Everything about Cole Anthony says he's ready for the bright lights of the NBA.
For starters, he's got pedigree as the son of decade-long NBA guard Greg Anthony and he grew up around the game learning the intricacies of what it takes to be a pro. Even with a target on his back as the son of an NBA player, Anthony thrived in all levels of high school basketball. First, he would be named the MVP of the illustrious New York All-Catholic High School Association as a junior before transferring to basketball factory Oak Hill Academy (whose alumni includes Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Jennings) in Virginia. There, he led his team to the semifinals of the GEICO Nationals before being named a McDonald's All-American as well as earning invites to the Nike Hoops Summit and Jordan Brand Classic.
The hype continued when he headed to North Carolina for his one-and-done year but he had some challenges along the way that had many pundits poking holes in his game. Picked in the preseason polls to be one of the best teams in the nation the Tar Heels disappointed with bad loss, after bad loss and Anthony's erratic shot selection and hot-and-cold shooting streaks were cause for frustration. An untimely knee injury also sidelined Anthony for a number of weeks adding to the roller coaster.
Anthony will enter the draft as one of the more divisive players in the class with opinions of his game as a score-first ball handler varying greatly. Some see him possessing the skills that put him in the Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving tier of scoring guards, where others who don't think he can run an NBA point see him as a more of an instant-offence sixth man. Shoot first point guards like Anthony make for some of the toughest evaluations in the pre-draft process, watching where he goes on draft day will be a fascinating storyline.
One of the most premium skills in basketball is the ability to make tough shots on the perimeter and in this draft class, Anthony stands alone with his capability to hit off-balance shots with a defender in his grill. Over and over again in college, we saw him creating space with creative step-back jumpers or leaners to either side and with a balance that only comes from thousands of reps Anthony maintained solid technique with his elbow in and his wrist back that allowed for straight-shooting. Ultimately Anthony ended his freshman season shooting 35% from three, a number that might not jump off the page to you but one that's impressive considering the high number of difficult attempts he had to make at the end of shot clocks facing heavy defensive pressure.
In addition to possessing one of the best pull-up shots in the class, he's also one of the fastest players and that makes him a terror to guard in space. North Carolina's offence thrived when Anthony went to work one-on-one and he quickly became an elite isolation scorer. While he likely won't get the same number of isolation opportunities he got in college the ability to beat a defender one-on-one will help him when he gets the ball off the floppy actions or Iverson cuts we see so commonly in NBA offences.
At 6'3" with a powerful lower body Anthony is a stout defender when he wants to be and uses his quick feet to mirror offensive players as they try to drive by him. His strong base allows him to be physical at the point of attack and that's something that will do him well playing against some of the muscular guards looking to initiate contact in the NBA.
One of the intangibles Anthony brings to the table is his competitiveness. Despite the fact that his North Carolina team was largely irrelevant this year with no chance to compete for an ACC title or a berth to the NCAA Tournament Anthony played with a noticeable fire and passion. He nearly single-handedly willed his team back into some games by forcing steals on his own end and then hitting big shots on the other and lottery teams in rebuilding phases will love that competition level in games that didn't necessarily carry a ton of weight.
Anthony showed great scoring touch on the perimeter but struggled to finish in the paint only converting 39% of his shots at the rim. There is some definite explosiveness in his legs that allow him to elevate among shot blockers but for being 6'3" he doesn't have great length and right now he lacks the touch to be a good interior scorer.
Part of the reason he struggled to score on the inside is that right now he lacks the ability to change speeds when driving. In so many of the elite scoring guards in the NBA, we see the technique of changing gears-starting with a quick first step then getting defenders off balance with slower in-between steps before suddenly exploding to full bore. Right now, Anthony is all quick all the time and that means defenders who can match his first step will stymie his entire drive.
Considering he struggles to get easy points at the rim, Anthony is a volume scorer who relies on his shooting off the bounce. Outside of the elite NBA scorers, this style of volume shooting can be streaky and generally inefficient and his high-variance style of offence isn't always going to be dependable.
For a lead guard, Anthony leaves something to be desired as a playmaker. Occasionally he made fundamentally sound reads and moved the ball where it needed to go but generally speaking he wasn't someone who put his teammates in great positions to score and some teams will definitely see him as more of an off guard or combo guard than a point. That would mean he goes from a player with positive size as a point guard to mildly undersized as a "two" and that could hurt his stock.
Projected NBA Draft Position: 7-13
Projected NBA Role: Score-first ball handler.
NBA Comparison: CJ McCollum
The views expressed here do not reflect those of the NBA or its clubs.