Following in the footsteps of his older brother Kameron, Kessler Edwards arrived on the scenic campus of Pepperdine University as a three-star recruit and leaves as a bona fide NBA Draft prospect.
Heading into the draft process, it wasn’t expected that Edwards would hire an agent and forego eligibility, but a strong performance at the combine (in spite of woeful shooting numbers) raised his stock to the point where he felt comfortable committing to the NBA a year early.
Edwards was a WCC All-Freshman team member his first season, and an All-WCC team member the next two seasons. He was seventh in the conference in points and rebounds per game as a junior while blocking the second-most shots (33). To put it simply, production was never something Edwards lacked during his career in Malibu.
Weight: 203 pounds
Shooting, off-ball movement, defensive versatility
In spite of an unorthodox jump-shot that has a release point far out in front of his head and involves a noticeable right leg kick, Edwards is still an excellent shooter. In three seasons at Pepperdine, he attempted a total of 380 threes, sinking 39.5 percent of them and peaking at 43.7 percent as a sophomore. The shooting indicators (free throw rate/percentage) point towards him continuing to snipe from all over the court in the NBA.
A huge factor in Edwards being a great shooter is off-ball movement and relocation. Throughout his college career, his usage rate has been average for a scorer of his caliber because he’s able to create advantages and space before catching the ball. He has the potential to be a pick-and-pop forward in the NBA, can come off pin-downs, shoot off movement and the catch, and beat close-outs for mid-range shots off a few dribbles with consistency (46.3 percent in the mid-range in 2021 per BartTorvik). Few 6’8 players come into the NBA with Edwards’ shooting resume.
The 2021 NBA Combine gave Edwards a platform to prove that his lockdown defense at Pepperdine wasn’t a product of being an NBA prospect in the WCC; he showed awareness and versatility within schemes and his head is always on a swivel, keeping him ready to help a teammate that gets beat. He’s not an elite athlete but he gives supreme effort on defense, is willing to rotate and protect the rim, has length with over a 6’11 wingspan, and keeps ball-handlers in front of him moving laterally.
Kessler Edwards has a rare combination of defensive technique + effort. Covered up a lot of weaknesses in the Pepperdine defense, would fit in a variety of NBA schemes pic.twitter.com/YA4YuhF6MW— draft pow (@DraftPow) June 3, 2021
Shot creation, playmaking
Edwards isn’t quick and doesn’t have much burst on his first step, so creating his own offense off-the-dribble is something he could stand to improve on by expanding his ball-handling repertoire. With the role he’s likely to play, he doesn’t need to be an efficient isolation scorer, but teams will be able to run him off the line and if he’s not shooting well, offense will be hard to come by.
As a result of not being able to create with the ball in his hands, Edwards is also not a playmaker. His career total of 112 assists to 142 turnovers is less than ideal from a 6’8 forward/wing and even if he never develops as a passer, for a player with such low usage, the turnovers will have to be limited. Feel and basketball IQ could help him improve at this on a spaced-out NBA court, but a lot of it will hinge on an improved ability to handle and move the ball within an offense.
Projected draft range
In the NBA Draft, the “high ceiling” young players get picked higher so teams can maximize their potential as teenagers and aim for the highest dollar value out of a given slot. Edwards will enter the league at 21 after three years in college, and limited explosiveness and offensive creativity lower his ceiling. Regardless, there comes a point in the draft where teams just need to select good players.
Edwards’ projections vary between the early and mid-second round. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has him as the 37th player on his big board and going 51st to the Memphis Grizzlies, while Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman pegs him at 45 to the Boston Celtics. Personally, this makes little sense as it’s highly unlikely Edwards busts out of the NBA before his first contract is up, but we see teams pass on talented NBA-ready prospects in favor of less-talented upside swings every year.