The Prospect Overview: Anthony Black's Breakout is Upon Us
Anthony Black took the Maui Invitational by storm! Maxwell examines what Black is doing well, and what he can continue to do better! Plus: Quick Hits, Big Board Updates, and more!
Feature: Anthony Black’s Breakout
Feast Week is in the books. I’ve consumed sickening amounts of basketball, and with THREE Thanksgiving events in my family this year, I’ve also consumed sickening amounts of food. Folks, I love food. It’s part of why I struggled with my weight so mightily before getting into the best shape of my life in my late twenties. Even now, as an active, 6’5” male, I consume around 3,000 calories a day. I think about food a lot. I stay on top of my protein intake, love to cook, and prep all my meals for the week. Food is constantly on my mind.
Something I’ve thought about a lot recently is appetizers. When the COVID pandemic hit, restaurants in my area were often limited to outdoor-only seating. Given the Chicago climate, it put a limit on how often I went out. In some ways, it made me more mindful of how I order at restaurants. It’s not something I take for granted anymore. I put a lot of thought into my orders, and I never want to get something at a restaurant that I feel I could make at home. In particular, I’ve grown leery of appetizers. Frankly, they can be a scam. You’re paying good money for a small amount of food, and worst of all, you have to share it with other people! Mozzarella sticks, in particular, have become a villain of mine. Make no mistake—they are tasty. But the money-to-stick ratio is often abhorrent.
Appetizers can be unsettling in a different way, too. There used to be a great seafood restaurant near the apartment where I lived after college. It was awesome. They flew in fresh seafood daily, posting their import receipts on the wall inside the doorway so you could see that you were getting the real stuff every single day. This particular establishment made the most incredible seafood bisque I’ve ever had in my life. It was rich, creamy, and filled with chunks of lobster. It was the only soup I’ve ever encountered where I always opted for the bowl instead of the cup, judgment of my fellow diners be damned! It made me feel like a true gourmand. The issue with this soup is that oftentimes, it would be better than the entree. I’d finish my dinner and think, man, I almost wish I’d ordered a second bowl of that soup instead. Now, I’m too much of a coward to do that. My shame wouldn’t allow it. But that appetizer had the potential to ruin the main course.
Feast Week is supposed to build to a peak. Like a great piece of music, it is meant to lead to a beautiful crescendo. Instead, Anthony Black was the appetizer that spoiled the main course. His performance at the Maui Invitation came early in the week, but it stuck with me. I watched the rest of the events throughout the week, and there was a slew of impressive outings from a number of prospects. But still, I found myself thinking…I wish Anthony Black was playing again. Today, I’ll examine what we saw in Anthony Black’s Maui outings, why they were so mesmerizing, and what he can do to become an even more intriguing prospect.
To dig into Anthony Black’s driving ability, we need to start with the most basic part. Black is big and athletic. At 6’7”, he boasts a potent first step and has the ability to turn the corner on almost anyone. While he may want to add mass as he scales up in competition, Black certainly isn’t weak, either. He has no problem plowing through smaller guards, and he’s also capable of finishing against giants at the rim. Black has made 61.3% of his shots at the basket in the halfcourt, per Synergy, and ranks in the 68th percentile in that category. His willingness and ability to get downhill get him to the free-throw line a lot, too. So far, he’s taking 4.7 free throws per game and converting 82.1% of them, both great numbers that further add to his efficiency.
To write off Black as just an athlete would be a tremendous mistake, though. There are plenty of college-level attackers who use their overpowered physical gifts to dominate the competition but can’t do the same at the NBA level. Black feels different. There’s a level of craft, patience, and intelligence to his game that makes it appear far more scalable than others. While he can blow by slower players and leave them in the dust, that’s not the only thing he’s capable of doing. Black mixes in pace and hesitation, playing at different speeds to keep the defense on their toes. He can utilize a hostage dribble, keeping the on-ball defender behind him while forcing the opposing big man defender to make a difficult decision. His ability to decelerate and then re-accelerate exposes defenders who may have good technique, but can’t match his burst.
Even better, Black plays with his head up. He’s able to see multiple reads, whether he’s operating on an island or out of a pick-and-roll. At times, it feels like he has eyes in the back of his head. He’s capable of slinging sharp, accurate, long passes out of the live dribble with his strong hand (right). His eyes for the weakside corner are sublime, punishing defenders who try to help and stop his rim attacks while giving his teammates clean looks from beyond the arc. When he gets to the basket, he’s able to use his length to wrap the ball around defenders and set up his big men for easy buckets. Pocket passes, cross-court whips, and simple skips— it’s all in Black’s passing bag.
As is the case with many young prospects, three-point shooting is a major swing skill for Anthony Black. While it’s certainly not a strength of his, both his improvements and willingness to launch have been encouraging. Over the summer, Black competed on FIBA’s U18 team in the Americas tournament. The results from long-range weren’t great— he took one per game, and he only made 16.7% of his attempts. Through the first six games of the college season, Black is taking 3.0 attempts per game and converting 33% of them. In Maui, Black took 3.3 per game and made 40% of his triples.
Still, I’m not totally bought into Black as a real threat beyond the arc. I’m fairly positive he isn’t a “real” 40% three-point shooter, and I think his overall percentage for the year may well settle below 33%. Per Synergy, Black is 2-for-8 on threes off the dribble. Of his 11 catch-and-shoot threes, only two were classified as “guarded” attempts. Teams are daring Black to shoot and don’t consider him a threat.
With that being said, Anthony Black is doing exactly what he should be doing. He’s taking the open looks that defenses are giving him, and he’s doing a solid job of making them pay for it. When defenders go way over screens or handoffs, he doesn’t freeze and overthink it; he simply shoots the basketball. One of my favorite pieces of basketball writing is Mike Prada’s piece on Marcus Smart. While the whole thing is definitely worth a read, the cliff notes are this: Marcus Smart isn’t a great three-point shooter, but he takes threes anyway. By doing so, defenders feel the need to play up on him because fundamentally, it feels wrong to leave a guy wide open when you know he might shoot it. Black is making the defense think. By taking the open ones, even if they aren’t efficient yet, he is going to draw defenders to play him closer. Not only does that further space the floor for his teammates, but it opens up his dangerous attacking game. I’m bullish that these shots will become efficient in time, too. He does a great job of getting his feet set without taking too long, even when he’s coming into the shot off a bit of movement. Paired with his free throw touch and confidence, the outlook is positive.
Anthony Black profiles to be the type of defender NBA teams want. He’s long, he moves well, and he knows what’s happening on the court. What immediately leaps off the page with Black is his mental sharpness and preposterous hand speed. The first clip in the video above is one of the strangest plays I’ve seen so far this season. An inbounder attempts to lob the ball over Black, who springs up and moves his hands at warp speed to snag it. It’s silly, video game glitch material, but he did it in real life. Black also does a stellar job of identifying when poor ballhandlers are unsuspecting of his presence, pouncing in and swiping the ball away before initiating a transition play. Similarly, he can use his long arms to tip passes and intercept lazy skips on the perimeter. His general level of attentiveness is rock solid for a young prospect, and rarely does he cost his team points as an off-ball gambler.
On the ball, Black can tend to play a little riskier. Black loves to “Thybulle” on defense, letting his man get past him and then challenging their drive from behind. While he has the hands to poke the ball loose and the leaping ability to contest shots at the rim, it didn’t always fare well in Maui. There are times where this strategy can make sense, but against quicker guards like Ryan Nembhard, it’s dangerous. His feet are solid, and he’d be better served to keep his man in front of him. Right now, he’s helped out by the phenomenal back line for Arkansas. By stopping penetration and funneling players to more inconvenient spots on the court, though, he could better limit scrambles and rotations scenarios.
Despite that gripe, Black is still a good defender with the chance to be a great one. His hands are truly special, and he’s fleet of foot; as he grows stronger, he should be able to cover multiple positions well. He can blow up plays with his help and spring back to his man if he’s unsuccessful. His long strides allow him to rotate in a timely manner. Add in his ability to read the floor, and you have a coach’s dream. Experience and physical development should only make him better.
Further Areas of Unleashable Upside
-Cutting: Right now, Black is a solid cutter, but because his shooting gravity isn’t potent, he doesn’t get to utilize this skill often. If he can become a reliable catch-and-shoot option, defenders will play him tighter. There, he can burn them when they ball-watch and function as a lob threat with his vertical explosiveness.
-Weakside Rim Protection: Given his ability to process the game and cover ground, I’m slightly let down by Black’s two total blocks on the season. As he grows more comfortable and aware, there’s real potential for him in this area. It’s tough now, given that he’s functionally playing as a guard on defense, but as he slides up the positional spectrum, I’d like to see him get more involved around the basket.
-In-between Game: Currently, Black lives at the rim and behind the arc. While this is the analytical dream, ultimately, players do have to settle for tougher looks at times. Right now, Black struggles in these spots. Per InStat’s tracking data, he’s currently 4-12 on shots outside of the restricted area but inside the three-point line. His floater isn’t totally consistent yet. Given how well he operates out of a hostage dribble, a potent floater or soft pull-up would make him deadly.
-Off-Hand Finishing: While Black’s length allows him to get almost any angle he desires at the rim, he’s almost completely reliant on his right hand at the rim. Developing steady left-handed options would diversify his finishing portfolio and making even more dangerous.
During the Draft Deeper prospect preview series, I remarked that even with a subpar season, I’d be inclined to take Anthony Black with a first round pick. Time and again, plus-athletes with size, defensive acumen, high-level feel, and a selfless playstyle have managed to carve out NBA roles, even if their jumper is suspect. While Black fits that archetype, his willingness to shoot and moderate success beyond the three-point line indicates that he could be much more than merely a role player. His passing vision, paired with his size and physical tools, is a rare combination. If he can continue to be a fairly efficient scorer, there is no reason he should fall out of the lottery. His floor feels safe, but his ceiling is beyond exciting. In the Maui Invitational, Black proved that he isn’t just one of the most entertaining players in the country— he’s one of the best. If he can keep up that level of production, he won’t just be in the lottery conversation but the top half of the lottery conversation.
The Expanding Big Board
Welcome to The Expanding Big Board! Every week, a new player is added to the board. Once a player is added, they cannot be removed. The current ranking is listed first, with last week’s ranking in parenthesis.
1. Victor Wembanyama (1)
2. Scoot Henderson (2)
3. Amen Thompson (3)
4. Cam Whitmore (4)
5. THE LATEST ADDITION TO THE EXPANDING BIG BOARD…AUSAR THOMPSON!
Ausar takes the leap over Brandon Miller to claim the fifth spot. While he’s been inactive lately, I love what I’ve seen thus far. Though he’s not the dynamic playmaker that Amen is, he’s certainly no slouch. I also find him to be a more consistent (and often violent) finisher at the basket. His shooting has come along better than Amen’s, too, and he’s knocked down six of his 14 three-point attempts through four games. Given his ability to make passes, knock down open jumpers, and finish inside, he has a wonderful set of building blocks on offense. Defensively, he has the quickness and toughness to cover multiple positions. His ability to read the floor on defense is tremendous. He can spring into position to get blocks as a helper or dart into a passing lane to start a transition play. Speaking of transition, he’s nasty in that department. His vision, paired with his penchant for dunking the ball, makes him hyper-efficient in those scenarios.
6. Brandon Miller (5)
My man Nathan Grubel did a phenomenal job covering Miller yesterday, so you should read his piece if you haven’t already. The bottom line is that while I buy the feel, defense, and shooting, the inside the arc finishing looked disastrous in some of his early big tests this week. I still see him as a lottery type due to his size and fit as a complementary player, but I’m far more concerned now than I was prior to his rough outings this past week. His 1-7 on twos against South Alabama feels far less fluky now. You may be asking why he wasn’t removed from the board altogether, but that’s a critical rule to The Expanding Big Board— once you are added, you cannot be removed. It’s my sick way of punishing myself for misevaluations.
-Taran Armstrong is looking GOOD. Cal Baptist’s wizard/guard hybrid has taken a nice step forward in his second season. His body looks more defined. He’s keeping his handle tighter and getting low on his drives, which should help cut his turnovers in the long run. Much like my main subject Anthony Black, Armstrong has also started to make opponents pay for going under screens. His shot looks cleaner mechanically, and he’s taking it with more confidence. He’s still struggled at the free throw line, and his lack of defensive fluidity worries me a bit. But if he can get the shot to go, his size and playmaking give him a chance for the 2023 NBA Draft.
-It brings me so much joy to see Tucker DeVries getting more love. When I interviewed his coach (and father!) over the off-season, he noted that Tucker would have a new look physically and that fitness had been a high priority. He wasn’t lying. DeVries is moving better laterally and looks more mobile chasing players around screens. His added strength has also enabled him to set some great screens for teammates. At 6’7”, he’s a great ballhandler, passer, and movement shooter for his size. While Sam Vecenie noted that NBA evaluators have questions about his athleticism, I believe that his ability to defend within a team concept should still allow him to carve out an NBA role.
-Azuolas Tubelis rocks. I don’t know that there is a better big man in college basketball when it comes to eating mismatches alive in the low post. He establishes position exceptionally well, as is evident by his 72.1% field goal percentage. Every look is an easy look when you carve out space the way Tubelis does.
-While Trey Alexander’s most obvious improvement on paper is his three-point percentage, his ability to punish big men is just as important. Last season when a big was switched onto him, he would often go backward and settle for a deep jumper. Now, he’s better able to burn them using his handle at footwork for better looks inside. Even if it doesn’t result in something for him, it further collapses the defenses and opens up his passing lanes.
-I owe Nathan Grubel a tremendous apology. He recommended Jordan Pope to me more times than I could count prior to the season, and he was right to do so. While he’s small at 6’2”, 165 lbs, and he isn’t the best separator, he can clearly play. Pope has a polished mid-range scoring arsenal, he’s comfortable from long range, and he keeps a beautiful view of the floor. He’s trustworthy, limits his mistakes, and can score from everywhere on the court. He may not be a 2023 prospect, but he’s definitely worth monitoring.
-It sure is getting lonely here on Dereck Lively II island. Does anyone want anything to drink? Anyone? Hello? Hey, where’d everyone go?
-Minnesota’s Braeden Carrington is intriguing! The 6’4” guard has solid vision, scraps on the glass, and has a sweet shooting stroke. He is not a “this year” guy, but he’s interesting.
-Mike Miles is still lagging in a few important areas. He’s shooting 26.3% from three, he’s a meager 59.5% from the free throw line, and his assist-to-turnover ratio still isn’t optimal. That said, he’s playing both more aggressively and more controlled. His 2P% is up from 42.7 to 58.3. A big part of that has been cutting back on his inefficient floater. Runners made up 21.7% of his shot attempts last season and he only made 26.6% of them. This year, they only account for 9.1% of his shots. Instead, he’s getting all the way to the rim, where he’s consistently been an above average finisher. It’s also getting him to the line more often. While the free throws aren’t falling yet, he’s getting to the stripe 9.3 times per game. Miles has always needed to embrace his powerful frame as an attacker, and he’s doing it.
-I have to make an apology. There was no Mid-Major Game of the Week because this column was supposed to focus on a mid-major player as the feature. Plans changed. However, I can ASSURE YOU that next week, the feature piece will be on one of the most exciting mid-major prospects in the country. Additionally, the Mid-Major Game of the Week WILL RETURN! This Saturday, it is a battle between No Stone Unturned prospects, as the previously mentioned Tucker DeVries and his Drake squad battle University of Illinois-Chicago, led by breakout sophomore Jace Carter! I touched on DeVries earlier, but Carter is an interesting player to monitor in the coming years. While his three-ball isn’t falling this year, he connected on 38.2% of his triples as a freshman. Though that shot isn’t falling, he’s still been productive, converting 73.8% of his twos and more than doubling his points per game (8.1 to 16.3). The 6’5” wing is a dangerous defender with a 2.7 STL% and 2.4 BLK% on the year. Carter is strong, too, and he uses his big frame to clean house on the glass (6.6 per game). If he can get his three going again and add to his ball skills, there’s an NBA future for him. This should be a fascinating match-up, and we’ll get to see it twice this season!