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NBA Draft Prospect Review: Anthony Black
In any other year, Arkansas basketball would’ve found themselves at a crossroads
after the onslaught of Nick Smith Jr. injuries. This was a player that was projected in the top five
of this summer’s draft. Looking at their place in the SEC standings - 10th, behind non-
tournament teams such as Vanderbilt, Florida, and Mississippi State - it would be fair to assume
that they didn’t get much help. Fast forward to today, and the Razorbacks have accomplished
what few eight-seeds accomplish: beating a number one seed and defending champion in the
second round. The face of this success is not Smith. It is Anthony Black.
Standing at 6’7, 198 lbs, the freshman guard from Texas led Arkansas in assists and
steals per game, and was second in points per game. Surprisingly, Black has shown that he can
run the show without Smith in the picture, directing the offense with great passing vision and
ball-handling during Smith’s absences. This surprises many because Anthony’s mixtapes from
high school would suggest that he would be a 3-point specialist and explosive dunker in college
and beyond, showcasing his silky-smooth jumper and ferocious slams in compilations and
Black may have the ideal NBA frame for the future; he’s agile for a tall guard, using skill
and shooting rather than downhill speed and athleticism. Just look around the NBA and you’ll
see young comparisons: Giddey, Cunningham, LaMelo, Luka.
Offensively, the first thing you’ll notice about Black is his explosiveness, especially
moving downhill. Sometimes, he is so explosive that he looks out of control, but when a 6'7" player is moving at those speeds, it is not surprising to see them snowball into a flailing,
uncontrollable concentration of mass. NBA trainers will be able to fine-tune this.
In the paint, Black’s gather is strong, allowing him more opportunities for elite verticality
and foul-drawing. It is apparent that he could be a very dangerous post guard. Bigger NBA
guards who can pass are starting to post up more and operate from the block (i.e. Luka). This
opens up the top of the key area as well as the paint itself, and I can see an NBA team running
plays for Black in which he starts on the block with his back turned to the basket. He can outsize
other guards, out jump other guards, be simply too strong for other guards, or just use his great
vision to create looks for his teammates. Additionally, he has a very deceiving pump fake in his
Black doesn’t move constantly off-ball, but he does cut at the right time. He also sets a
nice amount of screens, which is a very good sign for a big guard. It does seem, however, that
he sometimes gets lost in the flow of the offense, unsure of where to go and what to do. A good
reason for this is his teammates at Arkansas; it’s hard to balance a three-headed scoring
dragon of Black, Nick Smith Jr. and Ricky Council IV.
His jumper is consistent, but not particularly ideal. He squats down slightly before
releasing, using his lower body as power, which is a good thing. However, he releases very
early, with a very low release point. This jump-shot is not ideal for contested threes, but if he
can create space for jumpers, it won’t matter very much (he has showcased some side-step and
step-back three pointers this season, just not at a high efficiency).
Black’s passing is what is making NBA scouts so excited. He has great playmaking
ability in the half court as well as the full court. He doesn’t make spectacular passes, but he
does make the right pass. He can skip it to the corner in pick-and-rolls, he can throw lobs, and
he can find the man in the dunker’s spot with a nice high pass. He has a beautiful lob pass that
is disguised as a floater, which has become essential for NBA Point Guards at this point, so it is
good to see this skill already in his bag.
Defensively, Black does not keep up with driving ball handlers very well. Sometimes it
only takes one move for a driver to get past him, and he doesn’t recover very well once he’s lost
that step. He falls asleep in transition on occasion, allowing break-starting outlet passes without
getting back quickly enough. He plays almost no help defense at this point, and struggles to get
around screens, so he can be a liability at times against two-man action.
If there’s one thing young players should emulate from Black’s defense, it should be his
active feet. He is literally always on his toes, never still or flat-footed for a second. If his
conditioning stays great, he should be able to do this for thirty minutes a night. He also has
fantastic leaping ability and vision on defense, deflecting passes and challenging opponents by
getting his hand on the ball by any means necessary. This mutually adds to his rebound proficiency.
Overall, Anthony Black is a high-level offensive threat with a sturdy defensive frame and
great leaping ability. I believe his floor to be Cade Cunningham’s rookie season. I say this
because there may be an adjustment period (that Cunningham experienced) necessary for
Black to reach his potential. You may not see the production of Cade Cunningham in Black’s
rookie season, likely because he will be drafted to a better team that asks less of him than the
Pistons asked of Cunningham last season. I think Black will show surprising playmaking ability
for his team (Cunningham averaged six assists per 36 minutes) as well as shooting decently
from behind the line (Cunningham was an underwhelming 31 percent from deep). Overall, I
think Black will have an all-around solid rookie season and go up from there barring any injury
concerns in the future.
Black’s ceiling is Penny Hardaway. The multiple-time all-star was also 6’7, but could
create with his athleticism at all three levels. He was a good rebounder for a guard (4.9
rebounds per game before the age of 30) and although he wasn’t known for his perimeter
offense, he did shoot 31% on an uncharacteristically high (for that era) 4.5 attempts from deep
in the 1996-97 season. With that reliance on athleticism came injury risk, which plagued
Hardaway’s career and ended up cutting short his prime. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to
Black, but there is always such risk for a player of his archetype. However, Black’s ceiling is
clearly extremely high along with his positionless guard counterparts who will soon rule the
league. Anthony Black should be chosen between picks