There’s no denying that last year was a fun year for the freshman class in the ACC. A freshman won Player of the Year (Zion Williamson), a freshman led the league in scoring (R.J. Barrett), and a freshman held down starting point guard duties for the national champs (Kihei Clark). Four ACC freshmen became lottery picks, and all of them played into the second week of the tournament.
But if you thought there would be a lack of excitement from this year’s newbies, think again. Sure, they don’t match the previous group in YouTube views coming out of high school, but they’ll no doubt generate some storylines of their own. Duke has a horde of talented frosh, Samuel Williamson is playing a key role for top-ranked Louisville, and it looks like a diaper dandy will once again lead the league in scoring: Enter Cole Anthony.
The freshman point guard has been electric through three games, scoring 27.3 points per game while shooting nearly 45% from three on high volume (9.7 attempts/game). He’s been the dominant force behind Carolina’s offense so far, and that’s not changing. But for the Tar Heels to make a deep run in March, there’s one thing about Anthony’s scoring output that will need to take a jump.
As you can see in the shot chart above, Anthony has been high-level from three. And while it looks like he’s been less efficient from the top of the key, the issue isn’t location—it’s shot type. A much higher percentage of his threes in that zone have come off the bounce.
But that’s not what’s most interesting about Anthony’s scoring trends so far this season. The one area where the young star will have to improve as the scouting report on him gets thicker is from two (he’s 36% from there). Specifically, as teams try to clamp down on Anthony from outside the arc, his numbers in the paint are going to have to improve. This is especially true in go-get-a-bucket, late shot-clock situations where he’ll continue to be the go-to playmaker and draw even more defensive attention than early in possessions.
The shot chart above is a look at Anthony’s ups in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock, where six of his ten makes and more than half of his attempts have come from three. Even further, he’s not getting to the rim, as the majority of his twos are pull-ups or runners. As teams continue to watch film and identify his tendencies in this situation, I’d guess we’ll see on-ball defenders be increasingly more concerned with taking away his jumper than his drive.
And look, this is a limited sample size for sure. We’re three games in, which means two obvious things: this shot distribution could look quite different by the end of the year and Anthony will undoubtedly get better from two as he adjusts to the college game.
He’s a freshman. And the way you score from two as a high-school senior is worlds different from how you score from two as a freshman, especially at the highest levels of college basketball. Specifically, being the end-of-clock catalyst offensively in arguably the best league in America will take some growing into. So no, it won’t be surprising to see an uptick in Anthony’s efficiency from inside the arc and in the paint; in fact, it’s to be expected.
And that statement on its own is scary. Because it looks already like an ACC freshman will lead the league in scoring this year, and that freshman is poised to get even better.
Aaron Hanshaw is a former Division I men’s basketball staffer and a national account manager for Just Play. He studies film and analytics in-season to identify trends and interesting topics in college basketball, while also finding better ways to help staffs teach their players. You can contact Aaron at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @CoachAaronH. To learn more about Just Play, click here.