Canadian Zach Edey looking to become an NBA anomaly

Zach Edey is coming off an excellent college season, but he's the type of player we rarely see in the modern NBA.

Purdue's Zach Edey is a fascinating and divisive NBA prospect. (David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

Purdue standout Zach Edey isn't the most highly-regarded prospect the 2023 NBA draft has to offer, but he is undoubtedly the biggest.

The Toronto native stands 7-foot-4 and was listed at 305 pounds by the Boilermakers during the 2022-23 season. Edey declared for the draft on Tuesday, and he'll present quite the quandary for NBA teams.

Unlike other players of a similar size, the 20-year-old isn't merely a curiosity but rather a legitimate college star with intriguing skills, earning both Naismith Player of the Year and AP college basketball player of the year honours this season. The last two NBA players to be listed at 300 pounds or above — Tacko Fall and Sim Bhullar — each averaged just over 10 points per game in their NCAA careers without grabbing double-digit boards.

Last season Edey scored 22.3 points per contest, grabbed 12.9 rebounds and hit 73.4% of his free throws, suggesting he could have the touch to build out his shooting range.

Although his Boilermakers were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, his brief March Madness appearance was a solid one.

Edey's effectiveness on the basketball court is largely derived from his impressive frame, but he's not an empty-vessel physical outlier.

Despite his skills, how Edey fits at the highest level remains in question. In recent years NBA teams are prioritizing defensive versatility and 3-point shooting while moving away from traditional on-the-block centres who lack switchability.

Players with Edey's dimensions simply don't make their way onto the court often these days.

Even if we search for players seven feet or taller weighing in at 275-plus pounds — a scale down from Edey — there aren't many to be found. That body type was never ubiquitous, but the decline of jumbo bigs is apparent since the mid-90s:

Stats via
Stats via

The slight uptick in minutes from these players recently is deceptive as Joel Embiid accounts for 40.9% of them since 2020-21.

Just because Edey's old-school frame and game don't align with current trends doesn't mean he can't carve out a role in the NBA. It does mean that taking him will require a franchise to think outside the box and open themselves up to some skepticism.

A few years ago, a team might've been tempted to snag Edey and funnel him a hefty dose of post touches to see if he'd be able to convert his size advantage into buckets. We don't live in that world anymore.

When the NBA began tracking post ups in 2013-14, the league leader (Al Jefferson) had 19.8 per game, nine players were in double digits, and 33 managed five or more. In 2022-23 the league leader (Nikola Jokic) got 9.1 post ups per contest and only four players had at least five.

It remains to be seen whether a team will have a vision for Edey. The Canadian centre has the luxury of waiting until May 31 to get a sense if that's the case. If not, the big man has the option of returning to Purdue to lead an NCAA tournament contender and continue to hone his skills.