Cole Anthony is putting a rough North Carolina career behind him, and starting the 2021 season on a tear

Cole Anthony is putting a rough North Carolina career behind him, and starting the 2021 season on a tear

He’s finally coming into his own.
Image: Getty Images

It was no brainer that Cole Anthony would be a top NBA draft pick one day. He was the starting point guard his first day at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, N.Y., a feat that legendary point guards Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson didn’t reach. Anthony was the No. 1 point guard prospect in America in 2019 and he signed with North Carolina. His father is Greg Anthony — UNLV legend, 11-year NBA veteran, and he, along with his flowered shirt, starred in one of the greatest fights in NBA history.

In Anthony’s debut at North Carolina, he tallied 34 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists in a win against Notre Dame, the most points ever in a freshman debut in program history. New York City point guard, NBA father, record-setter at North Carolina from Day 1, that’s a yellow brick road to a top-five NBA draft selection.

In December of 2019, Anthony tore his meniscus and missed nearly two months of action. He returned to a North Carolina team that was 10-13 and the least talented team in Roy Wiliams’ 18 years as coach. Anthony’s return didn’t change North Carolina’s fate that season. They lost his first five games back and finished the season 14-19, Williams only losing season at North Carolina.

Anthony was an all-ACC freshman and third team performer, averaging just over 18 points per game, but his 38 percent shooting percentage and being the main guy on the worst North Carolina team since 2001-02, sent his draft stock tumbling. He fell out of the lottery and was picked 15th overall by the Orlando Magic in 2020. He had an inconsistent rookie season, averaging 12.9 points per game, four assists on 39.7 percent shooting from the field.

This season, he’s finally looking like the player who was the top point guard in America in 2019. Through 11 games he’s averaging 20.2 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from the three-point line, along with 5.2 assists and only 2.6 turnovers. Anthony starting this season for the Magic was only supposed to be as a bridge until Markelle Fultz returned from injury. Instead, at this pace Anthony could earn Most Improved Player honors.

His best performance of the season came on Sunday against the Utah Jazz — perennially one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Anthony went for 33 points, 10 of which he scored in a fourth-quarter comeback as the Magic defeated the Jazz 107-100. That game was Anthony’s 24/7 scouting report on full display.

At 6-foot-3, he is such an explosive athlete that he can dunk off of two steps with his offhand. The Jazz struggled to stay in front of him all night. He also showed prowess on defense early in the game on one play when he locked up Jazz all-star Donovan Mitchell so well that he was able to block his shot without jumping. When Anthony didn’t feel like driving to the basket, he showed off a jump shot. He went 5/10 from the three-point line and late in the fourth quarter buried a step-back jumper right in the face of three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to give the Magic a 100-98 lead that they would not relinquish.

Anthony has shot better than 50 percent from the field in five of 11 games this season, and has turned the ball over three times or less in all but three games. It is still early in the season, and the Magic are a 3-8 team, but it appears that the scouts in the mid-to-late 2010s have been proven right about Anthony. He is a special athlete that can score when he feels like it, and has also improved on his high school weakness of too many turnovers.

It’s unfortunate for Anthony that a promising career screeched to a halt at North Carolina and cost him money by hurting his draft stock. However, if he keeps performing at his level, he may be in line for one of those sweet second contracts.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.