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Orlando Magic select Cole Anthony with 15th overall pick

The former UNC point guard has a professional home.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With the 15th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic drafted UNC’s Cole Anthony. Assuming there won’t be any draft-night trades involving the New York native, the one-and-done freshman joins an organization needing versatility, depth, and scoring at the point guard position. Anthony provides all of that after averaging 18.5 ppg, 5.7 rpb, and 4.0 apg.

Anthony was a highly-celebrated top-5 recruit when he committed to UNC. The son of former NCAA champion and NBA veteran Greg Anthony, he took over the reins at point guard after Coby White’s left for the professional ranks. His commitment was a much needed boost for UNC, who had to replace three NBA first-round picks (White, Cameron Johnson, Nassir Little) and two other starting seniors (Luke Maye, Kenny Williams).

As all Carolina fans know (and will eventually erase from their memories), Anthony’s Heels struggled to a 14-19 record thanks to a string of injuries and overall lack of experience at the ACC level. Even Anthony was not immune, missing 11 games with a torn meniscus. The result was nine games decided by four points or less. UNC’s record in those games was 2-7, with three of those losses coming in overtime.

UNC’s struggles led to increased concern about Anthony’s character and locker room presence. Whispers of being a bad teammate or difficult to play with have followed Cole since his high school days. It’s a stigma that Anthony has forcefully denied, even as recently as last week. His fellow teammates also came to his aid last month over the same topic.

Those concerns are comically misguided.

Many (most?) projected lottery picks would not return to a team with a losing record after mid-season surgery - especially a team that lacked the success, talent, and health that plagued last year’s squad. The Heels played 10 different starting line-ups, with Cole starting in four of those. Honestly, if you switch Cole and Coby’s supporting cast, the impressions and perceptions of both players are wildly different. (For what it’s worth, Coby averaged 16.1/3-5/4.1 with more talent, experience, and depth).

UNC’s struggles were hardly a result of anything Anthony did when he was on the court. The newest member of the Magic led the Heels with 18.5 points and 4.0 assists per game in his only season in Chapel Hill. (How he found four assists a game with that cast probably deserves more attention). His 5.7 rebounds per game were third-best on the team. He also led the team in three-pointers attempted and made, hitting a respectable-but-streaky 34.8% from deep while knocking down a dependable 75% from the foul line.

Projections for Anthony’s future success vary due to the up-and-down nature of last season. The lack of normal pre-draft evaluations due to COVID did not allow many opportunities to address concerns some teams may have had. With the Magic however, he’ll have the opportunity to contribute early but avoid the expectations of carrying a team right away. Former top overall pick Markelle Fultz started 60 of 72 games last season, averaging 12.1 points and 5.1 assists. He split time with veteran point guard D.J. Augustin who also started 13 games.

Anthony’s selection means that an NBA team has drafted a UNC player in the first round in 13 of Roy Williams’ 17 seasons in Chapel Hill. The only times that has not happened in the Williams era was 2004, 2008, 2011, and 2018.

With the selection, Cole Anthony is the 53rd overall first-round pick from UNC. He is the seventh such pick in the last five years.