Detroit Pistons draft preview: Is Cole Anthony the player who was a top-5 talent in preseason hype – or the one whose Carolina team bombed?

Cole Anthony
Cole Anthony had an up-and-down freshman season at North Carolina, interrupted by a knee injury that required surgery
Jared C. Tilton (Getty Images)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

History says it’s a virtual certainty a future All-Star, perhaps even a future MVP, will be available when the Pistons go on the clock to make the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

It’s too early to judge the 2018 and ’19 drafts – though early returns suggest form will hold as young players like Tyler Herro (13th pick in 2019) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th pick in ’18) already appear on an All-Star track – but go back a decade and every draft has produced players who either already are or will be multi-time All-Stars or even MVP winners who were taken with the seventh pick or beyond.

The 2017 draft has already produced All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell (13th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). Jamal Murray, a breakout star of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, was the seventh pick in 2016. Devin Booker was the 13th pick in 2015 and Nikola Jokic went 41st in 2014.

Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th pick in 2013 and three-time All-Star – and three-time NBA champion – Draymond Green was the 35th pick in 2012. His Golden State teammate, Klay Thompson, was the 11th pick in 2011 when two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went 15th. Paul George was the 10th pick in 2010 and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the seventh pick in 2009.

So when Dwane Casey said in early October, after months of digesting video of top prospects, he was confident the Pistons would get a foundational piece at the seventh pick, he had history – and faith in the eye of new general manager Troy Weaver – in his corner.

Leading to the Nov. 18 draft, Pistons.com will profile 12 candidates to hear their name called when the Pistons announce the pick. Next up: guard Cole Anthony.

FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: COLE ANTHONY

ID CARD: 6-foot-3 guard, North Carolina, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 14th by ESPN.com, 18th by The Athletic, 17th by SI.com

SCOUTS LOVE: Among high school class of 2019 prospects, no one has been on the radar any longer than Anthony, son of former UNLV All-American and NBA point guard Greg Anthony. He was a five-star recruit, considered a top-five prospect who had his pick of college blue-blood programs and finally settled on North Carolina in the spring of 2019. Comparisons to Derrick Rose were tossed around while Anthony starred at prep school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy and that’s how Anthony appeared to see himself – as the straw to stir the drink, a player always with the ball in his hands to determine at what level his team’s offense would function. He flashed plenty of that early in his time at North Carolina, too, scoring 34 points against Notre Dame in his college debut while hitting 6 of 11 from the 3-point arc. He scored 22 against Michigan and 19 against Oregon in a November holiday tournament, carrying his team offensively. There’s little question Anthony has an alpha mindset and a competitive streak, important qualities when appropriately grounded. Anthony averaged 18.5 points and 4.0 assists a game for a Carolina team that revealed itself to be poorly put together and lacking its usual star power.

SCOUTS WONDER: North Carolina finished the season 14-19 overall and 6-14 and in 13th place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, an unfathomable record for a team that recruits at its level. As the centerpiece of the team, skepticism naturally is directed at Anthony. The Tar Heels simply looked dysfunctional for long stretches, reflecting poorly on all parties but perhaps more on Anthony – the ball-dominant, five-star recruit – than anyone. His shot selection came into question and, indeed, Anthony proved himself an inefficient scorer. The 34.8 percent on 3-point shots won’t raise eyebrows but shooting 40.2 percent on 2-point shots is hard to ignore and speaks loudly to shot selection. There were rumblings about Anthony being less than an ideal teammate. He didn’t wow anyone as a set-up man, either, developing tunnel vision as a scorer. He wound up missing nearly two months at mid-season with a meniscus injury that required arthroscopic surgery, a condition that will also cause teams to dig into the medical records and get an up-close look at the knee – to the extent that’s possible given the limitations in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 3.5 – That’s how many turnovers per game Anthony committed, giving him a barely favorable assists-to-turnover ratio. Anthony clearly needs to have the ball in his hands to be effective, so his efficiency numbers – shooting percentages and taking care of the ball – are going to be especially critical to his value.

MONEY QUOTE: “I like him. What he does on the court, it’s dynamic as there is. But when we played them, you can make a case he lost the game for them. He said he was going to be the man, but he didn’t recognize coverage and he was selfish. He should have passed it around. But, (expletive), straight line or in transition, you know how good he is. He’s ridiculous.” - anonymous coach of a North Carolina opponent as told to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic.

BOTTOM LINE: When Anthony went out in early December, undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus damage to his right knee, the prevailing thought was that he’d played his last game before suiting up in the NBA. LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton shut it down early with injuries incurred during their professional seasons in Australia/New Zealand, after all. But Anthony returned to try to right the ship at Carolina. It didn’t go particularly well for him or the Tar Heels, though they did win four of five before a season-ending loss to Syracuse in the ACC Tournament the day before the sports world ground to a halt. The challenge for scouts across the NBA will be to figure out whether Anthony was dragged down by a thoroughly unexpected lack of talent around him at North Carolina – and was that the reason he tried to shoulder so much of the offensive burden – or whether a Roy Williams-coached team’s path to typical success was cluttered with debris of its stars own doing. Before the season, the team picking seventh, as the Pistons are, likely wouldn’t have anticipated having a shot at Anthony. Now the team picking seventh will have to figure out if they’d be passing on a star if they go in another direction.

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