This year has made it extremely easy to forget that the NBA Draft has yet to take place. With the NBA Finals now underway, team interviews have started taking place this week and will continue through October 16th. Players will also be able to participate in an on-court program that consists of what you would normally expect from a NBA Draft Combine, with of course a few tweaks due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Sunday night The Athletic’s Shams Charania tweeted out the list of participants in this year’s combine. Which player was notably missing? Former UNC player Cole Anthony.
2020 NBA Draft Combine participants list — LaMelo Ball will participate; projected top selections Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and Obi Toppin are not: pic.twitter.com/Yp3kK5mBAD— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 28, 2020
While we don’t have any information as to why Anthony will not be participating in the combine, the move is a rather unusual one considering his polarizing status in this draft class. Despite this fact, there is still a possibility that we will see him potentially get drafted as a lottery pick, but it is a long shot depending on which mock draft you want to put your faith in.
Let’s take a look at a few projections for Cole Anthony from some of the major outlets:
NBADraft.net — 12th pick
ESPN — 14th pick
CBS Sports — 15th and 11th pick (picks made by Kyle Boone and Gary Parrish respectively)
Bleacher Report — 20th pick
Sports Illustrated — 15th pick
Navigating Anthony’s true draft stock has been tough to say the least. Coming out of high school the scouting report reads more or less the same way that it does now, which is that he is an aggressive, confident scorer that is still learning the point guard position. It’s common to see his tendency to pound the ball too much show up in scouting reports, and also he is still learning how to manipulate defenses.
While these things aren’t news to Tar Heels fans, there is one interesting take worth mentioning that comes from Rob Dauster with The Rebound. He believes that one of the problems Cole Anthony had during his time at UNC was Roy Williams’ system, particularly when it came to ball-screens. Here’s what he had to say:
“For starters, Roy Williams has not and probably will not ever be a coach that relies all that much on ball-screens. Last season, 18 percent of North Carolina’s offensive possessions ended in a ball-screen action. To put that into context, the Tar Heels ranked 306th nationally, and to put that into context, they ranked 336th and 340th, respectively, in the previous two seasons.”
Dauster went on to point out that because of the composition of UNC’s roster defenses collapsed on Anthony anytime he got into the paint. This was reflected in his 39.2 shooting percentage near the basket. When combining the lack of ball-screen action, defenses being able to collapse with ease, and Anthony not being healthy for a large amount of the season, it is indeed easy to see how his stop in Carolina didn’t do any favors for his NBA Draft stock.
So then what is Anthony’s true value in this draft? What will be the biggest difference for his growth as a player as opposed to his lone season at UNC? To answer the latter question first, the immediate answer that comes to mind is spacing. Anthony is very good at creating space for himself in one-on-one situations to knock down jumpers, and I believe that he may be a little better at attacking the paint than we were able to see at UNC, though finishing through contact is a bit of a concern. However, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him get more foul calls in his favor when attacking the basket than he did in college, as it seemed like referees in the ACC weren’t fond of how outspoken he was about no-calls and had the tendency to swallow their whistles.
The second thing that I think will help Cole Anthony out tremendously is the difference in talent. We all know that the 2019-20 UNC team was one of the worst teams in the Roy Williams era, and it is unrealistic to anticipate Anthony ending up in a similar situation. In fact, if he falls to the 20th pick like Bleacher Report has projected, he would get drafted to the Miami Heat, who are currently in the NBA Finals. The positive when it comes to his projected draft position is that there is a solid chance that Anthony will be surrounded by enough talent that will allow him to take his time, learn from veterans in the league, and hopefully earn a consistent role with a team.
With that said, Cole Anthony’s true draft stock likely is accurate where it is currently at. However, here are two somewhat realistic possibilities: the Detroit Pistons could pick him up with the 7th pick to be the understudy for Derrick Rose (whose contract is up after the 2020–21 season), or the New York Knicks take a hard look at him should Killian Hayes and perhaps even Tyrese Haliburton leave the draft board before it is their turn to pick. We’ve seen some unpredictable moves in the draft before (see Cam Johnson getting drafted to the Suns), so these are definitely a couple of moves to look out for.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Anthony’s ceiling in the NBA I think it’s going to be really difficult to tell until his rookie year is over. The lack of a non-chaotic sample size due to various factors make it really difficult to figure out what any team will get if they draft him. While everything said here sounds like a lot of negatives, there’s one thing that needs to be made clear: Cole Anthony is and always has been a really good player, and I think he’s more than willing to do whatever is necessary to continue growing as a player. It’s hard to picture a world where he doesn’t stick around in the league, but perhaps a conversation about how effective he’ll be is one to revisit next year.