Detroit Pistons: How legitimate is the hype surrounding Cole Anthony?

SOUTH BEND, IN - FEBRUARY 17: Cole Anthony #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels brings the ball up court during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion on February 17, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, IN - FEBRUARY 17: Cole Anthony #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels brings the ball up court during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion on February 17, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Pistons are one of the many teams that could consider Cole Anthony at the 2020 NBA Draft. How legitimate is the hype surrounding the UNC star?

The Detroit Pistons are in a unique position at No. 7 overall at the 2020 NBA Draft. It’s something of a swing pick in that it can influence the trajectory of the remainder of the first round, as well as determine the next step for one of the NBA’s winningest franchises.

One of the players who will inevitably come into play at No. 7 is former North Carolina Tar Heels point guard Cole Anthony.

Anthony, 20, is one of the most polarizing prospects in the entire 2020 NBA Draft. He became an internet sensation with his awe-inspiring mixtapes at the high school level, and won MVP honors at the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, and Nike Hoop Summit.

Anthony also led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2018 FIBA U18 championship, which strengthened his status as a consensus top-five high school recruit.

Anthony had a polarizing freshman season with the Tar Heels, however, which has led to the current discussion. Many believe that he will be available when it’s Detroit’s turn to choose a prospect, and that makes this a necessary discussion.

Anthony has the highlights, skill level, and fanfare to intrigue any basketball mind, but the question beckons: How legitimate is the hype?

The Good: Three-Level Scorer

The one area in which most agree that Anthony should thrive is as a scorer. The percentages and turnovers were somewhat concerning, but at a prominent program with debatable talent in an elite conference, Anthony showcased a remarkable offensive skill set.

That includes a jump shot that should transfer to the next level and the ability to convert at all three levels as a scorer.

Anthony shot just 38.0 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three-point range. Remove Anthony’s first four games back from a two-month injury hiatus, however, and he actually shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc as a freshman.

That figure is a far more accurate reflection of the UNC star’s ability to convert both off the bounce and in catch and shoot situations.

Anthony needs to polish his midrange jump shot and slow down a bit around the rim, but he thrives at getting into the paint and drawing contact. He averaged 5.8 free throw attempts per game and 6.7 per 40 minutes, and converted at a rate of 75.0 percent.

With the proper coaching and honing of his skill set, Anthony could be a legitimate three-level scorer from the point guard position.

The Bad (with context): 2019-20

Upon arriving at Chapel Hill, Anthony inevitably received a great deal of fanfare. He was arguably the most popular incoming recruit in the country after winning MVP honors at each of the top three events for high school basketball stars.

While his individual quality of play certainly encouraged the masses, the lack of team success and the troubling reality of injury concerns have damaged his draft stock.

In 2019-20, the Tar Heels endured the first losing season of Roy Williams‘ 32-year career as a Division I head coach. North Carolina finished the season at 14-19, which inevitably paints the picture of Anthony being a player with empty numbers.

The context, however, is that Anthony had North Carolina at 6-3 to start the season before he was sidelined for nearly two full months.

That’s an encouraging truth that suggests Anthony actually can lead a mediocre team to success—but it also comes with a red flag. The 20-year-old tore his meniscus in December and has now been pegged as a prospect whose medical history offers cause for concern.

This isn’t to say that Anthony should be passed over due to the knee surgery, but a team with Derrick Rose on the roster has to be somewhat skeptical.

The Upside: Playmaking & Defense

Being a high-level scorer who can take over near the end of games is a solid way to guarantee yourself a place in an NBA rotation. The way to guarantee that you can start at the highest possible level, however, is to contribute in multiple phases of the game.

Anthony is more of a scorer than anything else at this stage, but the upside exists for further contributions on both ends of the floor.

When engaged on the defensive end, Anthony utilizes his 6’3″ and 190-pound frame to make a difference. He has active hands in the passing lanes and has displayed the willingness to fight over screens in order remain in a play.

With a coach like Dwane Casey, it’s possible that Detroit could tap into Anthony’s defensive potential to help him find consistency on that end of the floor.

Offensively, Anthony has shown the ability to be a legitimate distributor. He seems to understand the value of an accurate entry pass to interior players, is a multifaceted threat in the pick and roll, and leads an intimidating transition attack.

If the Pistons were to invest a draft pick into Anthony, they’d have a unique opportunity to groom him into an All-NBA level player—albeit with risk involved.

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The question is: Will the Detroit Pistons buy into the hype?