This article is a facsimile of an earlier version published on The Basketball Writers (TBW), which has recently closed its doors
In a 2020 draft class that's weak on wings, the guard position fills the void with plenty of names worth knowing.
You can find all different types: Those who shoot, are defense-first, are pure passers and those who are supreme athletes. Position and taste will dictate who goes where, not necessarily a clear hierarchy of consensus.
No one or two stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, but there are enough good players that at least one of them figures to be a gem.
Last week, Tyrese Maxey stepped into the point guard spotlight with his non-shooting, defense-first style. While I'm not overly high on Maxey, that reason boils down to my strong preference for shooters at the point of attack. This week, we'll focus on the roller coaster season that haunted Cole Anthony at North Carolina, trying to sift through his numbers, the spacing he operated in and figuring out if a deflection of blame is the right course to accurately analyzing his outlook.
Anthony entered the season with a ton of hype, but his freshman season didn't go according to plan. While he put up fine numbers, the North Carolina Tar Heels had their worst season in the Roy Williams era and were at the bottom of the ACC. That's like LeBron James missing the playoffs.
It's hard to blame Anthony, and you don't want to hold a poor team against an individual when it comes to draft analysis. Carolina was dreadful in guarding the pick-and-roll, suffered from unbearably atrocious spacing on offense and never seemed to get into a rhythm.
Anthony's most projectable NBA skill was on display in flashes at Chapel Hill: his ability to create his own shot.
As an isolation scorer, he's a bit predictable, however. If he goes left, he's going to step-back or pull up for a shot. If he goes right, he's trying to get to the rim. Regardless, there are enough tricks in his bag and tough shots he's made to give many the confidence that he'll be a high-level scorer in the NBA.
It's hard to say whether Anthony's scoring out of the pick-and-roll would have been much greater if the Heels' spacing had improved.
Anthony isn't blazing quick, but he's very sharp with his movements. He gets around guys and finds a way to his spot. He's violent with his moves, especially when splitting ball screens. That same ferocity can get him into trouble, but it's also the crux of his game.
Anthony makes some great dribble moves with the ball in his hands. His change-of-pace and burst from slow to fast is elite. When defenses give him the opportunity to get downhill and align himself straight to the rim, he takes it.
A guy who's always in attack-mode is bound to be a high-caliber scorer.
And unlike Lewis, the mid-range pull-up is a huge strength in Anthony's game. NBA teams run drop pick-and-roll coverage solely so they can encourage guys to take this shot. If it's available to Anthony, he'll make it. He hurt Michigan early in the year when they gave him pull-up after pull-up.
That isolation scoring is what draws so much fanfare around Anthony. Watch how he shoots it and it's tantalizing. Sure, he was only 34.8 percent from 3, which is modest and unspectacular, but the high-level makes are something else: Deep range; Stepbacks; Games with five treys and heat checks.
At 6'3", he's likely to hit these against NBA-caliber defenders without much fuss.
Think back to those same boxes that lead guards must demonstrate to be strong offensive threats in my book: have a plus-wingspan, shoot from 3 off the bounce and finish well with both hands. Anthony checks two while missing out on the finishing aspect.
Here's the tough part of the pre-draft process coming into play: Anthony was placed in really difficult positions. He drove into a clogged lane surrounded by below-average shooters. If he was to do what he does best and create offense, he'd have to accept the degree of difficulty presented.
While Anthony was really poor as a finisher and made many questionable decisions by over-penetrating into gaps that didn't exist, we must try and imagine what he'll be like in an NBA offense where those concerns don't exist.
Will his finishing ability skyrocket with more space? Will he avoid the high turnover rate (4.0 turnovers per 40 minutes is really high) with clearer kickout avenues? So there's likely a grain of salt to be taken with all the struggles.
As a decision-maker, Anthony got lazy at times. He sought the easy read, wasn't careful with his lobs or entry passes and just seemed out of sync with his teammates. But that was a common theme for all the Tar Heels on both ends.
Still, Anthony needs to take greater care of the rock. He's a fine creator who has flashed passing potential, but that assist-to-turnover ratio was unacceptable.
The finishing worries me and is probably why I don't have as much confidence that a lot of this is solely dependent on the circumstances around him.
Anthony is as right-hand reliant at the rim as many lottery prospects I can remember. He's a smooth athlete but doesn't float through contact well. He got bullied with length and verticality, couldn't adjust in mid-air and seemed to lack touch at times.
In the middle-third of the floor, scorers intuitively know whether to use a finger roll or push off the glass. Driving at a 45-degree angle gives the perfect angle to ricochet the layup off the glass. A more flat, linear path to the basket requires a nuanced finish that Anthony seemed to lack. He'd push to the right side and try to fling it off the backboard but wouldn't have the touch to do so.
You could tell the season wore on Anthony from a defensive standpoint. Carolina struggled to get on the same page and had frequent miscommunications with on-ball screen coverages. It's impossible to know how much of the blame lies upon Anthony's shoulders, but the flood gates would open too frequently.
With the disappointing results, Anthony's effort waned. He gave up on plays once he got driven past, came up flat-footed on several closeouts and laid down for bigger wings to whip him around on switches. I'd have liked to see more fight come from a lottery pick who was certainly leaving for greener pastures after the season.
Overall Analysis and Draft Projections
Preseason projections really skew perception. Based on age, numerical output, team disappointment and red flag skills, a guy like Alabama's Kira Lewis Jr. is preferable to Anthony in every category. But Cole has that one, highly-coveted skill to create his own shot and make difficult step-backs, 3-pointers over contests and be a high-level late-clock option.
There aren't many guys in this draft class with that upside.
Cole's draft range is likely anywhere from 4 to 12. And that's not undeserved. His shot creation upside is highly valuable. Film from his high school days illustrates some highlight-reel moments that surely led many to view him as a guy whose true ability wasn't harnessed at North Carolina.
Anthony's entire freshman season was a foggy one, with tons of questionable plays, subpar effort and an overwhelming lack of team execution. As draft experts, we can find compartmentalize some of those moments and find an excuse for them based on the situation in North Carolina. We know Anthony is capable of more.
But that's where the preseason projections skew things. The only reason such context is applicable is because we had hype for Anthony coming into Carolina. Had that hype not existed, he would have just been a disappointing freshman with promise and upside as a one-on-one scorer.
The hype does exist, though. There's not much we can do to prevent it, but we can choose how we frame it. Many are willing to take the gamble on Anthony's upside since they've seen enough flashes through EYBL play and high school to justify belief in him fulfilling that potential. In a draft where you're looking for primary scorers and high-ceiling guys, I certainly get why Anthony is almost a lock to be drafted in the top ten, and wouldn't hesitate to take him there if other, less risky top scorers are off the board first.