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2020 NBA Draft: Cole Anthony’s potential makes him the man for Detroit

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Cole Anthony struggled mightily his only year in college, but his scoring ability makes him an ideal pick for the Pistons

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

To say Cole Anthony’s one year at North Carolina was a struggle is an understatement. He was a top-5 prospect coming out of high school, but did not live up to those expectations during an injury-shortened freshman year at North Carolina. There are a number of factors that contributed to Cole Anthony’s inefficiency at the college level, which I will get into, but it’s also important to not ignore those struggles because of these factors.

There are legitimate concerns about how Anthony improves at the NBA level. However, all the top prospects in this draft class have their flaws, which is why this is viewed as one of the weaker draft classes in recent memory.

Let’s dive into the numbers and analyze Cole Anthony as an NBA prospect.

The Numbers

As I mentioned above, Cole Anthony’s numbers in college were not great, but if you just look at raw production without the shooting percentages, they don’t look bad. Cole averaged 18.5 points, 4 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. The rebounds, in particular, are pretty impressive for a 6’3” guard. When you dive into the shooting numbers, though, that is where the concerns come out.

Anthony only shot 38 percent from the field on 15.7 field goal attempts per game. He did shoot the ball decently from three-point range, at 34.8 percent on 7.3 attempts per game, along with a 75 percent mark from the free throw line. However, shooting the ball that poorly inside the arc in college, where defenders are smaller, not as strong, and less athletic brings up a lot of concerns for his ability to finish at the NBA level.

One thing to keep in mind is that North Carolina was not very good. They finished the season 14-19 and only shot 30.4 percent from 3-point range as a team. Teams were packing the paint a lot on Anthony in college because he was the only offensive threat on the court most of the time, which is a bit strange for a high-profile program like UNC. Although this can excuse the shooting percentage a bit, you still have to be able to find ways to work around that. 38 percent from the field is pretty inexcusable for somebody of Anthony’s talent.

Also, Anthony missed 11 games with a partially torn meniscus that needed surgery. People have pointed to this as an excuse for his poor shooting numbers, but that doesn’t hold up on closer examination. In the nine games before the surgery, he shot 36.9 percent from the field, and in the 13 games after the surgery, he shot 39.4 percent from the field.

The last big red flag for Anthony is his carelessness with the ball. He had a usage rate of 30.1 percent in college, which further shows how much offensive burden was placed on Anthony’s shoulders, but he averaged 3.5 turnovers per game. That turnover number is not great, but you could excuse it if he averaged more than 4 assists per game at that high usage rate.

Strengths

Cole Anthony is a very good athlete for somebody of his size (6’3”, 190 pounds). Obviously this clip is in an empty gym, but it shows you the kind of athlete Anthony is

If one clip doesn’t satisfy you, here are a couple from games:

He is quick with the ball, which can help cover for some of his bad decision-making when it comes to shooting and passing. If you can get out and run and beat the defense, you do not have to make a lot of reads in a set offense.

He also does a very good job at creating his own shot. He uses a variety of moves like jab steps and step-backs to create space to shoot. I think his ability to make some tough shots from deep bodes well for his long range shooting at the next level. It’s a bit concerning that he is settling for contested jumpers at the college level with his athleticism, but he is also going to be taking more contested shots at the NBA level, so he is going to have to make them. Whether he puts it all together inside the arc will determine whether he sticks around in the NBA as a starting point guard.

Cole Anthony is also a very good rebounder for his size. As mentioned above, he averaged 5.7 rebounds per game at North Carolina. While it isn’t really a necessary skill for guards in the NBA, the Pistons have to find ways to make up for Andre Drummond’s rebounding after trading him to the Cavs. Having a guard that can rebound well for their position can be very beneficial for improving the team rebounding and help cover for the loss of Andre Drummond.

I wouldn’t call his defense a strength, but I also don’t think it is a weakness either. I would lean more towards calling him a good defender as opposed to an average defender. He averaged 1.3 steals per game in college, which generally isn’t the greatest indicator for judging defense. He has solid athleticism and moves well laterally on defense. I think his size might limit him a bit defensively at the next level, as he is a bit slender.

Weaknesses

The biggest weakness as mentioned above, is his shooting percentages. He has a tendency to take some bad shots. Whether that is because of his poor teammates, or an inability to make the correct reads, remains to be seen.

He can maneuver his body pretty well around the rim because of his athleticism, but it didn’t translate to a high shooting percentage. Anthony shot an abysmal 40 percent at the rim.

When you can make plays like in the clips above, you get false confidence when attacking the rim and try to get too fancy. That, combined with a packed paint, gave Cole Anthony a very tough time around the basket. A percentage as poor as his is not something that you can just brush off because of poor teammates. There are legitimate concerns about his ability to finish inside and it can really lower his ceiling if he isn’t able to figure it out at the next level.

Also, as mentioned above, he is a bit careless with the ball. He has a pretty good handle, as displayed in some of the clips above, but he sometimes tries to do too much. His shot selection shows that bad decision making, and it comes through in his passing as well. Somebody who is Cole Anthony’s size should not be driving into a packed paint and trying to make something out of it.

You can also observe in these clips that his decision-making is a bit slow. I think it is something that can be improved, but he doesn’t always see the open guy at first and ends up throwing the pass too late while he is off-balance.

However, when you are an 18-year-old freshman, who is being relied on for basically all of your team’s offense, some of that stuff tends to happen.

Why the Pistons should want him

The Pistons are in desperate need of a point guard that can create their own shot and hit the tough shots when needed. That is Cole Anthony’s calling card. Most of the successful teams in the league have a go-to scorer at one of the guard positions and Cole Anthony has the potential to develop into that.

Cole Anthony has the potential to be a dynamic scorer at the next level, but it all depends on how much better he gets at finishing inside. Despite the concerns about his numbers in college, any team that is drafting him is hoping Cole Anthony will finish better inside with the better spacing of the NBA. If his shooting struggles were more the result of North Carolina’s lack of spacing, he could end up being one of the better players from this draft class, because he can flat-out score the ball. He will also be learning from Derrick Rose, another similarly freakish athlete during his younger years. Derrick Rose thrives on attacking the rim and is also similar in size (6’3”, 200 pounds).

He leaves a bit to be desired on the passing side of things, but he will also be paired with Blake Griffin (unless he gets traded), who is a pretty good distributor at power forward.

This video of his career-high 34 points in his college debut against Notre Dame showcases the scoring package of Cole Anthony that made him so highly-touted out of high school.

Pistons fans will wince a bit at the fact that Anthony was injured in college, after seeing seasons derailed the past few years with injuries to various point guards. His injury in college was a partially torn meniscus, which isn’t severe, and he doesn’t have a long history of injuries. It is something that should be in the back of the team’s mind, but not something I would worry about too much.

At the end of the day, Cole Anthony’s efficiency will determine whether he becomes a starting point guard in the NBA, or an instant offense guard off the bench. He doesn’t have the passing ability of a top-tier point guard, but you can build an offense around a point guard that can create his own shot and make tough shots. The Pistons haven’t drafted a player with the potential as a scorer that Anthony has in a very long time, which is why he is worth the risk. There are plenty of safer prospects in this draft, but when a draft class is projected to be as weak as this one, you sometimes have to shoot for the higher ceiling prospect.