Everything You Need To Know About Cole Anthony

Cole Anthony had a disappointing season, but he is too skilled to fall past the middle of the first round.

There was no more significant disparity between expectations and reality this season than for Cole Anthony and North Carolina. After arriving at North Carolina as one of the top high school recruits and expected high lottery pick, Anthony proceeded to battle injuries and teammates who provided little assistance. Through this turbulent season, Anthony saw his 2020 NBA Draft stock slide in most eyes and plummet entirely in others.

I can understand the hostile view many have taken towards Anthony and his potential because of the apprehension this season produced. Still, too infrequently, it is mentioned how bad the rest of his team genuinely was. Anthony was thrust into a role that required him to do absolutely everything for the team.

Despite all these obstacles, Anthony proved his love for the game and desire to play. He dismissed suggestions of sitting out the season after his injury and returned at full force. Additionally, Anthony showed off an impressive scoring arsenal and impressive athleticism.

The overall scoring numbers for Anthony are less than impressive. Overall, Anthony scored just 0.846 points per possession (PPP), ranked in the 46th percentile, per Synergy. I am willing to forgive a lot of this because the rest of the team was incapable of scoring. Even though Anthony had an extraordinary load on his shoulders, there is some anxiety around his shot selection and bad habits he may have developed.

When cruising Anthony’s highlight packages, there will be numerous examples of Anthony making tough shots. These do show off Anthony’s innate shot-making ability and body control, but most shots of this fashion don’t go in.

Below, we see Anthony’s willingness to settle for a heavily contested runner. Very early in the possession, Anthony looks to drive. Anthony is only looking to shoot from the start. He never looks for a teammate or even thinks of just pulling the ball back out. Instead, he lowers his shoulder and tries to go through the defender. This move can be useful for larger players or closer to the rim, but Anthony starts his gather from near the three-point line. Anthony gets bailed out by a bad foul call, but the result is an off-balanced runner with no business going in.

Again, we see Anthony try to stride out a layup from an absurd distance early in the possession. The result is positive because Anthony is gifted a fortunate bounce, but his mindset and decision making here are awful. As Anthony drives, he begins his gather before he even reaches the free-throw line. This decision limits his options and restricts his ability to elevate at the rim. As he enters his shot, Anthony leaves the ball exposed and gets stripped with ease before recovering to finish the heavily contested layup.

In the NBA, where Anthony isn’t the undeniable best player, this mindset will only reward opposing defenses and alienate teammates. Many of these bad decisions are the result of North Carolina’s utter scoring incompetence and full reliance on Anthony, but not worrying about it infecting his future shot selection seems naïve.

Anthony’s questionable decision making also carried over to his ball security and playmaking. On the season, Anthony averaged just four assists per game while also averaging 3.5 turnovers. He struggles to read the floor promptly and struggles with basic ball security.

We saw Anthony leave the ball exposed on a drive, and again we see him do the same against one of the best guard defenders in the country. Anthony is guarded tightly by an excellent defender, yet his ball security suggests his defender is sagging off. This careless ball security is going to be extraordinarily problematic in the NBA.

Even coming out of high school, Anthony never projected as an elite playmaker. At 6’3 and 190 pounds, though, Anthony will initiate a lot of the offense. If he can slot into a rotation alongside an established playmaker, he will be more effective. If Anthony is initially used as a primary playmaker, he needs to improve his simple playmaking. Anthony won’t lead the league in assists, but he has seen success with his ability to pass out of drives.

Simple passes like this will be extremely valuable for Anthony’s development. It will open the floor for everyone and not allow defenses to collapse on him completely.

Anthony’s unrefined playmaking may lead him to play in a system like the Denver Nuggets’ where a lot of the playmaking doesn’t come from the traditional point guard role. This approach isn’t horrible either as Anthony was a capable off-ball scorer.

This season, Anthony scored 1 PPP when he spotted up or ran off screens ranked in the 75th and 71st percentile, respectively. He also scored 1.615 PPP (96th percentile) on open catch and shoot opportunities.

Here, we see Anthony take advantage of some defensive miscommunication. As his teammate drives, Anthony sprints to the top of the arc, running off the down screen. The defense fails to switch correctly, and Anthony makes them pay by draining the open three.

Regardless of the role Anthony gets drafted to fill, his team should use him as an off-ball scorer at times. He uses screens well, identifies the open spaces to fill, and is an excellent shooter.

Despite Anthony’s questionable shot selection, limited playmaking, and success as an off-ball shooter, he is still a deadly scorer with the ball in his hands. In isolation situations this season, Anthony ranked in the 92nd percentile with 1.098 PPP and in the 90th percentile with 1.159 PPP when he drove in isolation situations.

In the below clip, we see a much more effective drive from Anthony than we did earlier. As Anthony dribbles towards the elbow, he uses a hang dribble that freezes his defender for just a moment. Anthony then uses his excellent burst to blow past towards the rim. Once he gets to the rim, Anthony gets his body between the defender and the rim to protect the ball as he extends for the layup.

Anthony is also adept at creating space for himself on jumpers when he is in isolation, as we can see below. Anthony initially beats his defender by using another hang dribble. As Anthony approaches the lane, he drops his defender with a hard-left foot jab-step into a step-back jumper.

On the season, Anthony ranked in the 72nd percentile when shooting off the dribble with 0.879 PPP. He has a knack for reading his defender’s momentum and knowing when to counter it. The step-back jumper is already an established skill for him, and his shooting form remains consistent. This shot creation and body control will translate to the NBA. Having the ability to create his shot of nothing will make him more than useful in a rotation.

Besides his decision making, questions also surround Anthony’s defense. He has the athleticism to be a good defender; he just struggled whenever he had to make any read. He was a below-average defender when defending the pick-and-roll, spot-up scorers, and when run through screens.

Anthony’s overall awareness and effort are consistently lacking on the defensive end. In the below clip, Anthony allows an absurdly easy shot at the rim. As his man brings the ball up, Anthony isn’t in a defensive stance. This poor positioning allows Anthony’s opponent to get into the lane with ease. Anthony then barely contests the shot and commits a bad foul. Even in a close, late-game situation like this, Anthony still isn’t completely locked in on defense.

In general, Anthony struggled on defense when he had to rely on his mind instead of his athleticism. When all he needed was athleticism, like isolation and rebounding, Anthony was somewhat successful. Unfortunately, the NBA generally has much more sophisticated offensive sets that always require making the correct read.

Going forward, Cole Anthony will, at the worst, be a quality scorer. I struggle to see a situation in which Anthony lives up to the hype of high school, but there is no chance that he has a short-lived career.

Anthony’s love for the game and excellent work ethic make sure that he continues to grow his game and carve out a role in the NBA. Early in his career, Anthony ideally will be a secondary ball handler.

If he can enter a situation similar to Jamaal Murray, Jordan Clarkson, or Spencer Dinwiddie, Anthony will be viewed in a much more flattering light. At his core, Anthony is a scorer and shouldn’t be relied on as a playmaker. If he is, he will likely have turnover issues that will hurt him going forward. Anthony can develop his playmaking, but he shouldn’t be relied on to run the offense at the start.

Cole Anthony won’t be one of the first picks of the 2020 NBA Draft as he was initially projected, but he is still a lottery level talent. If he falls past the middle of the first round, a team will be getting an absolute steal with Cole Anthony and his scoring ability.

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