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2020 NBA Draft: Cole Anthony Scouting Report

Aaron breaks down Anthony’s game and makes a case for the Magic drafting the guard from New York

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-North Carolina vs Virginia Tech Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

In these frustratingly uncertain of times, writing about something like basketball seems pretty trivial. We all have more questions than there seems to be answers for: questions related to health concerns, distancing concerns, political concerns, economic concerns - you name it. Questions about sports (as in “if/when they are even coming back in the summer, fall, or beyond. *Editor’s note: We’re back July 31st) in our society are pretty low on the list of important or prioritized concerns at the moment.

But this is a professional basketball blog; I’m not here (because I’m nowhere near equipped nor qualified) to even attempt to try and tackle the unprecedented problems the world currently faces. We’re here for you at Orlando Pinstriped Post to try and provide a short-term getaway/distraction in any way that we can.

For me, that’s talking the NBA Draft. It goes without saying that the process leading up to the NBA Draft this year will be unlike any other players, agents, scouts, and league executives have ever experienced. I would assume the league passes on holding a pre-draft combine (*Editor’s note: The NBA officially announced on June 5th that the Draft Lottery will be conducted on August 25th. The NBA Draft Combine is also tentatively scheduled to take place in August). With travel basically coming to a halt, teams likely won’t have the benefit of bringing prospects in for workouts/interviews. Advanced scouting (through March) and film-study appear to be avenues teams will have to heavily rely upon with this draft.

I mean, at this point, we don’t even know if there will be an NBA Draft in June (could it possibly be postponed, re-scheduled? *Editor’s note: the NBA announced the draft will be held on October 15th). Without the information or guidance to answer many of these basketball related questions, I’m going to push forward with scouting reports of players in this class that could be available when the Magic pick in the first round of the ‘20 NBA Draft (although, we don’t know at this time when that pick will be made - I assume somewhere in the 15-16 range).

I will be putting these reports together over the next couple of months (and possibly longer), which include loose NBA comparisons for each prospect, film observations, talking points, a case for the Magic needing/drafting the prospect, and more. Up next in the series is a one-and-done prospect out of the University of North Carolina, guard Cole Anthony.

Cole Anthony
Height 6-3
Weight 190 lbs.
Wingspan 6-4

NBA Comparisons

Probably won’t happen: Kemba Walker (less shake off the dribble), Derrick Rose (less athletic than prime-Rose),
Possibly could happen: Dennis Smith Jr., Austin Rivers

Eye in the Sky

-Good off-ball instinct on defense, very solid rebounder for a guard
-Sturdy frame shows on film, I like his on-ball defensive potential
-Comfortable shooting off the dribble, utilizes an adept step-back to get shot off
-Tough shot-maker. Can definitely make the argument that he took too many contested shots at North Carolina
-Possesses very deep range on his jump shot
-Has the ability to make a defender pay for going under a screen in pick-and-roll action, but will he make the right read as a facilitator?
-Strong in the painted-area with the ball, showed the ability to finish in traffic at the collegiate-level
-Comfortable in transition. Not an elite NBA athlete, but has plus run-and-jump ability for a point guard
-Score-first lead guard who could develop into a three-level scorer, effective utilizing screens

Best films of the season
11/06 vs. Notre Dame: 34 points (12-24 FGA’s, 6-11 3PTA’s), 11 rebounds, 5 assists
02/29 at Syracuse: 25 points (8-13 FGA’s, 7-11 3PTA’s), 7 assists

Resume & By the numbers

  • ACC All-Freshmen & All-ACC 3rd Team after playing in just 22 games (2019)
  • Was named Most Valuable Player in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic Game, and the Nike Hoops Summit (2019)
  • Played at Oak Hill Academy, named Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year (2019)
  • Was named USA Today All-American (1st Team, ‘19)
  • Scored 25 or more points in a contest five times during his freshmen campaign
  • Grabbed 7 or more rebounds in a contest nine times, double-digit rebounds in a game four times in ‘19
  • Made 4+ three-point field goals in a single-contest five times this past season

Talking points

1) Shooter’s mentality

There’s no doubt in my mind that Cole Anthony can score the basketball. It’s what he’s always been able to do, at the high school and AAU levels through his freshmen season at North Carolina. Anthony possesses that killer instinct that organizations seek in guards with a scorer’s mentality. No one has ever accused Anthony of being shy when it comes to letting in fly (averaged just over 18 points per game on roughly 16 attempts from the field per game).

Obviously the offensive efficiency just wasn’t there for Anthony over large stretches of his freshmen campaign in Chapel Hill. I think shot selection, a lack of spacing, and an overall lack of alternative offensive options/threats on the North Carolina roster all contributed to Anthony forcing things a bit in ‘19-’20.

Spacing was a major problem for the Tar Heels this past season (so was overall talent and offensive firepower in general, to be honest). In Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, North Carolina had two “bigs” on the floor together, essentially clogging the lane and limiting opportunities for Anthony to get into the paint in half-court sets. To compound matters, if you take Anthony’s 49 three-point makes for the season out of the equation, the Tar Heels shot 29 percent from behind the arc as a team in ‘19-’20.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can’t completely blame Anthony for taking some bad shots. Can he reign in his propensity to settle for contested step-back jumpers, sure. I just don’t think it’s fair to solely hold his disjointed freshmen season against him as an indictment towards the kind of player he can be at the next level. The NBA will certainly provide Anthony with an opportunity to take advantage of spacing on the offensive end that wasn’t there at UNC.

Through his first nine career games (before he suffered a knee injury that cost him 11 games), Anthony showed significant promise both shooting off the dribble (43 possessions, 43 points) and in catch-and-shoot situations (30 possessions, 35 points) in the half-court. The majority of the damage he inflicted on defenses during his freshmen season occurred as a primary ball-handler, but I think Anthony has the ability to play off the ball as well (does a nice job setting defenders up, playing with movement, using screens, etc.).

2) Defensive upside

With a lot of young guards, the story when making the transition from the collegiate level to the NBA is often how far their defensive abilities and aptitude are behind their offensive abilities.

I don’t find that to be the case for Cole Anthony. He’s not going to be able to defend multiple positions at the next level, but I feel Anthony has the requisite ability to keep lead guards in front of him in the NBA. I like his lateral quickness, his feet, and his hip fluidity. At 6-3/190 lbs., Anthony already has a strong/sturdy frame. I think my favorite aspect of Anthony’s game is the competitiveness he shows on the defensive end of the floor. It’s refreshing to see a highly-touted prospect take pride in getting after it and into the body of the man he’s guarding.

In my opinion, Anthony’s awareness and basketball IQ on the defensive-end is ahead of his offensive game. I think he will be a plus-team defender, he rebounds exceptionally well for a guard, and he helps/rotates well from the weak-side of the floor.

I know Anthony is not the longest player in this draft class, but when considering his athleticism, effort, and awareness - I still really like Anthony’s defensive upside.

Just as a point of reference, Anthony faced three point guards this past season who are likely to be drafted in October: Kira Lewis Jr., Payton Pritchard, and Tre Jones (faced him twice). Now (obviously) Anthony did not square-off against these other guards every possession of their respective contests, but I thought I would share the numbers nonetheless.

In four games, Lewis Jr., Pritchard, and Jones combined to shoot 30 for 74 from the field (40.5%), 10 for 27 from beyond the arc (37%), and they turned the ball over a combined 12 times.

3) Stock falling?

I find Anthony’s current “stock” compared to other prospects in this class to be one of the more interesting and noteworthy story-lines of the upcoming NBA Draft. After dominating at the prep and AAU levels, Anthony entered the ‘19-’20 season as the undisputed top point guard in his class. The son of former NBA point guard Greg Anthony, Cole was a shoe-in to be a top-5 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

And nothing Anthony did during the first few weeks of his freshmen year contradicted those conclusions. Anthony led North Carolina to a 5-0 record to begin their season, averaging 20.8 points (38% on three-point attempts), 7.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.8 stocks (steals + blocks) during that stretch. Back in early November, after his 34 point collegiate debut against Notre Dame, you wouldn’t have found a draft expert in the world who would’ve placed four to five guards ahead of Anthony in this class.

But fast forward eight months later, and that is the exact position Anthony has found himself in. I’ve watched, admittedly rather perplexed, as Anthony has slid further and further down “big boards” and mock drafts from experts all around the industry. I mean, I get it: there were some significant shot-selection concerns with Anthony last season. He still has a long way to go when it comes to developing as an offensive initiator/facilitator. Sure, he was able to score at times at North Carolina, but the efficiency just wasn’t there.

I don’t buy it. I believe in this situation that many have almost written-off Anthony to the point that he has now gone from overrated to underrated. Maybe he’s not a clear-cut consensus top-five pick in this draft - fine. But you have to account for some of the obstacles that Anthony faced during his lone season in Chapel Hill (lack of spacing, lack of talent, missing time due to injury, etc.). And I may be in the minority here this late in the process, but I think that a team who could potentially select Anthony in the 10-15 range of the ‘20 draft would be getting an absolute steal - possibly a top-five talent at a discounted price.

Making a case for the Magic to draft Cole Anthony in the ‘20 draft

With D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams set to hit free agency this summer,
would Anthony provide the Magic with needed depth at the point guard position?
With Evan Fournier's decision to possibly opt out of his contract and become an
unrestricted free agent this summer looming, would Anthony provide the Magic
with needed depth at a wing position?
The Magic ranked 28th in the league in eFG% last season, 27th in scoring, 27th
in field goal percentage, 25th in three-point field goal percentage, and 24th in
Offensive Rating. Could Anthony potentially help the Magic in any of these areas?
Does Anthony fit the Jeff Weltman/John Hammond archetype? No
Would selecting Anthony in the middle of the first round be considered a
BPA/value pick?

Through the three drafts that Orlando’s current executive team has been in charge (led by Jeff Weltman: President of Basketball Operations, John Hammond: General Manager), the Magic have been painstakingly predictable with the type of players they’ve targeted. Weltman and Hammond value character first and foremost. They also seem to be infatuated with wingspan/length (Isaac, Iwundu, Bamba, Frazier Jr., Okeke) and defensive positional versatility (maybe not Bamba so much, but holds true for the other guys).

I put together a Magic-specific draft checklist above, and drafting Cole Anthony would help Orlando address a few areas of need. First of all, the Magic will likely need to bring in a point guard (or two) in the off-season due to the fact that both of their current back-up point guards will be free agents at the conclusion of this season. The organization can address this probable need through the draft, or possibly through free agency (mid-level exception). Secondly, the Magic could find themselves a little thin on the wing if potential free agent Evan Fournier decides to opt out of the final year of his current contract.

While I don’t think Anthony is ready to play 30-35 minutes as an NBA starting point guard just yet, I do think he could provide the Magic some depth in an area of potential need. Of course, the Magic already have a potential franchise cornerstone at the point guard position in Markelle Fultz. That wouldn’t stop me from (theoretically) drafting Anthony if I were making decisions for the Magic. He could back-up Fultz, provide the organization with some insurance in case Fultz signs elsewhere next summer, and could even potentially play next to Fultz in the back-court down the road.

There’s a slight possibility that Anthony will still be available when it’s Orlando’s turn (assuming the pick is somewhere in the middle of the first round) to make their selection. Like I mentioned above, Anthony’s stock has seemingly taken a hit of late. I still would bet that he gets drafted before Orlando will be slated to pick, but if the organization loves him, they could potentially be within range to move up and select him. As of July 20th, ESPN currently ranks Anthony as the 13th “best player available” on their board. Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) lists the former UNC guard 13th on his big board (released May 19th), and Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) has Anthony sitting 11th on his latest big board (Version 6.0, updated June 18th).

Pick-and-roll effectiveness is one of the most important skills a guard in today’s NBA can master. For that reason alone, the Magic should give Cole Anthony a long look. He may not possess the natural point-guard skills leading pick-and-roll offense like a Theo Maledon does, but Anthony produces results nonetheless. He also happens to play a position where the Magic could find themselves lacking some depth.

You can never have enough scoring threats on your roster in today’s modern NBA. Anthony has shown that he can score off the bounce, that he possesses range that fits contemporary offensive schemes, and that he values playing with grit/intensity on the defensive end as well. If Anthony were to slightly fall out of the projected range where many believe he will be taken, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Magic nabbed the New York native, investing in his upside as a potential “best player available”.

Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.

You can also find his scouting reports of Kira Lewis Jr., R.J. Hampton, Aaron Nesmith, Devin Vassell, Theo Maledon, and Tyrese Maxey here.