Cole Anthony didn’t play very well in his one year at North Carolina. That’s both before and after he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his right knee in mid-December.
His shot selection was poor. His decision making was lousy. His defense was hit and miss.
Even when healthy at the end of the year, he could not elevate North Carolina, which struggled with injuries in other key spots all year, into making a push for an NCAA Tournament berth, had we gone on to have a tournament.
But the six-foot-one  scoring guard remains a lottery-rated prospect, currently ranked 11th on ESPN’s top 100, at the time of writing, because these 768 minutes in his lone NCAA season are not the only minutes of basketball NBA decision makers have had exposure to him playing.
Anthony was the second-ranked prospect in the 2019 high school class , off being named MVP of the 2018 Nike EYBL Finals with PSA Cardinals, and leading Oak Hill Academy to 32 wins in 36 games while averaging a triple double and earning Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a senior.
Besides appearing with Oak Hill at the 2019 GEICO High School Nationals, the Queens, New York native was selected for the Nike Hoop Summit, which offered a good opportunity for NBA personnel to see him square up against Nico Mannion and Andre Curbelo. He also has 128 minutes of FIBA experience with the United States at the 2018 U18 FIBA Americas Championship.
All of which is to say, Anthony is the sort of prospect pro teams track for years, plural. There is a lot of video of him available, which affords them the chance to try putting into better context the extent to which North Carolina’s battered roster, Roy Williams’ strong preference for playing two centers together, and his injury impacted his performance, as well as to try establishing a developmental curve.
It does happen from time-to-time (Cliff Alexander, Trevon Duval), but the league rarely quits on prospects of this level of pedigree after just one year, spent in an ecosystem that rarely offers the best context for them to succeed.
It’s also worth making clear that, while he certainly lost status compared to how he was viewed entering his freshman year, his season was by no means a disaster. It’s hard to argue he improved much this past year and his statistical profile is discouraging but the 20-year-old still put on video against a higher level of competition a lot of the things that made him an appealing prospect coming in; pull-up shooting, some tough on-ball defense, the occasional eye-catching read in pick-and-roll.
His decision to return for the final 13 games of the season is also certain to enhance some people’s view of him. By the time he was ready to come back, it was pretty clear North Carolina’s season wasn’t going anywhere but Anthony opted to play anyway and that level of commitment in an era where it’s become more common (and more favorable) for prospects not to play will probably push him towards the top of boards that value intangibles a little more highly.
The linchpin of Anthony’s game is his pull-up shooting.
He has proven himself capable of nailing tough shots off the bounce from deep range. Someone who can do that with a mix of volume and reasonable efficiency, especially fit within a pick-and-roll, so you can then add in some variations off it, is probably the number one asset for an NBA offense these days, as that player is able to stress defenses from the moment he crosses half-court.
Anthony is not yet that level of player, of course, but the potential for him to develop into that sort of threat is evident. He hit 23 unassisted three-pointers in his 22 appearances at North Carolina . That volume isn’t particularly impressive and the pace of 1.2 such makes per 40 minutes, on the surface, might not be either but only five other players on ESPN’s top 100 had a higher average; Markus Howard (2.41), Anthony Edwards (1.48), Mason Jones (1.37), Cassius Winston (1.31) and Myles Powell (1.22).
And the variety of dribble moves Anthony employs to create separation to pull-up certainly does impress, as he can rise for a jumper off side-steps, step-backs, jab-steps and fake spins in isolation or hit step-in three-pointers against the on-ball defender going under the screen in pick-and-roll or get to the elbow for a stop-and-pop pull-up off mixing in an in-and-out dribble to lose his man into the pick.
His shot selection was quite questionable, though, as he was often seen taking early-clock bombs in instances where running offense would be more advisable and pulling up for a tough look with a defender within his personal space in non-emergency situations.
When pressed off the arc, Anthony can crossover into a quick first step and employ stop-and-start quickness to shake his man off him but opponents successfully bottled him in the in-between area quite a bit, as he took 39.1% of his live-ball attempts on two-pointers away from the rim.
Besides the fact that North Carolina often played with two centers who consistently clogged his path to the goal, Anthony is clearly overconfident in his tough shot making ability, while also being a threat to score on runners and floaters off a jump-stop.
A steady diet of those looks is a recipe for low efficiency, though, as he hit just a third of his two-point shots away from the basket.
Anthony actually looked to attack the rim a fair amount. He has a chiseled 190-pound frame in the context of his six-foot-one height and can maintain his balance through contact, besides having a nasty spin move to just blow by his man on pure quickness from time-to-time. But his decision making in doing so was quite questionable as well, as he often drove into crowds (4.0 turnovers per 40 minutes) or reached the rim in a position of weakness.
Anthony can go up with power off one foot in traffic with a head of steam behind him but usually looks to gallop into two-foot leaps. He is not shy of leaping into the chest of the rim protector and finishing through contact, earning a strong average of 6.7 free throws per 40 minutes, while also proving himself flexible enough to hang and adjust his body in the air to unleash double clutch finishes or over-extend for finger-roll finishes.
Those good-looking finishes, however, were few and far between. Anthony showed a strong preference for avoiding using his left hand around a rim protector and was generally a possession-wasting machine on his drives when he didn’t get the benefit of the whistle – converting just 53.1% of his 69 attempts at the rim.
Only nine players on ESPN’s top 100 had a worst mark than his average of 1.93 makes at the rim per 40 minutes; Isaiah Joe (0.64), Immanuel Quickley (0.97), John Petty Jr. (1.32), Justinian Jessup (1.39); Nico Mannion (1.55), Jaden McDaniels (1.58), Ty-Shon Alexander (1.78), Aaron Henry (1.83) and Kristian Doolittle (1.87). Half of those guys are pure floor-spacers.
Overall, Anthony finished the season with a .451 effective field goal percentage while logging 29.9% usage on 34.9 minutes per game. His average of 21.2 points per 40 minutes was achieved on 18.0 field goal attempts per 40 minutes, added to those 6.7 free throws per 40 minutes.
He did add value off dribble penetration with his passing.
Anthony proved he is willing to assist in transition and off drawing two to the ball after getting deep into the lane, with drop-offs and kickouts – assisting on 24.1% of North Carolina’s scores when he was on the floor, even if at a lousy 1.13 assist-to-turnover ratio due to his propensity for seeking traffic.
He has shown glimpses of being able to deliver hook passes to the roll man, toss up lobs on the move and launch crosscourt passes to the opposite corner against the momentum of his body but North Carolina didn’t run a lot of pick-and-roll with the strongside of the floor clear or middle high pick-and-roll with three-out spacing, so Anthony will enter the NBA yet to prove he can create for others consistently well.
He has proven he can be relied on to space the floor when he is away from the ball.
Anthony has a low release out in front but gets great elevation off 1-2 footwork and goes through compact mechanics quickly, consistently getting his shot off prior to closeouts more often than not. His footwork on one-dribble pull-ups off a shot-fake into an escape dribble is quite impressive, as was a shot he hit while setting his base quickly off relocating to receive an extra pass off a kickout.
Anthony was not asked to take shots coming off pindown screens or staggered screens, but those examples suggest he has potential to develop into a shooter who could be moved around the floor.
For now, he’s a good, if at times overly ambitious, spot-up shooter, as he was sometimes seen launching catch-and-shoot’s off balance that go on the spreadsheets as open because the opponent couldn’t imagine he’d take them and didn’t think to contest such an attempt.
Nonetheless, Anthony nailed 34.8% of his 141 three-point shots this past season, at a pace of 7.4 such attempts per 40 minutes.
When engaged and locked in, Anthony has put a number of good defensive possessions on video.
He hustles back in transition and has picked up the occasional chase-down block, besides proving himself a willing charge drawer as the first man back.
In the halfcourt, Anthony bends his knees to get down in a stance, has a couple of lateral slides one way in him to stay attached to guards who can only go north-and-south, chests up to contain dribble penetration against similar-sized players, plays with active hands to try reaching around for steals or strips and puts in the effort to contest shots effectively.
He works to go over screens at point of attack and hustles in pursuit to challenge or even block shots from behind with his seven-foot-11 standing reach, while also impressing with his quickness going under the pick when North Carolina hedged against the pick-and-roll and beating the ball handler to the spot on the other side.
That said, the next level side-to-side quickness seen from him on offense does not regularly translate on defense, as shiftier guards were able to blow by Anthony on the first step an unsettling amount and in clutch time instances.
That’s meaningful because as a six-foot-one, 190-pound guard, he’s likely to only guard similar-sized players in the pros. North Carolina tried having him guard Elijah Hughes in their final game of the season against Syracuse but it didn’t go well, as Hughes repeatedly go to his spots and Anthony couldn’t contest a wing with prototypical height and an orthodox high release effectively.
Away from the ball, he is a mixed bag too.
Anthony stays active and not only stunts in to help crowd the area near the basket but also rotates aggressively to the front of the rim to draw charges or even pick up a block on occasion. He is not, however, the sort of nuclear athlete who can make plays on the ball in volume (six blocks in his 783 NCAA minutes), while also being prone to overemphasizing ball-watching instead of keeping track of his man and giving up a backdoor cut from time-to-time.
Anthony didn’t stand out as a playmaker in the passing lanes either, despite his six-foot-five wingspan – averaging just 1.5 steals per 40 minutes.
His balance on closeouts was hit-and-miss, as there is video of him running the shooter off his shot and staying in front off the bounce perfectly but also of him getting blown on flyby closeouts quite a bit.
His hustle chasing shooters around staggered screens and disrupting handoffs did impress, though, as did his rebounding – with him collecting 16.1% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor this past season and LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton as the only point guards on ESPN’s top 100 who put together a higher defensive rebounding rate than him.