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Should Sixers pounce if talented guard prospect slides?

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Our scouting report on NBA draft prospect Cole Anthony: 

Position: PG Height: 6-3 Weight: 190 School: North Carolina

The MVP of the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game and the son of longtime NBA point guard Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony was supposed to be the next great point guard at North Carolina. But his lone season in Chapel Hill went off the rails in a hurry. A Murphy’s Law cocktail of a torn meniscus that caused him to miss 11 games, questionable shot selection and a glaring lack of perimeter talent around him resulted in the Anthony-led Tar Heels struggling to a 14-19 record. NBA front offices now have to determine if the red flags that emerged at UNC will ultimately matter for Anthony as a professional. Anthony did show toughness and leadership when the chips were down, returning from meniscus surgery late in the season when he could have easily shut it down to prepare for the draft.

Strengths

Anthony has a strong body and showed the ability to finish through contact in the lane. He’s a natural scorer, averaging 18.5 points this season despite facing constant double teams. He’s a good enough three-point shooter (34.8 percent on 6.4 attempts per game) that he can make defenses pay when they don’t honor his shot in pick-and-roll situations. 

He’s also an excellent rebounder for a point guard, averaging 5.7 per game, and had three point-rebound double-doubles in his 22 games at UNC. That rebounding ability gives Anthony the potential to become a one-man fast break once he gets the ball in his hands.

 

Anthony did show flashes of dominance in his freshman season, including a three-game run late in the season when he averaged 24 points on 59 percent shooting. He understood that his team needed him to score and did his best to deliver in some tough circumstances.

Weaknesses

Anthony displayed some questionable decision-making with the ball in his hands at UNC, not a great sign for a lead guard. He averaged 3.9 assists and 3.5 turnovers per game, which is obviously not the assist-to-turnover ratio you expect to see from an elite NBA point guard prospect. He also shot just 38 percent from the floor, a sign that he was often settling for contested jumpers and trying to drive into too much traffic in the paint.

Some of those struggles can be attributed to UNC’s terrible spacing — and it was truly terrible. Anthony generally shared the floor with multiple post players who clogged the lane and had a lack of perimeter shooting around him. He may thrive when surrounded by more talented teammates, better spacing and fewer double teams. But Anthony often made the wrong decisions when leading a fast break, which led to failures to convert on easy transition opportunities. That’s an issue that can’t be attributed to his teammates.

I’m also not sure Anthony has an elite NBA skill. He’s certainly not an elite playmaker. He’s a good athlete, but not a jaw-dropping one, and he’s not one of the best shooters in the draft. Though he was a decent on-ball defender, he doesn't project to be a major difference-maker on that end of the floor.

Fit

I’m fascinated to see how NBA teams view Anthony’s 22-game sample at UNC. Do they believe he’s still the top-tier prospect he was thought to be coming out of high school, or was he exposed against better competition in college? I think back to a player like Jaylen Brown, who struggled mightily at times in his freshman season at Cal. Danny Ainge and the Celtics largely ignored Brown’s struggles in his college season, believing in their own scouting of Brown as a high school player. The Celtics have been rewarded for that choice. We’ll see if any team drafting in the lottery has a similar conviction about Anthony’s talent.

This is an extremely deep point guard draft, with players like LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes all potentially above Anthony in the pecking order. There’s also a next wave including Theo Maledon, Devon Dotson, Tyrell Terry and others. If Anthony starts to slide on draft night, it’s possible he could still be on the board when the Sixers pick. The Sixers could also potentially trade up to get him in the teens. He’d be an interesting pick for the Sixers, who could gamble on his talent and pedigree without suffering too much if Anthony doesn’t pan out. 

 

At worst, Anthony should be able to play a backup combo guard role in the NBA thanks to his overall skill set. He could run the show while Ben Simmons takes a rest or handle the ball up top when Simmons goes into the paint. Despite the ugly assist-to-turnover ratio at UNC, he’s a more natural ball handler than Josh Richardson and has more two-way potential than Raul Neto or Trey Burke. The Sixers would be a nice landing spot where he could learn the NBA game without the pressure of having to be a major contributor right away.