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FILM STUDY: It’s Time for Kessler Edwards

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Kessler Edwards has entered and exited the dreaded health and safety protocols without much hullabaloo. He was cleared to return to the Brooklyn Nets as the calendar flipped to 2022, but did not appear in Brooklyn’s loss to the Clippers. That’s to be expected for a rookie climbing uphill to get minutes on a roster that is once again inching towards full-strength. Edwards may (or may not) return to that well-trodden road from the court in Long Island to the bench in Brooklyn, not the least of which are the political ones. Brooklyn didn’t become a destination franchise by benching respected veterans in favor of second-round draft picks!

Still, there are reasons to the contrary which are undeniable and becoming harder to ignore. They were there during training camp, too, but Edwards’ three-game, pre-protocol stretch, may have sealed the deal. The rookie logged a total of 115 minutes, which served as evidence that he can help a contender now. So, too, has Brooklyn’s lineups that too often consist of two, three, sometimes even four non-shooters.

Yes, it was just three regular season games, but Edwards showed enough to earn real rotation minutes. This is particularly true while we are still in January, a juncture at which the Nets could abort the mission if things don’t go according to plan. What follows is an in-depth look at Kessler Edwards’ infant NBA career, examining both potential long-term developments as well as how he could help the Nets today.

Physical Traits

Speaking very generally, Edwards is a 3-and-D wing. All the peripherals check out. Sites will either list him as 6’7” or 6’8”, which means he’s a legit 6’7”. Who knows what he really weighs, but one look at him should diminish any concerns about an “NBA body”. Dude is shredded and does not get pushed around. Not to mention a 6’11” wingspan. While at Pepperdine University, he shot 39.5 percent on 380 threes. He’s 25-of-66 from beyond, or about 38 percent, as a professional basketball player. Going out on a limb, yes, he can shoot.

But Edwards is not your stand-in-the-corner-and-hustle-back everyman. He doesn’t merely look like an athlete; he plays the part. Take this sequence:

On defense, he flips his hips and completely blunts the contact initiated by the offensive player. He then jumps from a standstill, knees barely bent, to reject the shot, absorbs some light contact on the other end for a dunk. Even if every non-ball-dominant wing is going to be compared to Robert Covington, it’s at least worth noting that Edwards possesses a different type of raw athleticism. A max vertical of 37” with a near 7-foot wingspan is nice.

This is handy in determining potential avenues for Edwards to expand his game beyond the traditional, stagnant 3-and-D-er. One such avenue is as a screener, a skill the Long Island Nets frequently exploited. His frame makes Edwards a challenge for defenders to navigate, and as both a solid leaper and shooter, popping or rolling to the rim is equally viable. That’s something he’s already displayed in Brooklyn (note too the subtle adjustments he makes to ensure contact on the screens):

Adding value as a screener allows Edwards to creep up, positionally. Teams often have to deploy smaller, more versatile lineups at the expense of having that screening equity on the floor. Shooters who can both fill the corners/wings while also stepping into a more screen-heavy role in a smaller lineup are still a rare commodity ... even within the canyon of players we call 3-and-D.

Brooklyn could certainly use more 3-point threats as screeners; consider how often Joe Harris will pop or “ghost” a screen for James Harden. It’s not a stretch to think Edwards could mimic some of those actions while also adding the occasional slip to the rim.

Off the Catch

That last finish - a dunk off the roll - highlights the most intriguing part of Edwards’ athleticism as it relates to his offensive game: He is an excellent two-foot leaper. Take this finish against the Raptors:

When given a runway to the rim, Edwards is not the type to shy away from contact, nor should he be. That bodes well for expanding his game beyond just a catch-and-shoot threat — what turned Mikal Bridges into a $90 million player despite him having completed maybe six total crossover dribbles as an NBA player.

When attacking closeouts, where the majority of Edwards’ offense figures to come from, his shiftiness and handle take a backseat to straight-line driving. Getting from point A (the arc) to point B (the midrange or the rim) rarely requires side-to-side movement when a defender has flown past you, as in the clip above. Admittedly, this is good news for Edwards, who hasn’t displayed anything more than a skeleton of a handle (and was a big reason he dropped into the second round.)

That doesn’t mean he won't be able to score from inside the arc. Since the preseason, he’s shown an ability to either get to a comfortable two-foot floater or a pull-up jumper, shots that mesh well with his physical traits. It’s not just rim finishes he gets major elevation on:

That level of touch in the intermediate area bodes well for what his percentages could eventually look like in the restricted area. His preferred load-up (pound dribble into a hop-step) should give him a clear road-map to follow once he gets inside the arc, no matter if he’s two, ten, or 15 feet away from the rim. Sure, he may not have an array of diverse finishes and counters in his bag ... yet ... but a solid foundation is certainly within reach.

We’ve also seen some early reps in floor-mapping with his defender behind him, and an advantage in front:

Neither of those end in assists, but they're certainly indicative of good process. Yes, both lob attempts are slightly telegraphed, and the placement on the second one is subpar, but the reads (AKA the harder stuff to teach) are there. It’s early (as hell) but at this point, it’s hard to take stock of Edwards’ offensive game and see anything other progress ahead of him.

On Defense

But the Brooklyn Nets won’t, and shouldn’t, give Edwards minutes because he’s shown offensive promise. That’s all added value. If he sees the floor, it will be a lot of catch-and-shoot threes and, perhaps, offensive rebounding, a talent he has already shown a knack for. And that’s okay, because it’s his defense that should keep him on the floor.

The Nets have wing defenders that are more trustworthy than Edwards, to be sure. Bruce Brown has gone to war as a Net and done an A+ job on Khris Middleton, an A+ scorer. Brown has lost bushels of his minutes to DeAndre’ Bembry, a clear upgrade on offense with similar defensive ability. It’s true that no calculation of rowdy drives Bembry can finish, nor artsy floaters Brown can drop will ease the pain of playing lineups with multiple non-shooters. The Nets, though, are the fifth-rated defense in the NBA. Going all-in on that end of the floor has worked, but subbing out defense for offense hasn’t been the answer all year.

Luckily, playing Edwards would be doing nothing of the sort. At least, nothing that’s on tape suggests that. He’s earned his chance, a chance that may result in better spacing offensively without sacrificing defensive ability. We saw Edwards take contact from a more physical driver earlier, but here he is strudels chasing the always-feisty Seth Curry around:

He logged significant minutes guarding Curry vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, and while Seth certainly won a few battles, Edwards showed he is no liability when forced to defend down a position or two and chase guards around screens. He’s not a rookie who will get hunted off the floor. So, he should have ample opportunity to show off his seasoned defensive instincts. On this play, he closes out to the shooter, not because he’s seen him open, but because he’s recognized that two Nets are guarding the ball and connecting the dots from there:

And no, his long arms don’t look fun to shoot over either. Nor to pass over, either. On this play, Edwards sprints to double Siakam on the baseline as soon as he spins off his primary defender, then senses the forthcoming pass and gets his hands into the passing lane:

Just for good measure, those are some nice offensive rebounds and even nicer left-handed missiles he fires to Patty Mills. He will certainly make a mistake here and there, defensively. As with 99.9 percent of rookies, he is prone to turning his attention completely towards the ball and losing track of his man for a moment.

It’s a safe bet though, to expect the positive plays to outnumber and outweigh the negative ones. That last play, on both ends of the court, is a perfect example of what makes Edwards such an intriguing “3-and-D-er” that could not only help the Nets right now, but a player who could further expand his game outside of that umbrella. The combination of instincts and athleticism is not only unique, but it’s often on display.

What separates him as a player does not go unused; his youth is not wasted on the young. There are multiple variables for Edwards to become a ‘3&D plus’ player. Whether it be as a screener, an ultra-switchy defender, developing a lethal floater or offensive rebounding game, or some combination of the above. It’s hard to bet at one of those crystallizing.

In the short-term, however, his case for minutes can be very simple. How many players above 6’2” do the Nets have that can both shoot and defend? What sort of youthful, chaotic energy did Edwards (and his fellow rookies) bring to the Nets with more consistent playing time? Was it necessary? How would playing a second-round rookie sit with the Paul Millsaps and Bruce Browns of the team?

Those are questions for the coaching staff to answer, and I don’t think they’re necessarily easy, either. But with Edwards available to play again, they are worth asking. The time for Kessler Edwards may be here sooner than expected.