The Scouting of Cole Anthony
A Look into the Process of Selecting the Magic Rookie with Assistant GM Matt Lloyd
ORLANDO -- There are legends throughout the National Basketball Association of talent evaluators discovering prospects in tiny gyms in the middle of nowhere or by taking trips overseas and getting glimpses of an untapped gem.
That’s not the scouting story of Cole Anthony.
The 6-foot-3, dynamic combo guard has been in the spotlight long before donning the Carolina blue in Chapel Hill. He’s played at huge programs since high school, spending his freshman through junior years at the legendary Archbishop Molloy, which produced NBA players such as Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson, and then transferring for his senior season to Oak Hill Academy, which generated All-Stars Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
While some youngsters may have shied away from the pressure of being the son of a former NBA player – his father, Greg Anthony spent 11 seasons in the league – Cole embraced it. Never stepping away from the spotlight, he attended the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. He also climbed his way up the USA Basketball ladder, the entry point for league scouts, who are restricted from attending high school games, to get their eyes on prospects.
“Cole is a unique guy in this age of pre-NBA basketball, because he was exposed to so much,” said Magic Assistant General Manager Matt Lloyd, who oversees the team’s scouting department. “He kept going to these events when the trend has been to be identified and almost don’t play as much. Cole never did that.”
Coincidentally, Lloyd had his eyes on Anthony before many others. Working his way up in the Bulls organization from a special projects employee in the video room to a senior manager of their basketball operations and scouting department, Lloyd’s time in Chicago overlapped with Greg Anthony’s playing stint with the franchise.
“We had Greg in Chicago when I worked for the Bulls and I was always interested in seeing what Cole was going to look like and what type of player he’d become,” Lloyd said. “So, you start seeing lists and the high school scouts all do their work and produce their lists, but it’s important to go in and make your own assessment of a guy because the requirements of what we’re looking for is much different than what high school evaluators may be looking at.”
THE RISE OF COLE ANTHONY
Anthony’s exposure through numerous camps and USA basketball allowed scouts, including Lloyd, to gather extensive amounts of information. It was immediately evident that he was building his own resume and was much, much more than just a son of a former NBA player.
“He always had such a good command of the game for his age,” Lloyd explained. “He was always very athletic for his size and very strong and powerful. He stood out right away. And it wasn’t because of who his dad was, but rather the caliber and type of player he was.”
Anthony built up quite the resume on his way to the collegiate level. As a member of the U18 USA National Team, he earned All-Tournament honors at the 2018 FIBA U18 Americas Championships and led Team USA in scoring at the 2019 Nike Hoop Summit.
As a high school senior, Anthony was named to the 2019 USA Today First Team All-America and the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year. He was the Most Valuable Player of both the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game and the 2019 Jordan Brand Classic.
“When you make an evaluation for the draft, it’s not just about what you saw last, but rather the body of work,” Lloyd explained. “Cole’s body of work, if you track it backwards, from North Carolina to the McDonald’s game, to the Jordan Brand game, to the USA teams to the Nike summer events that scouts are able to go watch, he was constantly there. He constantly competed and was putting himself in a position to be evaluated. That’s to his credit. Playing at those high school programs only enhanced his talent and his skill at a quicker pace because he was challenging himself constantly.”
ARRIVAL AT UNC
By the time Anthony reached the University of North Carolina, he was on the Magic’s radar. Often participants in the McDonald’s All-American game get placed into a higher tier in Orlando’s scouting priority. Other players are on and get added to that ever-evolving list, but the Magic, like other NBA teams, keep that group under a watchful eye.
In his first college game, Anthony immediately drew additional national attention, setting an ACC freshman and UNC all-time debut scoring record with 34 points in UNC’s 76-65 win over Notre Dame. He also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in the contest matching an all-time best by a Tar Heels point guard.
Lloyd would later catch the 190-pound New York native in person when UNC faced Oregon on November 29. Anthony would notch 19 points and five rebounds in the meeting leading the Tar Heels to a 78-74 victory.
It was an opportune time to catch Anthony, who less than three weeks later would undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his right knee. For the first time in his basketball career, he would be challenging to evaluate.
Anthony would go on to miss 11 contests. Many urged the consensus preseason Top 3 draft prospect to sit out the remainder of the season and avoid jeopardizing his NBA stock. However, the uber-competitive guard felt a duty to the university, its coaching staff, and his teammates to return.
Despite lacking the rhythm and explosiveness that were defining characters of his game, Anthony overcame adversity and managed to finish the season averaging 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 steals in 34.9 minutes per contest. He led the Tar Heels in scoring and had the second-highest scoring average for a freshman in school history.
The Magic had eyes on him all along the way. By the end of UNC’s season, Orlando had upwards of 30 scouting reports on Anthony with over 12 live exposures in the 22 games that he played.
GETTING READY FOR THE DRAFT
Still, there was more work to be done. In the challenging COVID-19 environment, there would be no combine in Chicago along with limited in-person meetings and workouts for draft prosects. Yet, Orlando wanted to ensure that it had the whole picture when it came to a player as enticing as Anthony.
Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond would join Lloyd on a trip down to Miami to meet with him.
“The most important part of that meeting from my perspective is to get him some face time with Jeff and John so they could really understand his personality,” Lloyd said. “So, we saw him workout and we had dinner with him outside in Miami. It was a really, really good experience. It was well worth it. We were lucky enough to be able to drive down there and see him.”
Of equal importance, especially involving a player coming off an injury, was the in-person workout that took place. The Magic went into it hoping to see a prospect that more closely resembled the explosive athlete that they saw at the high-school level. They were not disappointed. It was one of the pre-draft workouts that Anthony cited as his personal best.
“We were really impressed,” Lloyd said. “He put on a really good workout and shot the ball really well and we were comfortable that his health was at a spot that was representative of who he was rather than when he was playing injured at Carolina.”
While it would seem that would be ample information, the work never stops for a basketball operations department. On top of meetings and scouting, they’re also weighing medical information, analytics indicators, input from coaches and an extensive library of background information gained from key people surrounding a prospect. And that’s not just for Anthony, but a seemingly endless list of draft prospects.
“One of our staff’s greatest strengths is the ability to remain diligent and keep chipping away and finding out information and adding it to this big stew that encompasses each player,” Lloyd said.
All of that information gets sorted and tabulated and is then presented to Weltman and Hammond so they can make an extremely informed decision on draft night.
“There’s so much (data),” Lloyd said. “We’ve seen him in person, we have analytics, we have our scouting reports, we have our background reports, we have assessments that we do, we have medical testing. That’s one of Jeff Weltman’s greatest strengths is that ability to synthesize things down to make a decision and not get overwhelmed by the volume of information that we’re dealing with.”
As staffs get closer to draft night there’s an ever-increasing amount of anxiety and tension. There are tons of smart people throughout the league and they very likely could be seeing the same qualities in a prospect.
Pick by pick, the challenge is to remain calm and trust the process and the board. In this instance, for the Magic, there was exhilaration when the 14th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft came and went and Anthony was still on the board.
“Once fourteen went, we were really, really excited,” Lloyd said. “I think you have to remain true to the process, line the board up and assess where the opportunities are going to be as the night unfolds in front of you.”
Years of work, scouting, and analysis would come to a head as Weltman gave the signal to Player Development and Team Services Manager Regan Harris to phone in the Magic’s pick: Cole Anthony at No. 15 overall.
The work for the Magic’s staff and Anthony does not stop there. Especially in a year with no Summer League and an insanely quick turnaround to the start of the season, rookies will have to adjust faster than ever.
Orlando has a top-notch staff to ease Anthony in transition led by Director of Player Development & Basketball Operations Becky Bonner. Weltman and the front office will set the expectations for him and Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford will communicate what is needed from him on the court.
“For his age, he’s just such an advanced pick-and-roll player and a scorer,” Lloyd said. “His body is going to allow him to take the physical game and be able to take contact and get shots up at the rim.”
Anthony’s track record projects that he can play both guard spots in the league. As he starts his development and Markelle Fultz continues his, the duo could morph into a potent backcourt tandem. As Clifford pointed out on draft night, Orlando was eliminated from the 2019 postseason by a Toronto team that utilized a Kyle Lowry-Fred VanVleet backcourt set.
“We’ve seen over the last couple of years in the league that the more playmakers you can put on the floor, the better,” Lloyd said. “The hope is their ability to complement one another will be based around that ability to each be a playmaker.”
While the stress of adjusting so quickly to the league could overwhelm some rookies, Anthony, who’s had to manage the expectations of being a former player’s son, being labeled the next great New York point guard and living up to a cover spot on SLAM magazine as a junior in high school, was built for this moment.
“That’s what makes Cole who he is because he’s come out on the other side of that pressure and this is who he is,” Lloyd said. “I think there’s a lot to grasp on to with Cole and that’s one of the factors. He grew up in kind of a pressure cooker and people want to build you up to break you down and Cole came out the other side of that as a finished product and someone that’s now going to embark on his NBA career.”
In the dynamic combo guard’s own words from the documentary Becoming Cole Anthony: “My mom has the picture of me from when I think I was like six-months old – it was before I could walk – holding a basketball and just throwing a basketball at the hoop. I just always had that dream when I was younger. I wasn’t even thinking about how good I was; I was just thinking that I wanted to be in the NBA.”
Eyes were on him every step of the way with a group of people preparing for his dream to become a reality.