless of when Carsen decides to take the leap to the pros.

It’s also why Carsen is likely to slip out of the first round. If he were a mere 3-inches taller, he’s shot making would overwhelm even the biggest of defensive concerns and we’d be talking about a lottery-range prospect. But he’s generously listed at 6’0”, so he’s going to have to prove to NBA teams that he can get his shot while being defended by long, athletic wings and he can thrive while driving into lanes defended by 7’ shot blockers. That, I’m less concerned about. The defense, with his height and track record? I’m less sure.

 

Consistency

Carsen was remarkably productive as a Boilermaker, there’s no two ways about it. But he’s a volume scorer, often going through in-game cold spells before dominating stretches and settling out at his career average of 41% shooting from the field.

But his role will be as a bench scorer in the NBA, and he won’t be given the leeway (especially early in his career) that he got even in his freshman year at Purdue. Shooting slumps by bench scorers are often acutely felt acutely by their teams (look at the way the benches’ shooting percentages in Portland and Denver have mirrored each team’s win/loss record), and Carsen’s ability to keep his shooting percentages high on significantly fewer shots is a concern.

That being said, it’s the lowest concern I have about him. I think his ability to work off-ball, his shotmaking, and his attitude and work ethic will have him thriving off the bench in the right situation.

 

NBA Comparisons

When you go through official listings of heights, there seems to be a clear cutoff at 6’2”. By that, I mean guards listed above 6’2” look like their listed heights, and guards listed under 6’2” could be 5’8”. So I used that as the cutoff for comparisons for Carsen.

There are a few size-based comparisons of active (or recent) NBA players that are around 6’0” tall with a 180lb+ build.

The most common players that come up are the standard microwave scorers off the bench: Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, and Jason Terry. From a playing style perspective those are interesting, but if we’re looking at measurables only Terry comes close (Lou is lanky, Crawford is taller) and Terry doesn’t have Carsen’s athleticism.

A contemporary of those players is Jameer Nelson (6’0”, 199lbs, 6’2.5” wingspan), who might be a little bit better of a fit. Nelson was a thick-built point guard with a deadeye shooting touch who thrived in the pick-and-roll while Dwight Howard was in his prime. Nelson developed into a great distributor and lead point guard, and those Magic teams ushered in this era of high-volume three-point shooting. A 15 year career and starting in an NBA Finals ain’t a bad career to hope to emulate.

If we’re going draft measurables from the early 2000’s, two names extremely familiar to Pacers fans have similar numbers: Jamaal Tinsley (6’1”, 199lbs with a 6’7” wingspan) and Fred Jones (6’2”, 218lbs with a 7’0” wingspan). Tinsley’s nearly-14% body fat and extremely, let’s say, horizontal playing style negates any prospect similarities, and though Slam Dunk Champion Jones was an athletic marvel his shooting prowess was less-than-desired.

But if we look at currently-active players, there are a handful that make sense. Players like Yogi Ferrell, Patty Mills, and JJ Barea might be considered more distributors than scoring guards, though all have similar frames to Carsen.

Players like Isaiah Thomas (especially while he was in Phoenix and Sacramento), Fred VanVleet in Toronto, and Shabazz Napier in Portland and Brooklyn might be closer to Carsen’s style and build than anyone else. Of those, while Thomas’ star burned brightest, VanVleet is crafting an essential role off the bench for the Raptors (and benefitted from Toronto’s stability) and would be an ideal comparison for Carsen. Other young players still looking to craft and refine their roles, but finding footing in the league, include Frank Mason in Sacramento and Jawun Evans in OKC.

Carsen’s combination of athleticism and shotmaking make him an enticing prospect anywhere from a pick at the very end of the 1st round to the middle of the 2nd round. Come back to this space later in the week for a ranking of Carsen’s fits on every NBA team, because 3,000 words on my favorite Boilermaker just isn’t enough.

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