The NBA is about to restart, maybe, but not every team’s been invited to the Orlando bubble. So where does that leave them, and their fans? Well, wondering about the draft, of course! We’re not getting a lot of new information about the prospects themselves, so a lot of analysts’ mocks aren’t really changing, because they can only predict based on what they’ve seen. Journalists, though, are getting information from league sources on what front offices might be thinking, so the time is ripe for them to hit us with new information and, with it, new mock drafts. And then you have the sweet spot of people who wear both hats, and there might not be a better example of that in NBA media than The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, who released his 6th mock draft of this cycle on Tuesday. And while the mock draft itself is behind a paywall (check it out if you’re subscribed or have the app), we’re only here for a relevant tidbit:
Vecenie’s approach to mock drafting is pretty unique. He’s got a lot of league connections and talks about them liberally, but he’s also a relentless analyst who uses his own big board and prospect breakdowns to draft for teams just as much as the intel he’s received. Sometimes, especially this far out from the actual draft and before testing/workouts and all that, it means that his picks can be wildly off, but he gives his readers a really good sense of what teams are thinking and what makes sense for them, and that’s where this pick comes from.
Here’s what he says about Cole (I won’t publish his words in full, just a few notes):
Unsurprisingly given his play this season, Anthony is an extremely divisive prospect that teams have a wide range of opinions on. Some people do think of him as a legit lottery level talent due to his on-court toughness, ability to get separation, and shot-making ability... Other evaluators see him in a much lesser light. They worry that he’s a 6-foot-2 shooting guard that isn’t an elite shooter and who wants to dominate the ball a bit beyond what his skillset would allow.
This isn’t all that surprising given how Anthony’s season in Chapel Hill went. We all saw the flashes of simply unbelievable talent, the relentless stamina, and the grit you usually don’t see in a top-5 ranked freshman, but we also saw some chucking tendencies, the at-times inability to get teammates involved (not helped by a team that refused to get involved), and less explosiveness than he’d been branded with. What NBA evaluators think of him pretty much depends on which excuses, of which there are many, they’re willing to buy: How much of his efficiency struggles were on him as opposed to a team that, frankly, failed him with nearly every chance he did give them (with the exception of Garrison Brooks)? How much did the meniscus injury affect his lateral agility and vertical explosiveness? What will he look like with better spacing and teammates who can score easy opportunities? Was the poor-ish free throw shooting an anomaly or cause for legitimate concern? All of those are legitimate questions of Anthony as a prospect that might start to get answered in workout and combine settings, after some time away from a cursed college season. For now, though, answers one way point to a borderline elite prospect who can start in the NBA for years, and answers the other way point to, as Vecenie says, pretty much Austin Rivers.
So why the Pelicans? Here’s Vecenie on where he fits on the team, and I think it’s a statement that explains his appeal just about anywhere he goes:
Well, the Pelicans are relatively set across the positional spectrum... Having said that, I do think that starting to develop another bucket-getter in the backcourt would be useful in case Jrue Holiday decides to depart the franchise following next season. I don’t really see Lonzo Ball as a halfcourt initiator and creator, but rather a terrific transition player who is better off playing as a secondary playmaker and passer in the halfcourt. That could actually mesh really well with Anthony’s skillset.
This past year’s Heels were one of the worst transition teams we’ve seen in Chapel Hill, partially due to Anthony himself not running the break as quickly as we’d like and partially due to his teammates not running the floor with him and forcing him to take on tough one-on-ones a lot more than is ideal. Fortunately, transition in the NBA is all but set in stone thanks to the talent level of its players. Some teams and point guards are better at running transition than others, and Lonzo Ball is among the best thanks to his fantastic hit-ahead passing, but they all do it ultra-efficiently. Anthony’s best spot is probably playing next to a big distributor, like Ball or somebody in the Nicolas Batum mold or even Jimmy Butler, next to whom he can take on scoring responsibilities in transition and initiate offense in the halfcourt, creating space and moving his teammates around. As the NBA resumes all of its operations, maybe that’s the kind of team that we’ll see looking closer into Anthony.