Carsen Edwards gets annoyed when people spell his name wrong.
Maybe after Tuesday night’s shooting clinic in Cleveland, that won’t happen anymore.
In the first half of the Boston Celtics’ preseason finale, the 5-foot-11 rookie had four points, was in foul trouble and just looked out of rhythm after he got bumped in the head early…until the third quarter came along.
To begin, Edwards nailed four threes in about two minutes’ time. That would only be half of the eight he poured in en route to a 26-point period that dazzled those in attendance at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and spread rapidly across social media.
“His burst is different,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the morning prior. “His ability to burst and catch and quickly get into his shot is different. And he’s shown that, obviously, and then shown some other things as well. He’s had a good first four months with the Celtics.
“For him to be able to re-center and play and come out of the gates like that in the second half…that’s a great thing for a coach to learn about somebody,” Stevens said after Boston’s win in Cleveland. “Sometimes guys, they don’t have it on a given night, they just don’t have it. But you always know that he’s probably one time from hitting the net away from getting hot. I think he lives on heat-check and he should.”
This isn’t the first time that Edwards has stolen the spotlight, and the last instance happened as recently as March.
In four NCAA Tournament games, Edwards averaged nearly 35 points on 45.9 percent shooting from three in 42 minutes per game for Purdue. Within that time, he dropped a pair of 42-point performances and broke an NCAA record with 28 three-point makes. The mark surpassed Glen Rice, who set the bar 30 years prior.
Although the Boilermakers’ momentum stopped at the hands of would-be champion Virginia, Edwards had the world buzzing off his microwave-esque ability.
“It was a blessing,” Edwards told Basketball Insiders. “In that point in time, it felt like the work I’d put in was starting to pay off some. It felt good to be able to be in that situation and perform the way I did.”
For some, the sharp stint was the first time Edwards caught their eyes. Despite being an upperclassman playing for a power five program, he seemed to have been on the backburner in mock drafts due to his smaller stature.
Stevens was not one of those people. Courtesy of his close relationship with Purdue head coach Matt Painter, he was never a stranger to what Edwards brought to the table. And while the tournament games turned heads, it was a pre-draft workout that sealed the deal for Boston to select the junior guard in June.
Edwards’ explosion onto the scene was reminiscent of Kemba Walker, a player the rookie has long known the ins and outs of.
When he was younger, Edwards tuned into UConn’s games for enjoyment, as Walker helped put together a 2011 NCAA Championship run no basketball fan will ever forget. He’d follow along with the 6-foot-1 dynamo’s NBA journey as he would grow up himself.
Once Edwards got to Purdue, watching Walker became its own college class. The primary lesson plan? Dissecting film and highlights of the then-Charlotte Hornets All-Star with Joey Burton, his trainer.
“[I’d] try to get to do the similar moves to him and try to find ways to score,” Edwards told Basketball Insiders. “I’d say a lot of things that have came from similarities are things that I’ve watched him do that I really like.”
Edwards and Walker share plenty in common. They’re not the tallest guys, but both are electric with the ball in their hands and can flip the momentum of the game in an instant. And now, coming into the league as a rookie, Edwards wears the same uniform as the man he’s admired since his adolescence.
“All the vets on the team are really good guys to learn from,” Edwards told Basketball Insiders. “But learning under Kemba…I feel like, obviously, I want to play like him and get to where he is, but we have some similarities in our game I guess you could say. So I feel it’s pretty cool to be able to learn from him and find ways just to kinda make it work and stick in this league.”
Don’t assume everything about the two is the same, though.
“Different positions. [Carsen] played off the ball more and cut a lot. Kemba was more with the ball,” Stevens said. “I think they have some similarities, but I would say Carsen’s more of a two-guard that will play with bigger point [guards].
“He’ll play the point at times and certainly guard the point, and so he’ll play a combo spot. But we’re not as worried about his size because he’s so strong. He can guard bigger than his own size.”
To Stevens’ point, what Edwards lacks in height he makes up in weight. Almost built like a running back, he is 200 pounds of muscle with a physique that allows him power inside and absorb contact. Couple that with the gravity he has on the perimeter, and he’s a difficult player to defend.
With Stevens having worked with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, Edwards is confident he’ll get the best out of him.
“He’s a good coach, man,” Edwards told Basketball Insiders. “Just from the small time I’ve been here, I’ve learned so much from him. The history of guards he’s coached and helped stands for itself, so we’ll just see. I’m just going to continue to work and just try to be the best I can for this team and see what happens.
“…I want to just perform better in all my aspects, regardless of what I do well now or what people see that I do well now. I want to make jumps and strides in all aspects of my game.”
Edwards isn’t naive about the transition he has to make into the NBA. The pace picks up, space widens and action comes at you faster. Maybe one game he’ll have an off shooting night or meet those unavoidable rookie moments.
Being an unproven first-year guy, he’s also expecting there to be some nights where he won’t touch the floor. Still — with how many games there are in the season and the unexpected nature within it — he won’t allow that to distract him from staying ready and being prepared for his name to be called at any time.
It all comes back to a piece of advice Painter gave Edwards to reaffirm what he’s lived by his whole life.
“With him, one of the things that always stood out the most to me was just being able to understand that you’re going to go through ups and downs — it’s really just the way you handle it,” Edwards told Basketball Insiders.
“My parents teach me the same thing. But just basketball-wise, you’ve got to understand you’re going to go through tough games and things like that, but the way you handle it is going to be really important. You’re always going to have those same problems, but it’s the way you manage it, the way you control those, it’s up to you to manage those problems you have.”
Tuesday night couldn’t have been a more perfect microcosm of that.
“Just continue to make the right play,” Edwards said following the win. “You get a good rhythm going and see some shots fall and my teammates kept looking for me, setting some good screens and things like that.
“It’s a blessing and an opportunity, even if it’s just preseason. You dream to be in positions like this, to be able to play in the NBA and play with good guys…”
A humble man from Humble, Texas — Carsen handled it well.