University of North Carolina Tar Heels freshman point guard Cole Anthony is one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2020 NBA draft.
Anthony, 20, is the son of former NBA guard Greg Anthony and was the No. 3 overall prospect coming out of high school. He still projects as a Top 10 pick in the draft, though his draft stock may not be as high as where former UNC star Coby White went just one year prior.
The two prospects, of course, come from the same program and play the same position. White went No. 7 overall in the 2019 draft, which is considered a more talented class.
Both prospects were among the three leading scorers while competing at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in 2017.
The two players were also teammates at the U18 Americas Championships in June 2018. Both received All-Tournament honors en route to a gold medal for Team USA. White averaged 28.0 points per 40 minutes while Anthony averaged 26.8 points per 40; the prospects finished as the top two leading scorers in the tournament.
Even though they were not on campus at the same time, White reportedly played a critical role in recruiting Anthony to play at North Carolina.
White measured at 6’3.5″ without shoes and 6’4.75″ with shoes at the 2019 NBA Combine, nearly the same as Anthony. Overall, though, these are two prospects with a very similar build and frame.
The main difference is that Anthony, who has recorded a 40-plus-inch vertical, has more jump than White. However, the leaping ability hardly made a difference in their game as Anthony actually dunked less often (0.14 attempts per game) than White (0.17 attempts per game) did at UNC.
“Cole’s vertical never shows itself on the court,” said one NBA scout, who spoke to HoopsHype on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “When all you have to do is hit a stick and jump straight up, it’s a lot easier.
Even without as much pop, White took attempts at the rim (22.5%) just about as often than Anthony (20%) did. However, that may be attributed to the fact that Anthony tore his meniscus while in college, which can take upwards of six months to re-gain explosiveness.
Anthony, however, makes up for that in the fact that he was able to create more offense for himself near the basket. Very few of his finishes near the rim (8.1%) were assisted, showing he is more than able to make opportunities for himself near the hoop.
That figure was still impressive for White (17.9%) but still only occurred half as often.
White, meanwhile, was significantly more accurate (67%) than Anthony was (53.6%) within five feet of the basket. Anthony’s inefficiency near the rim is arguably his biggest concern heading into the pros while also being the most notable difference between the two players.
Generally speaking, per Synergy, most of White’s field goal attempts (66.8%) were jumpers. This, once again, is a similar profile and output that Anthony (60.6%) had as a freshman at UNC.
White (36.4%) and Anthony (35.9%) were nearly identical from the field on their jumpers. Both have fairly effective jump shots but Anthony can score off the catch or from the dribble whereas White had a bit more help from his teammates.
More than half of the jumpers that White hit (60.2%) were assisted while that sit above one-third (37.3%) for Anthony. So when coupled with how often Anthony scored at the rim without an assist, this suggests that he is far more capable of creating his own offense than his predecessor.
Anthony averaged 1.10 points per possession on all isolation plays, according to Synergy. Among the 81 players in D-I basketball who recorded as many opportunities (minimum: 60 possessions) in isolation last season, none were as efficient as Anthony. This, overall, is the biggest advantage for Anthony in favor of White.
“On the perimeter, Cole breaks a dude down and it usually ends up in a stepback jumper,” continued the scout. “But I don’t see Cole blowing by guys on the perimeter even for a midrange.”
Overall, White was a touch more prolific scorer (22.5 points per 40 minutes) and distributor (5.7 assists per 40) than Anthony (21.2 points and 4.6 assists per 40) was for the Tar Heels. But the productivity was fairly similar across the board.
Anthony relied more on the pick-and-roll than White did while at UNC. The point guard finished 38.4% of his possessions as the ballhandler in these sets while White’s rate was 27.5% in 2018-19. Both prospects mostly played on-ball during their time in college playing for coach Williams.
“Cole is incredible off the pick-and-roll. He gets it,” Jake Lawrence, who covers UNC Men’s Basketball for SB Nation’s Tar Heels Blog, recently told HoopsHype. “You can put him tight, up near the three-point line or below.”
Anthony’s usage rate (29%) was slightly higher overall than White’s (26.1%) likely due to UNC’s offense having a few more weapons in 2018-19 than the team did during in 2019-20. White, however, still ranked Top 10 among all high-major freshmen in terms of usage rate.
As playmakers, per Bart Torvik, both prospects had an assist percentage that ranked Top 10 among all high-major freshmen. White’s assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5) was better than what Anthony recorded (1.1) as freshmen, though both struggled to hold onto the ball.
“I think Cole probably sees the court a little bit better than what Coby did,” noted Lawrence. “I thought what was impressive is Coby grew as a facilitator as time went on … Coby grew into that role but he really evolved into the point guard position … He had a lot of talent around him that allowed him to grow.”
White recorded a better assist percentage in transition (20.4%) than Anthony (12.5%) did. UNC had the sixth-fastest tempo among D-I teams under White, which suggests White is more capable of pushing the break than Anthony is. If you want your team to run fast, White is a better pick than Anthony.
“Coby knew when to push it and when not to,” added Lawrence. “He could really push the pace. He’s got the handles. He would drop people.”
Anthony’s rebound percentage, meanwhile, was a touch better than White’s was while at UNC. Especially after nearly averaging a triple-double while in high school, it was encouraging to see this continue into the NCAA.
Neither guard, meanwhile, is considered a particularly helpful defender.
White recorded an adjusted defensive box plus-minus (2.2) a bit better than what Anthony offered (1.4) at UNC, but like with rebounding, their numbers still place them in a similar category of player.
“Cole has the ability to score but he is going to get smothered on the perimeter during switches,” explained the scout, who currently views Anthony as a backup point guard at the next level.
Lawrence said he would take Anthony if the team was looking for a pure point guard but White if the team preferred a secondary ball-handler and scorer in a two-guard offense. While he personally prefers Anthony, he’d expect that he is selected somewhere behind No. 7 where White was picked in 2019.
That seems to be fair analysis as NBA draft expert Chad Ford recently predicted a similar range for Anthony on a big board episode of his podcast. Ford reported that teams have the guard going between No. 10 and No. 20 on draft night.