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Georgia’s Anthony Edwards celebrates a run by the team. The University of Georgia played Ole Miss in game one of the SEC Tournament, winning by a score of 81-63 on March 11, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

Nine days after the Georgia men’s basketball team played its last game of the 2019-20 season, Anthony Edwards declared for the NBA draft.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the end of Georgia and Edwards’ season, his talent and potential are undeniable. He’s considered one of the top prospects in the draft class, and The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie doesn’t see him falling past the No. 5 pick in the draft.

“I would say Anthony’s name is the name that I hear most in regards to being a top-three pick,” Vecenie said.

That doesn’t mean he’s a perfect player. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. In Vecenie’s 2020 NBA Draft Big Board 4.0 on April 2, he ranked Lamelo Ball over Edwards. He cited Edwards’ rudimentary ball-handling skills as one of the things that held him back.

Vecenie has watched most of Edwards’ games and believes that the freshman has a tight handle when he’s going in a straight line but lacks the creativity to create space between defenders, something Ball and so many other top-tier guards in the NBA have. When he lacks the tight handle and inventiveness to create space, Edwards isn’t able to show off his impeccable physical attributes.

Instead, he was relegated down to mostly a perimeter player, where he only shot 29.4% on 3-pointers.

“I don’t think that it’s worth blaming Edwards for all of this,” Vecenie said. “I certainly don’t think it was all on him, but there are some real skill-based questions that he’s gonna have to answer.”

All said, Edwards is still only 18 years old and won’t turn 19 until after the NBA draft — if it remains on June 25. Vecenie and the NBA executives he has talked to have plenty of confidence that Edwards has a high upside and is still very early in his basketball development.

One thing Edwards has to his advantage is his physical attributes, which are more impressive than most players his age. Vecenie likened him to a linebacker and said that he’ll be ready for the physicality of the NBA.

His burst of speed and endurance will translate instantly to the NBA, as well as his overall scoring ability. Despite Vecenie thinking that he was a poor defender in his only season with the Bulldogs, Edwards still has the potential to be a solid defender at the next level.

There were moments this season where Edwards’ attention to detail on the defensive end wasn’t good enough, and Vecenie said it’s an area he will have to improve on.

“Otherwise, he’s just going to get taken advantage of on that end, and it significantly hinders the value proposition of taking a guy in the top five,” Vecenie said.

What Edwards needs at the next level is an organization, coaching staff and team that will hold him accountable on both ends of the floor and make him work for his minutes.

Vecenie said the Phoenix Suns wouldn’t be a compatible fit for Edwards because of his similarity to Devin Booker and the fact that accountability on defense and team responsibilities hasn’t been the highest priority for Phoenix in the past.

The Golden State Warriors would give Edwards a sense of professionalism and responsibility that he needs at a younger age. Vecenie said that being around players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green would help him with his development. As of now, the Warriors have the worst record in the Western Conference and the second worst in the entire NBA, setting them up well for the possibility to draft Edwards.

Wherever he gets drafted, Edwards will be given the chance to develop and learn the ins and outs of the NBA. Vecenie is confident he’ll turn into a player Georgia fans will want to turn on the television for and watch, it’ll just take some time for him to get adjusted.

“His upside is just absolutely substantial in every single way,” Vecenie said. “I think that at some point, we’re going to be talking about Anthony Edwards averaging 20 points per game in the NBA, probably more than that.”

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