Kessler Edwards has taken advantage of another opportunity, once again, an opportunity he knew would eventually come knocking in the regular season’s home stretch.
Edwards, who was drafted No. 44 in the 2021 NBA Draft, has made a name for himself in Brooklyn and shined light yet again Sean Marks record of finding draft steals. Although he has exceeded most expectations, the 21-year-old admits he hit the rookie wall in February and fell out of the rotation. But, as he expected, he’s starting to find his groove again.
“Just being out of the rotation may be the last month or so, I knew it was important to stay ready. They still had me working out and stuff, and I knew I’d probably get another chance to be out there again, especially before playoffs,” Edwards said. “That was just my mentality.”
It is very rare for a rookie to avoid wall. Edwards pinpointed the moment when he crashed head-on into solid stone. After starting 18 straight games from mid-January through mid-February, he got a “little tired.” He knew.
“I’m not going to lie, yeah,” said Edwards on hitting the rookie wall. “It did feel like that a little bit. After starting those games, I started getting a little tired. The All-Star break really helped me recuperate and I felt a lot better after that.”
Of course, around the same time, the Nets rotation changed with the trade of James Harden and Paul Millsap to Philly for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. Things took a while to shake out.
After playing a total of nine minutes in the first three games of March, Edwards got his opportunity when Curry (left ankle soreness) needed some time off. He’s delivered. The 3-and-D wing out of Pepperdine tallied 14 points (6-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range) plus six boards, two assists, and a steal in Tuesday’s road win against the Orlando Magic. The 14 points were the most he scored since January 23 and the six rebounds were the most he snagged since December 16.
He followed that performance up Wednesday night with a needed 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting overall and 2-of-4 shooting from behind the arc. He also recorded two assists and a rebound in Wednesday’s heartbreaking defeat to the Dallas Mavericks at home. In the contest, Dallas threw a double-team, sometimes blitzing a third defender, at Kevin Durant every minute Durant was on the court. Even KD noted post-game Wednesday that it was the most he’s been doubled in a single contest since arriving in Brooklyn.
The Mavericks were content with living and dying with role players’ contributions as long as the rock was out of Durant’s hands. While it did limit the star’s scoring (23 points), the strategy sparked sequences of sharp ball movement in the game — a game that ended with Durant dishing a team-high 10 assists, some of which wound up in Edwards’ hands. As a team, the Nets dished 28 assists on 45 made shots.
“We all benefit from that. Especially with Kev, I feel like he does a good job of trusting us in those situations,” said Edwards on Durant passing out of double-teams to his teammates. “We know to be aggressive.”
But what about the future? Edwards is a two-way player and two-ways can’t play in the post-season. The Nets have only 12 games left on their regular season before the playoffs roll around. In Brooklyn’s case, it looks like the eighth-seeded Nets — who trail the seventh-seed Toronto Raptors and the sixth-seed Cleveland Cavaliers by 4.5 games — will need to compete in the play-in tournament to cement their playoff spot. So, those 12 games may also be the final games of Edward’s rookie campaign.
In order for Edwards to be eligible for the 2022 NBA Playoffs, Brooklyn will need to cut a player and ink Edwards to a standard contract. That’s unlikely at this point. The same thing is true with David Duke Jr. (But Duke himself is injured having injured his ankle on a dunk attempt with Long Island.)
The Nets organization has till April 11 (3:00 p.m. ET.) — the date playoff rosters need to be finalized — to make that decision. But even if Edwards doesn’t make the post-season roster, the Nets have options in the off-season. Edward’s rights are owned by Brooklyn and he’ll enter free agency as a restricted free agent, meaning the Nets can match any offer he might get elsewhere. Whatever he gets, it will be an improvement because Kessler is a bargain this season, making a little less than a half million dollars this year, half the league minimum.