Saturday, May 18, 2024

Zach Edey officially enters 2024 NBA Draft: How two-time player of the year’s skills will work in the pros

Purdue star Zach Edey made it official on Tuesday — college basketball’s two-time player of the year has filed the paperwork to enter the 2024 NBA Draft, according to ESPN.

Edey, one of the most-decorated college players in recent memory, led the Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament title game, scoring 37 points in the Boilermakers’ 75-60 loss to UConn, which, as expected, was his final college game

Now the questions about his prospects as a pro will intensify ahead of next month’s draft.

Could the best player in men’s college basketball two years running be a good pro? Never mind a difference-maker or future All-Star — can all 7-feet-4, 300 pounds of Edey be utilized and fit within a system to play real minutes and impact the game at the next level?

Sounds a rather crazy question to pose, right? The best college football player almost always makes an impact at the NFL level. Same for the best college golfers or college baseball players or college swimmers in most cases. But that’s the conundrum NBA teams are unpacking.

Edey led college basketball this season in points, Player Efficiency Rating, Box Plus/Minus and about every other metric determining value under the sun. He is unquestionably the propeller that spun Purdue’s machine and the largest reason it played in the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Yet projecting him to the next level is a tricky task because of how much the game has changed in recent years. 

In, say, 2004, Edey might have been a lock to be selected in the top five of the NBA Draft. Not so in 2024, where his range could be anywhere from late in the lottery to the second round. 

Amid an evolving NBA landscape where foot speed is critical and defending in space is an essential ask for many of the best bigs in the league, Edey falls just shy of being a no-brainer talent as he readies to move up a level. He’s long, he’s strong, he’s tall and he’s got great instincts. In the NBA, however, he may also be vulnerable. Players are taller, more athletic and more capable to exploit weaknesses, often times rendering more traditional, back-to-the-basket bigs like Edey less useful or at the very least neutralizing their impact.

It’s a credit to Edey that the Boilermakers made it to the NCAA Tournament title game — he was the best player by an ocean this tournament — but it was also a credit to Purdue’s staff that they surrounded him with a great supporting cast and set up a system that catered to his strengths. 

Edey was the No. 26 pick in my recent NBA mock draft and No. 28 on my Big Board of NBA prospects.

Edey’s offensive potential

Ultimately, the big swing skill for Edey may be what his development looks like offensively. The Boilermakers have  embraced the back-to-the-basket, old-school style in which Edey excels. They run ball screens where Edey rolls to the paint to gain inside position, or they just let him go down in the paint and post up old-school style. The staple of their offense is getting him the ball down low and letting him cook with jams and hook shots. It frequently works.

Adding a shooting threat beyond the paint is what may be one of the big factors for him as he preps for the NBA. He could be a legitimate weapon if, in pick-and-roll situations, he was a threat to pop out and hit mid-range jumpers or 3-pointers. As it stands now, that is not the case. He’s picking and he’s rolling every time. He’s made precisely one 3-pointer in his four college seasons and taken only two. That’s not his game, and Purdue and Edey are on the same page there. 

That’s not to say he can’t add that to his game or won’t, though. NBA teams showed a great deal of interest in him last summer at the NBA Combine before he ultimately returned to school. There’s a belief that his work ethic and constant improvement can culminate with adding this to his game. If he can, then a player like Edey with an already wide range of outcomes might be on his way to parlaying an all-time NCAA Tournament run into a big rise on NBA boards as the draft rolls around.

Edey’s challenges as a pro

There are also weaknesses that even teams at the NCAA level have tried exploiting. Take Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, for instance. Gonzaga frequently got Edey involved in ball-screen action and made him choose between defending out on the perimeter or remaining camped out in the paint. The Bulldogs sometimes made Edey pay for choosing the latter but not at a consistent level at which he’d be punished for doing so in the NBA.

There’s also the definitive strength he brings to the defensive level that can sometimes outweigh the weaknesses. Against Utah State in the second round and frequently vs. Tennessee in the Elite Eight, the Aggies and Vols tried — and repeatedly failed — going right at Edey in the paint. Edey made them pay by either rejecting shots outright, affecting shots or altering the action in a way that made the opposing team reset and rethink. 

This is why Edey presents the most polarizing case among NBA prospects in the 2024 class. He is elite at using his body to defend in the paint and has the reach to impact so much action in the box. Defensively, his limitations are nearly as glaring as his strengths, though, and he’d be an outlier among his peers at the NBA level if his style succeeded beyond a bench role. He’ll be asked to play in drop coverage, and that may neutralize what teams potentially throw his way. Still, it’s hard to see him developing into a starter given his limitations.

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles


Subscribe to stay updated.