In my defense, time has been impossible to keep track of for the past several years - I barely realized the NBA Draft was happening on Wednesday until, like, Tuesday night. So even though we already know that Cole Anthony has been drafted by the Magic, and fans of other NBA teams aren’t exactly going to be lining up at THB to think about the possibility of their teams drafting him, but I figure it’s at least worth doing a belated draft profile for Anthony as we officially send him off into the next phase of his basketball career. Let’s take a look at what got him drafted and what we can expect from him.
Last year, I wrote one of these for Cameron Johnson, who was virtually unknown coming out of high school and, after his two years at UNC, had worked himself into first-round conversations. Anthony, on the other hand, has had a spotlight on him since he was a young high school player, being the son of a highly visible NBA player who was also very good at basketball. He committed to UNC over offers from about every high-profile school in the country, eventually choosing them over Oregon as his other primary finalist. He announced his arrival with a bang, playing an almost perfect game against Notre Dame where he scored 34 points on 6/11 shooting from 3 (12/24 overall), 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. But things weren’t so rosy from there, as UNC’s otherwise talent-depleted roster and a truly vicious injury bug roared into prominence. Teams adjusted to the team’s inability to shoot from the perimeter and hounded Anthony on the outside and packed the paint, and he couldn’t really overcome it - not helped by the fact that he missed 11 games in the middle of the season while recovering from meniscus repair surgery. Still, his individual talent shone at times, and even though UNC was abysmal last year and his game felt at times like empty calories, with his lowish efficiency and occasional tendencies towards hero ball, he ended up with pretty good raw stats of 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit his home state of New York in earnest after the basketball season was over, he delayed his NBA Draft decision and went home to do whatever he could to help out: he delivered food to front-line workers and got others to do the same. Eventually, as widely expected, he declared his eligibility for the 2020 NBA Draft, with his stock having fallen from where it was in November but still firmly in the first round.
Shooting: Anthony isn’t the dead-eye shooter that Cam Johnson was last year, or guys like Tyrell Terry, Desmond Bane, or Aaron Nesmith were this year, but his three-point shooting percentage of 34.8% is decent and belies how good he actually is at it. A shockingly low percentage of his three-point makes were assisted given the UNC system, even less than Coby White the previous year, who made some waves with his shot creation ability. Anthony has impeccable shooting footwork moving left, right, backwards, or coming downhill off screens - it doesn’t matter. He’s got a slightly unorthodox stroke that puts his guide hand on top of the ball, but the ball comes off clean and quickly. He’s good both catch-and-shooting and, especially, as a pull-up shooter, giving him some positional versatility on the offensive end. He is a bit streaky, with games like the aforementioned Notre Dame one but also like his second Duke game, where he laid an absolute goose egg.
Playmaking: Cole can make plays for himself and others. He’s very good at using his handle and footwork to create separation for his jump shot, and has flashed creativity off the bounce as a slasher with spin moves and body control, though he’s not quite as good as a slasher as he is as a pull-up shooter. As a distributor, he’s capable of making good pick-and-roll reads and delivering the right passes to the right spots, especially with his right hand — not a huge off-hand passer or flashy pass-maker. Playmaking attitude is kind of results-based: if you cash in on the opportunities he gives you, he’ll almost get too passive for favor of getting you the ball. If you waste them, he starts holding off. His want-to as a passer runs very hot and cold, and even more so when he doesn’t trust his teammates, but there’s no question about his ability.
Stamina: This is the area where his years of being able to prep for pro basketball with unique access and resources really pops. Brings the same level of energy to every game and does not visibly tire, even throughout games where he was the entire UNC offense. His conditioning is excellent and he will have comparatively little issue adjusting to the rigors of an NBA season.
Intangibles: For any of his attitude concerns, his effort and want-to are unquestionable: Cole Anthony plays like you want a basketball player to play (hence him being called a “hooper,” or a “baller,” by a lot of oldheads despite it not meaning much). He didn’t take games off even on a team that was incapable of winning, he came back to a bad team after surgery that a lot of guys in his position would have used as a semi-reasonable excuse to shut it down and start preparing for the NBA early, and played at maximum intensity every minute he was on the court. It sounds like something that should be automatic, but for a high schooler hyped as much as he was, and for a 19-20 year old in general, you absolutely expect some laziness from time to time, and his complete lack of that is another reason I think he’ll adjust to the pros pretty seamlessly.
Miscellany: An outstanding guard rebounder for his size (16.4 defensive rebounding percentage), and in an NBA where lead guards are taking more defensive rebounding responsibilities to get started quicker, that might be an underrated skill for a guard who’s not as big as a Doncic or Simmons... Flashes incredible body control in the air for some truly ridiculous finishes, but this wasn’t a consistent ability at UNC despite being one of his calling cards in high school. Unclear if this is due to the meniscus injury or just inability to adjust to college athletes, but increased flashes late hint at the former... Gets to the line reasonably often, though ACC refs developed a vendetta against him halfway through the conference season... Solid build for a lead guard, strong base and upper body. Doesn’t have much length but this makes him a strong on-ball defender against point guards... Strong hair game.
Slashing: Never adjusted to the increased lateral agility of higher-level athletes, and doesn’t show a ton of ability to vary speeds to pair with his explosiveness - once a defender reads where he’s going, he doesn’t have a ton of craft or wiggle to pass them on the hip anyways. It feels like, with his above-average burst off the ground and handle, he should be able to get past his man more easily, but he got stonewalled more often than you’d like in college by even above-average college defenders. Wasn’t helped by lack of spacing at UNC, but still should have been better. Has the traits to improve in this area, but after this many years of preparing like a professional, it’s generally hard to project a ton of growth for him outside of some weight training and his team situation improving, so TBD on how this improves (or doesn’t).
Shot Selection/Mindset: The elephant in the room: takes a lot of unnecessary tough shots, both threes and midrange. Reasons for this are myriad, but the primary one seems to be that he didn’t trust his teammates increasingly throughout the season after they failed again and again to cash in on the spacing and open shots his play was giving them. But it’s not entirely on his teammates; Anthony also just has inconsistent mentality as a passer — he’ll have stretches of play where he’s committed to the system and making the right passes, then some where he just plays iso-ball and ignores wide open teammates, in the same game. He wasn’t totally discouraged from this tendency at UNC because of how bad his teammates so often were (especially on the perimeter), but it’s going to have to be coached out of him at the next level. It was also something he did, though not nearly as often, in AAU ball, so it’s definitely not just something that was caused by justifiably not trusting teammates.
Transition: Is reasonably fast with the ball in his hands, but lack of finishing ability in traffic led him to be unnecessarily cautious in transition. Takes advantage of numbers when he has them, but slows down if he doesn’t even if he has a scoring angle or athletic advantage on the defense that is back. Doesn’t often finish on his own on the fast break, unless absolutely nobody is back, which is strange because when you do see him finish, he’s plenty capable of going above the rim and punishing defenders who aren’t 100% committed. Again, this goes back to trusting his teammates: plenty of times last year, and unusually for a UNC team, the team didn’t really have a hard rim-running big man to finish transition possessions, so he stopped going hard in transition as well. Might be an issue that gets fixed with a team that runs properly, but I don’t expect him to become a transition finisher overnight, or perhaps at all.
Miscellany: A one-position defender thanks to his shorter arms and average stature for a point guard, which might hurt him if he’s playing off-ball with another smaller guard... A little too trusting of his own skill at times, which leads to some dumb turnovers due to running into traffic, but that’s pretty normal for good ballhandlers... Can get streaky shooting both threes and free throws, with some games where he went 6/11 from three and others where he was 0/8 — and games where he was perfect with 13 free throw attempts and others where he was 2/7... sometimes wears RecSpex.