Cole Anthony: The Most Divisive Prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft

Today we are talking about one of the biggest names in the 2020 NBA Draft. Does Cole Anthony have the skillset and capability to lead an NBA offense? Or will he strictly be an offensive weapon off the bench at the next level? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Which teams are the best fit for his talent and skillset? Let’s break it down.

Any conversation about this elite prospect begins with his father Greg Anthony, one of the members of the iconic UNLV squad with Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon and 11-year vet. Cole Anthony grew up around the game of basketball from a very young age. During his early years, Anthony received private training from Steve Harris, a prominent AAU figure who also mentored Kemba Walker. The world of basketball runs through Cole Anthony’s veins.

Cole Anthony was an immediate sensation in High School. He played his first three seasons at Archbishop Molloy High School in New York before transferring to Oak Hill Academy during his senior year. Cole Anthony’s name was everywhere his senior season, being named a McDonald’s All-American and receiving invites to the Nike Hoops Summit and Jordan Brand Classic.

One of the most hyped High School prospects in recent memory…

According to Rivals, Cole Anthony was the #1-point guard recruit n the country before committing to the University of North Carolina. Roy Williams stated at the time, “he (Cole) is one of the most complete point guards I have ever recruited.” With the stage set and expectations as high as ever, Cole Anthony delivered during his college debut with 34 points and 5 assists in a victory over Notre Dame. It was an amazing moment and all signs pointed towards a Cinderella season at the jump. Unfortunately for Cole Anthony, the injury bug would show his ugly face.

After a partially torn meniscus in his right knee sidelined the star freshman for nearly two months, Cole Anthony and the Tar Heels fought significant adversity all season long. It was a season of ups and downs for North Carolina, who finished with a 14-19 record and it’s first losing season under legendary head coach Roy Williams. Should Cole Anthony be singled out and blamed for the disappointing season? What really went down in North Carolina? Let’s examine.

A flawed UNC roster led to opposing teams being able to swarm Cole Anthony on defense…

Driving lanes were completely shut down while his teammates froze and waited for Anthony to carry the load on offense. Think Allen Iverson’s role on the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers. According to The Stepien, Cole Anthony had a +7-net rating at UNC, the only player on the roster with a positive net rating.

Is Anthony’s inconsistent freshman season a cause for concern? Or will scouts be wowed by a guard with one of the biggest upsides in the NBA Draft?

STRENGTHS

  • Bucket getter: Cole Anthony projects as a 3-level scorer who can shoot over defenders and make contested shots. Anthony is the type of prospect whose game should thrive in the NBA with more spacing and with more room to operate. Anthony averaged 22.6 points per 40 minutes alongside a wild 30.1 usage percentage. He had a true shooting percentage of 53.4% and had 9 games of scoring 20 or more points. This is the bread and butter of Cole Anthony as a prospect. Any team that selects him knows they are getting one of the best offensive weapons in the NBA Draft.
  • Very good shooter: Cole Anthony’s ability to pull up when going downhill is one of his best weapons. He he has shown that he can thrive in the catch and shoot. He scored 1.167 points per possession in the catch and shoot, he can shoot off screens and even off the dribble. Anthony thrived at getting to the line in college, where he finished with the 10th most free throws in the ACC and shot 75%. He shot 34.8% from 3-point range on 141 attempts.
  • Very good handle: Cole Anthony’s handle is strong, which allows him to finish in the paint with either hand at ease. Anthony has a wide repertoire of moves that allows him to stay in control when getting into the paint. Anthony’s plus handle and ability to get buckets makes him an electrifying player to watch. This is a guy who plays low to the ground and will routinely make SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays with his killer crossover the second he puts on an NBA jersey.

WEAKNESSES

  • Poor shot selection: Cole Anthony showed repeatedly that he needs to improve his shot selection at the next level. On one end, Cole Anthony looks like a great offensive prospect. When you dig deeper, his lack of burst and how he struggled to score against college defenses is a concern. Cole Anthony must show strides in his ability to become a better playmaker with the ball. He needs to become a better decision maker as a lead guard and show he can limit turnovers and play within an offense. His 39% field goal percentage around the rim is baffling. So is his 18.5 points on 15.7 shot attempts per game. That’s not good enough but when you understand the talent that surrounded him at UNC it is easily forgivable.
  • What position is he? While Cole Anthony can make the easy pass, he doesn’t see the court well enough to lead an NBA offense at the point guard spot. Anthony instantly becomes an undersized combo guard with a small wingspan (6’4) and poor efficiency numbers if he doesn’t develop his point guard skills. In a switch-heavy league where teams are only as good as their weakest defender, this could pose to be a real problem for Cole Anthony’s ceiling as a prospect. Anthony’s 3.5 assist to turnover ratio his freshman season is a major red flag. For all the flashes he shows on offense, he also takes his teammates out of the game by over-dribbling and playing too much hero ball.
  • Needs to improve footwork on defense: Inconsistency and Cole Anthony go well beyond his offense. Cole Anthony gets eaten up on defense in the pick and roll. He’s got average size and at times loses focus on defense. This simply cannot happen at the next level. There have been moments when Anthony’s on ball defense has looked downright awful. I’m talking Jahlil Okafor-esque defense. When tested against some of the best guards in college last season (Kira Lewis), Cole Anthony looked completely lost.

FILM HIGHLIGHT

In a league where shooting is paramount, the value for a lead guard to consistently shoot over a screen from 3 is immense. Defenses will always need to respect his shot and fight over the screen. Looking further, Cole Anthony shot 36.6% from 3 during 112 3-point attempts during his lone season at Oak Hill Academy. Shooting wise, I expect Cole Anthony to become an above average shooter at the next level.
Despite a lack of burst and acceleration, Cole Anthony’s handle is good enough to penetrate into the paint.
I am deeply concerned regarding Cole Anthony’s defense at the next level. This was pre-torn meniscus Cole Anthony and Kira Lewis ate him for breakfast. What is Cole Anthony going to do in the NBA when nearly all point guards are faster, quicker and bigger than he is? Cole Anthony had a defensive rating of 102.4 last season but also showed flashes of solid awareness at times. Anthony is a confusing prospect to assess and it’s his laziness on defense that makes me so skeptical as an NBA prospect.
This is one of the most special areas of Cole Anthony’s game. Cole Anthony’s pull-up game is NBA ready and should quickly translate the moment he puts on an NBA jersey. This is where the majority of Cole Anthony’s buckets will come during his first couple of seasons at the next level. However, these types of low efficiency shots are a dying breed and things start to get a little shaky when we break down his game a little further.
Here is a good example of the horrific spacing for UNC that I discussed during the overview. But I’m not looking at the spacing here. I’m looking at the lack of burst for Cole Anthony with the ball. He barely gets by his man and it’s this lack of acceleration that has me deeply concerned in regards to Anthony’s ceiling as a prospect. Will Cole Anthony be able to get his shot off in the NBA with that lack of burst? It’s a major question mark and doesn’t bode well with his potential leading a pick and roll offense at the next level.
As my friend Austin wrote in his excellent article about LaMelo Ball, is the hype and name more than his game? Cole Anthony’s inability to create separation with the ball in college is a major concern. Who is Cole Anthony? On the surface, Anthony is a supreme offensive talent. But you when dig a little deeper, I just don’t see how his offensive game translates when going up against bigger, longer and quicker defenders in the NBA.

BEST FITS

Cole Anthony is one of the most divisive prospects in the draft and I’ve seen his stock falling out of the lottery to even being selected in the top 5. In the end, I do believe that lottery teams will be sold on his immense talent and upside. I see Cole Anthony as a prospect that will likely be drafted near the back end of the lottery and no where near being a top 5 pick. Here I look a the top team fits for Cole Anthony’s skillset in the NBA.

Charlotte Hornets

Devonte’ Graham is an emerging star in Charlotte, a team that definitely needs to fix their offensive woes (2nd lowest offensive efficiency). A Graham-Cole Anthony back court is certainly intriguing. Terry Rozier has two more years left on his contract which would be perfect for Anthony as he learns the offense and adjusts to the speed of the NBA. Taking Cole Anthony at #8 is a bit of a reach in my opinion. Given Charlotte’s need for a superstar, I see them as a perfect team that should roll the dice and hope that Cole Anthony’s offense clicks in the NBA.

New York Knicks

This is a perfect fit. The Knicks need a lead guard who can score and Cole Anthony’s hometown is New York. RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox are limited offensively. Anthony is no stranger to the spotlight. The Knicks are currently slotted with the 6th pick in the draft, which is a perfect spot for his selection. Cole Anthony and the Madison Square Garden seemed destined for each other. The Knicks should look to trade back, gain an asset and select Anthony at the back end of the lottery.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs already have a bunch of promising prospects and are desperate for an offensive punch. Cole Anthony’s talent is undeniable and heading to the best development program in the NBA would be incredible given his skillset. The fit with good-looking prospect Dejounte Murray in the backcourt is extremely intriguing. The Spurs are currently slotted at #11 and that would be a solid range for Cole Anthony to be drafted.

NBA Comparison: Louis Williams

I see an off the bench, offensive spark type of player ala Lou Williams in the cards for Cole Anthony at the next level. Cole Anthony will become a solid sixth-man in the league for years to come and that should hold enough value for a team picking in the back end of the lottery.

You can find the rest of our draft evaluations below!

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