GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 11: Cole Anthony #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during their game against the Syracuse Orange in the second round of the 2020 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 11, 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

An injury-riddled freshman year at North Carolina could result in Cole Anthony landing with his hometown New York Knicks.

A high draft pick for the New York Knicks (once again) could finally land the franchise with a desperately needed game-changer at point guard in North Carolina’s Cole Anthony.

Anthony made a name for himself in high school. As a senior, the consensus five-star recruit won MVP at three of the nation’s most prestigious high school all-star games in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic, and the Nike Hoop Summit.

After averaging a triple-double for Oak Hill Academy, Anthony began his collegiate career under Roy Williams and the decorated Tar Heel program.

In his debut performance against Notre Dame, Anthony dropped 34 points and corralled 11 rebounds in the victory. He continued his tremendous start to the season before undergoing surgery for a partially torn meniscus in mid-December.

The injury left Anthony out for a bulk of conference play before returning on Feb. 1 with a 26-point output against Boston College.

The Tar Heels struggled in 2019-20, in large part due to Anthony’s extended absence, but when healthy, the freshman proved why he warranted consideration to be a top lottery selection in this year’s draft.

Strengths

It would be a disservice to Cole Anthony to not mention his incredible scoring ability right off the bat. The smooth shooting touch is there, but what Anthony thrives at is utilizing his toughness and quickness to punish defenses on the fast break and in the open court.

His tenacity bulldozes defenders and his speed leaves those same defenders scratching their heads. For a player who is rather undersized, effectively producing in the paint will be a major strength of the scrappy guard.

Even if a defender overbites when expecting a quick drive to the basket, Anthony is adept at executing flawless stepbacks and pull-up jumpers from anywhere on the hardwood.

Another huge caveat to Anthony’s playstyle is his rebounding ability. As previously mentioned, at 6-foot-3 Anthony is a bit undersized for the modern-day point guard in the NBA. However, size does not matter when it comes to Anthony’s relentless pursuit of loose balls.

He throws his body on the line most of the time to secure the possession for his team, and these rebounds even lead to one-man fast breaks thanks to Anthony’s unmatched speed.

The explosive guard has a true knack for the game, and it’s a shame there wasn’t a bigger sample size for Anthony to show off his skills in Chapel Hill. With that being said, the intangibles are there and the son of former Knick Greg Anthony would be a welcome addition.

Weaknesses

Certainly, the top concern amongst lottery teams is Cole Anthony’s durability. The compact guard missed some time during his lone season at Oak Hill and a significant stretch of the season while at North Carolina.

Pushing the speculation aside, Anthony’s major weakness on the court may be his passing.

Anthony is a score-first guard who looks for his teammates, but doesn’t always exude enough patience to wait for the best shot. Anthony often finds himself shooting too early in possessions, and with tougher defenses awaiting at the next level, his production as a true point guard could be absent.

This weakness ultimately damages his efficiency as well. While his shooting touch and confidence are superb, he struggled with consistent shot selection in college.

In 22 games as a freshman, Anthony shot 38% from the field and 34.8% from three. He struggled at times, but still found a way to average 18.5 thanks to his ability to get to the cup.

Anthony almost has a make-or-break aura in him. He can either ball out and give you 30, or drive a coach mad and shoot his way onto the bench. It may be his ultimate downfall as a pro, but a little ironing out on his decision making could be the difference-maker for his career progression.

Fit with the Knicks

Whether it be poor management or lackluster performance on the court, the New York Knicks have been mired in a tumultuous playoff slump over the past several seasons.

Not only does the team lack a formidable attack on either end of the court, but a glaring identity crisis has consumed the team in recent years, further pressing the narrative that the Knicks can’t get over the hump.

Cole Anthony may just be the tenacious young spurt that the Knicks have been searching for.

There may be concerns over picking a ball-dominant guard just one year after selecting RJ Barrett, but drafting a pass-first point guard and slotting them into a lineup that places in the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency isn’t the move.

Taking a chance on Anthony’s raw ability as a scorer and giving the team an identity will be a surefire way to inject hope back into the franchise.

With reports of Tom Thibodeau being in the mix to take over as head coach, the Knicks could rely on Thibs to develop Anthony the same way he did with former MVP Derrick Rose in Chicago. The two share similar playstyles, and enough molding from a great coach could form the second-generation NBA player into a reliable on-court presence.

Last year’s hopes and dreams of landing Duke product Zion Williamson were all for naught, but greener pastures look to be on the horizon in the 2020 NBA Draft. Cole Anthony has all the tools to change the tide of the franchise and become the star Knicks fans have been yearning for.

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