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Analyzing the all-around impact of Kyler Edwards

The junior guard has faced criticism for his play this year. Some of it is warranted, but his impact is much greater than most fans realize

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Edwards has had an interesting career at Texas Tech. The guard from Arlington led the Red Raiders in offensive rating during the 2019 National Championship Game and was a key contributor throughout that memorable season, but his play over the last two years has made several Tech fans question his ability and confidence. Specifically, the last few games have created a situation where many people seem to be wondering why he plays so much. His scoring has dropped significantly during Big 12 play, his assist numbers have faltered, and just from the box score it appears as if he goes entire games without making a significant impact.

The box score does not tell the whole story though, and an argument can be made that even through his struggles as of late, the junior has been one of the best all around players for the top 15 Red Raiders squad.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

You see, even advanced analytics do not particularly love Kyler in conference play. His BPM (Box Plus/Minus) has dropped significantly, his offensive rating is under 100, and his true shooting percentage is at 46.6% through nine conference games. With all that said- he still is second on the team in percentage of minutes played during conference season, and his minutes do not seem to dwindle with the reduced output. Why is that? I think it comes down to three main factors, and I will break them down with film in this article.

Defense

The best way to describe Kyler’s defensive impact is consistent. He rarely makes decision-based mistakes, and you can count on him to be in the right place when making rotations or coming off screens.

Take this play against Baylor as an example. Kyler navigates the screen twice, allows MSS to hedge by staying back initially, then positions himself to force Davion Mitchell right into TJ Shannon’s help. Shannon might have overplayed this a little, but the point is Kyler had to cover Mitchell for over half the possession through multiple actions, and did so flawlessly. That is something that does not show up in the box score, but the ability to hound all of Baylor’s guards was critical in keeping that game close.

This possession highlights his switching ability. Baylor runs a lot of cross action, and having perimeter guys that can switch against it is paramount. Watch as Kyler switches on to all three ball handlers to start the possession, then to top it all off makes a smart play to stunt in towards Vital and disrupt his rhythm on the drive, causing a pick-up and a steal. Having the ability to switch will always be a major positive in Tech’s defensive system, but it is the instinctive plays like his move on Vital that are what causes havoc and transition opportunities. Kyler is very much a positional defender that does not take a lot of risks (unlike a Nimari Burnett or a Kevin McCullar), so that type of move is kind of uncommon, but the entire play as a whole is a good representation of what he can bring.

Here is one more defensive play, this time showcasing his value on closeouts. On this particular clip, Peavy leaves his man to double the post, which is fine, but #2 (Trendon Watford) is a good passer and is playing 4-on-3 basketball at this point. Kyler is tasked with basically having to cover two guys off the ball until someone (McCullar) rotates back over. He does so in a very smart fashion, as he uses a subtle movement to cover off the cover skip pass, before immediately closing out towards the second read in a very controlled fashion.

This was a deceptively difficult play to make, and one that Tech has struggled with during Big 12 play. Teams seem to be getting those skip passes to the corner through at a pretty rapid rate, and closeouts in general have not been a strong point for Tech. As such, they are allowing a staggering 40% three point percentage in conference play, which is bottom 30 nationally.

For reference, this is where you can see the distinction between Tech’s good rotational defenders and the guys that are more shaky. McClung and MSS get lost in switching twice, which leaves Thomas open on two separate occasions. The first time Tech gets lucky that Smart was not looking to his left, but the second time MSS closes out just in time and McCullar stunts to stop the drive. Kyler and TJ both do an excellent job to seal off interior pass opportunities, and the only option is a contested 30 foot attempt from Thomas.

Kyler’s control and defensive awareness is critical with McClung on the floor. While Mac has been better than anticipated on that end, he is also prone to ball watching quite a bit, and his closeout decisions can be poor at times. Kyler is also better in onball situations, so having him out there can hide Mac’s deficiencies at times.

Passing and decisiveness

This is probably the most debatable strength of Kyler’s game, but I believe his passing gets criminally underrated due to his assist numbers. Some of this is due to the role change that has taken place for him recently, as he is playing more off-the-ball than ever before, but also assists usually do not showcase the value of passing as well as people think. An assist is reliant on guys making Catch-and-shoot jump shots, hitting layups or dunks off cuts, or playing in the PnR effectively. Tech is not very good in any of those areas, as they rely heavily on isolation-based offense and putbacks to get a significant amount of their points.

These two plays against Baylor are a great indication of why assists are not always representative of someone’s passing abilities. In two possessions Kyler created three scoring opportunities with his passes, yet did not get a single assist from them, as two missed shots rendered the pass useless and the third was a smart read that led to an extra pass and another good look. He finished that game with only one assist, but those were both positive basketball plays caused by Kyler’s vision and passing ability.

I’m usually pretty moderate in evaluating transition passes, as I think they usually involve much more simple reads and less offensive understanding is required, but they do showcase the creativity and spatial awareness within a player. This is a good example of that, as Kyler uses his dribble to take the first defender right, then finds a trailing MSS for a layup opportunity. The decisiveness behind the pass was critical, as if it came any later the second defender would have been able to rotate out of the restricted arc in time to take a charge or stop the break.

This is just great patience by Kyler to not throw the initial pass to a cutting Mac with no separation. Again- perfect timing on the pass. Any later and it ends up as a turnover. Any earlier and the defense has time to rotate more efficiently.

In general- Kyler’s passing is either smart and decisive or inconsequential. Very rarely does he make dangerous reads, and from my estimation he averages less than one passing turnover per game. His inability to drive well or finish well (41.7% at the rim this season on only 24 attempts) still seems to negatively impact his overall game as a ball handler, but even with that limitation his passing is still a positive for an offense with lead scorers that can have tunnel vision at times.

Shooting and Movement

Want to know what I like the most about Kyler Edwards? He can influence a game without ever touching the basketball. I will freely admit that I am very impartial towards players that can play well off ball. Steph Curry is probably my favorite NBA player to watch, and I spent two years writing on this site about how Davide Moretti was criminally underrate by Tech fans. I love me some movement, and Kyler can provide just that.

This play right here might be most indicative of what Kyler can do without shooting offensively. He initiates action with Mac to start the possession, flares to the post, finds an open Peavy who had a possible driving lane, gets the ball back and waits for Mac to cross, then finds McCullar open at the top of the key. After that, he immediately relocates to where McCullar was standing as Mac spots in the corner, and then makes a decisive pass to Mac for a good look from deep. Basically everything about that possession was created by Kyler’s movement and decision making, and it created a clean look.

Same deal here. Great movement (nice decisions by Tyreek Smith and McCullar as well) creates more play options for the driver. Even when the play does not end well, you take those offensive opportunities.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

While all that movement is cool, at the end of the day basketball is a make or miss sport. Thankfully for Texas Tech, Kyler can make his fair share of shots. His 37% from three is the highest of any rotation player on the team, and both of the other guys in the rotation shooting above the rotation (Shannon and McClung) are better off the dribble. Having an off-the-ball floor spacer is critical in today’s game, and while Kyler might not be as lethal from deep as guys like Davide Moretti or Alan Voskuil, he still is more than competent in that regard.

Here is a deep three from the game against Oklahoma. Notice how quick he is to get into the shooting motion on the catch.

Edwards is more than capable of making shots off the dribble as well, but I am not showing those because it is sort of a redundant skillset and not really what gives him value in comparison with someone like McClung.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I understand why fans may get frustrated with Kyler Edwards. He is a supremely talented scorer, yet the scoring just has not been there throughout the year. With that said, his shooting is not the reason for that. He is still a positive three point shooter even with a couple really poor shooting nights (he’d be over 40% from distance without the Kansas game), and as I have outlined his poor finishing, lack of consistent driving, and having a relatively poor fit next to McClung are all reasons why he might be struggling some to put up good numbers.

Let’s be realistic with how we view Kyler though. Hopefully this article can show you all of the little things he does, but if not, just ask yourself: Why would Chris Beard give a player 30 minutes per game if he was not impactful?

Tech fans have often come to love “culture” guys like Justin Gray and Norense Odiase, yet the fact of the matter is both of those guys had similar career paths, and both probably did not score as much as they could have. Gray in particular came into Tech as a volume scorer, yet by the end of his four years he was largely a glue guy that dropped no more than six points on a given night. Even with that lack of scoring, he was still an integral piece of the Elite 8 run and has made himself lots of money overseas. Tech will be a better team if Kyler Edwards can score consistently and efficiently, but that does not mean he is not already having a significant positive impact on this team.