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UNC Basketball: What are reasonable expectations for Cole Anthony?

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The Oak Hill graduate is set to take the court this fall, and now there’s the matter of sorting out where to set the bar.

High School Basketball: Geico Nationals Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of excitement surrounding UNC’s incoming freshman Cole Anthony, who chose the Tar Heels over schools like Oregon, Georgetown, and Notre Dame. His commitment earned him a spot as the second-best commit for Roy Williams in the 247 Sports Composite era, with Harrison Barnes being number one, and Nassir Little sharing the number two spot. With all of the excitement surrounding his college debut, one has to wonder: what can we expect from Anthony?

In this article, we are going to take what we know about Cole Anthony and measure him against the player that he ties in the 247 Sports Composite, Nassir Little, the highest-ranked point guard in the Roy Williams era in Ty Lawson, and finally, the player that he will be the successor of, Coby White. The purpose of these comparisons will be not necessarily to figure out how much better Anthony will be than these players statistically, but rather it will serve as a measuring instrument in figuring out what are fair expectations to have of him in what will almost certainly be his one lone year at Carolina. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Cole Anthony vs. Nassir Little

When comparing Anthony’s situation to Little, who was the 3rd best player out of high school last year, I think this is about as simple as it gets. First, let’s start with Anthony’s upbringing — Cole is the son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, and while that sounds like an over-simplified reason for his basketball IQ to potentially be higher than Little’s, it is an unavoidable truth. Having the benefit of growing up with a father that is or has been a professional player means that Anthony had a chance to learn how to train, work out, eat, execute on the court, etc. This isn’t to say that Little’s upbringing was completely deprived of these things, but he also started competitive basketball when he was about 12, and so his development was a tiny bit behind from the start.

The second biggest difference between a player like Anthony and Little is that Anthony will be expected right away to start for the Tar Heels at point guard. With the exodus of Coby White, the door was left wide open for Anthony to step in and take the roster spot. This can mean a number of things from an expectations standpoint, but the most important takeaway would be that Anthony won’t have the same pressures on the court that Little had.

So, how does Anthony’s stock stack up against a player like Nassir? While Little was undoubtedly a good player for UNC in many ways, I think that we can expect Anthony’s stock to be higher than Little’s if for no other reason than he is arriving on campus as a more polished freshman. With that said, setting expectations higher than Little is a fair thing to do.

Cole Anthony vs. Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson is the best point guard to be recruited in the Roy Williams era and the 7th best player overall, according to the 247 Sports Composite. During his freshman year he finished averaging 10.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game, and kept getting better and better every season thereafter. His speed, strength, and ability to create plays made him a force to be reckoned with during his tenure with the Tar Heels, and it is also the reason that he will go down as one of the best point guards that’s ever played under Roy Williams.

When compared to Cole Anthony, I think this is a bit more of a fair fight than the previous comparison, but the biggest difference here would have to be playing styles. First, Anthony is a more explosive player than Lawson and loves to attack the rim. Second, Lawson’s speed is unrivaled to this point, as Coby White wasn’t even able to convince Roy Williams and fans that he was faster than the Bob Cousy award winner. Finally, when looking at what both players were able to do their senior years at Oak Hill, Lawson was the more productive player from a scoring standpoint, and averaged 23.8 points and 9.1 assists per game. Anthony, however, averaged 18 points and 9.5 assists, so he has the edge when it comes to how productive he was able to be passing the ball.

So what’s the verdict? Truthfully, it’s hard to judge Anthony’s expectations compared to Lawson, as the game has a different feel overall in 2019. We’ll call this one a wash, but if I had to absolutely pick, I think Anthony has a chance to be better than freshman Lawson, but that’s as deep into the weeds as I’m willing to get.

Cole Anthony vs. Coby White

By now, we all know Coby White’s story — he became a top 25 high school prospect, holds the North Carolina high school scoring record, and was recently a lottery pick in the NBA Draft after just one year at Carolina. He is the reason that the stigma of freshman point guards has been suppressed going into the 2019-20 season, and he is also the reason that Cole Anthony does not have to fight for a starting position for what is likely his only year on campus.

When looking at these two players, the immediate difference is in the scoring department. Coby’s ability to score is something that everyone raved about, and he backed that up by finishing his freshman year as the second highest scorer on the team. Where I do feel like Anthony has the edge, however, is his ability to facilitate on the floor, which he appears to be better at than White was before his first game with the Tar Heels. White was definitely as literal of a combo guard as it gets, but Anthony truly has the ability to do it all on the floor right away.

This perhaps is the most important question of this entire article: what should the expectations of Cole Anthony be compared to Coby White? Simply put, I think as a pure player, Cole may finish his freshman season with better overall production than White. Will he score more points? There’s a good chance that he may not, but also there’s nothing wrong with that. As mentioned before, I believe Anthony is more of a point guard than Coby was, and with that comes scoring sacrifices. We will still see fun plays, but this is a situation where if you focus on scoring production you will be fooled by what is actually happening.

Overall, I think expectations of Cole Anthony fall somewhere between what fans hoped Nassir Little would be and what Coby White actually was, from a success standpoint. He’ll be a star for the Tar Heels, and he will likely be a NBA Lottery pick, but like those before him, he will take some time to become acclimated to what Roy Williams wants him to do at point guard. It’ll be exciting to see him play in Carolina blue, and hopefully his lone season ends in April rather than March.