When will Justin Edwards get on track for Kentucky?

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan12/09/23

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Prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, Justin Edwards was tabbed by multiple media outlets and draft experts as a future top-five 2024 NBA Draft. Some even had him as the No. 1 overall pick. But nine games into his freshman campaign, his stock has taken a hit. Plenty of outlets still regard him as a possible lottery pick, but the consensus has shifted from a “top-end prospect” to someone who looks more like a “work in progress.”

Edwards is averaging 9.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest on shooting splits of 46.6/25.9/68.4. Not “bad” by any means, but not something you’d expect out of a perceived first-round draft selection. He has more turnovers (9) than assists (8) this season and will go through lengthy stretches where it feels like he’s not even in the game. Botching dunks and layups was a common theme in the first several games, although that has at least seemingly fixed itself over the last few. His handle on the ball looks loose and there is little confidence in his ability to take defenders off the dribble. The on-ball defense hasn’t been as lock-down as hoped for.

Even in a homecoming game against Penn at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon, the Philadelphia native couldn’t get himself going. For the first time all season, Edwards finished with under 20 minutes played. Due to foul trouble, he posted six points and three rebounds in just 14 minutes played — the fewest out of John Calipri’s eight-man rotation.

Now that 7-foot-1 Aaron Bradshaw is healthy and already playing at a high level, Edwards isn’t going to be gifted playing time moving forward. Calipari even mentioned after the Wildcats’ 81-66 win over Penn on Saturday that freshman Jordan Burks, who has been playing as a big man all season, is switching back to his natural position of small forward during practice with the addition of more centers. That spot is not going to be guaranteed for Edwards if he continues to play this inconsistently.

Kentucky fans are waiting on the Edwards breakout game. So far, it’s yet to happen. In spurts, he’ll look like the five-star high school prospect that every recruiting service made him out to be. But those have been way too few and far between for someone of his caliber. He’ll play at a high level during the first half of a game then look borderline unplayable in the second.

Here’s the good news though: Kentucky is only nine games into the season. There is plenty of time left for Edwards to turn things around. But that breakout needs to happen sooner rather than later. Calipari said earlier in the year that Edwards and fellow five-star freshman DJ Wagner have the “weight of the world” on them.

Wagner has found his way since then. When will it happen for Edwards?

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2024-03-02