Just one year ago, Cole Anthony was the number two overall recruit heading into his freshman season at North Carolina. He was widely regarded as a top ten lock in the 2020 NBA Draft. Fast forward to now, where an injury-filled and disappointing Tar Heels season has raised questions about whether or not Anthony is worth a look in the lottery. Some mock drafts have Anthony slipping into the mid 20s, which would have been unthinkable 10 months ago. However, I do not think Anthony should nor will slide past the lottery. I would even make the case for him to be a top 10 selection this October.
Anthony averaged 18.5 points per game while logging about 35 minutes per game as a freshman last season. He was a relatively efficient scorer, converting on 40.2% of his two-point field goals and 34.8% of his three-point attempts. These mediocre percentages have forced questions among scouts, who would have liked to see more consistency out of his shooting. However, almost no point guard in college basketball was used in the way Anthony was. The Tar Heels struggled mightily in the 2019-2020 season and endured the injury bug all year. This forced Anthony to become the primary (and at times, the only) scoring option and the team’s leading facilitator.
Anthony’s usage rate was 30.0% last season, which is extremely high for a freshman point guard. This statistic implies that Anthony contributed on almost every offensive possession for the Tar Heels. So, some of the struggles Anthony had at converting baskets could be attributed to his high usage rate and the fact that he needed to take some tough shots and force up some unnecessary looks.
In addition, he had a player efficiency rating of 17.5. This was among the highest for a freshman in a Power-5 Conference and for any freshman entering the 2020 NBA draft. Although he was used at such a high rate, Anthony was still incredibly efficient compared to most other draft eligible players. Keeping these two advanced statistics in mind, I am not worried about Anthony’s offensive production at the next level. His stats might be a bit deflated, but Anthony produced at a high level all season.
Anthony’s ability to score at a high level is promising, as he will most likely assume the role of a score-first combo guard in the NBA. As a combo-guard, Anthony has a rare offensive skillset that most 20 year olds do not possess. He is categorized as a slasher, but is a dynamic shooter who can knock down a shot from anywhere in a half court set. The 6’3” point guard just has a knack for making difficult and acrobatic shots look easy. Even if a defender gets him off-balance, Anthony finds a way to drop in a bucket.
He plays fast in transition and in the half court set and drives to the hoop in a Derrick Rose-like fashion. His quickness with the ball from the rebound on the other end all the way to the rim for a layup is among the things that scouts love about number 2 from North Carolina.
Anthony also has a solid arsenal of shot types he uses when driving to the paint, including his effective floater and double pump layup. His go-to shot is the step back to his left, which he uses from mid-range and beyond the arc. Some of his finest highlight-reel plays include a step back three in the face of an opposing ACC defender. Finally, and maybe most importantly, Anthony dominated in isolation situations. This is the part of his game that will likely translate to the NBA the most, as iso scoring has become so prevalent in today’s game. In these situations, Anthony can consistently beat his defender off the dribble or create space with a step back. His strong isolation scoring is a huge reason why I have confidence in his offensive game at the next level.
One thing people have questions about is Anthony’s ability to involve his teammates in the offense. I am not overly concerned with this, as he has shown flashes of efficient passing in his year in Chapel Hill. Anthony averaged 4 assists per game, but the number could have been greater had his teammates converted on more looks. He was at his best playmaking when driving to the paint and condensing the defense. His court vision is solid and he is able to read the defense well when kicking the ball out to an open shooter. Like most freshman, Anthony sometimes makes the flashy pass instead of the accurate pass, but that can be corrected easily with discipline on Anthony’s part.
Anthony was not the best defender in college, but at the next level he will not be asked to defend the opponent’s number one or even number two scoring option, at least to start. His athleticism is what makes him at least a capable defender, as he is not beat off the dribble. Anthony has active hands and defends with a strong lower body to prevent a ball handler from driving to his dominant side. He also does not let up on defense, and is willing to make the hustle plays that his Tar Heels needed their star point guard to make. Furthermore, his length is solid for a point guard and he has a 6’5 wingspan. This will help him defend on the perimeter even if it just allows him an extra bit of range.
Yes, Cole Anthony has some weaknesses and there is some risk to selecting him. But, what prospect comes with no risks? All of Anthony’s weaknesses are correctible. It will not take multiple years in the league before seeing Anthony at his best. In the NBA, he will not be asked to attempt 16 shots a game. Anthony will not need to force shots at the end of the shot clock or take on a defense 1 vs. 5. He can operate on the offensive end his way and take the shots he wants. He struggled with reading opposing offenses at times and has a habit of sinking underneath screens, but that can be fixed once Anthony becomes accustom to his team’s defensive scheme and more comfortable defending the perimeter knowing he has help defense behind him.
Anthony had an injured knee throughout the season, but refused to call it quits in preparation for his NBA career. He played in meaningless games for UNC and gave it his all. Young rebuilding teams should take note of Anthony’s work ethic and his team-first attitude from this. It is also worth noting that Cole’s father, Greg Anthony, played for the New York Knicks for many years. Because he has been around the NBA, the stage will likely not be too big for Anthony. He should be able to handle the pressure and attention in a mature way as a young athlete.
Overall, Anthony is a high effort player with star potential scoring ability and an improving ability to make plays for his teammates. If he were to slip past the lottery, any team who could grab him would be getting a steal. However, teams will not overlook the star potential that Cole Anthony possesses. The mock drafts that have him outside of the lottery are flawed. They mark him as an overrated prospect, when, in reality, Anthony is becoming very underrated. He is one of my favorite players in this draft. He can put up points in a hurry like a prime Derrick Rose and can be an elite playmaker when he wants to. I would select him in the top 10 with confidence in the 2020 NBA draft.