Cole Anthony could be a pleasant surprise in the NBA with the Knicks. To understand why, you have to look back at Cole’s father, Greg, and his time here. To understand that, you have to go back four years before Greg was brought to New York.
In 1987 the Knicks drafted Mark Jackson, who’d win Rookie of the Year. In 1988 the Knicks drafted Rod Strickland, another point guard, natch. Oddly enough, having a promising 24- and 23-year-old both wanting playing time at the same position wasn’t the best idea; the Knicks compounded their error of redundancy by downgrading from Strickland to Maurice Cheeks, who was a few years away from retiring.
The ‘88 second round yielded Greg Butler (210 career minutes as a Knick). In the third the Knicks took Phil Stinnie (0 career NBA minutes). The following summer New York’s lone pick, a late second-rounder, became Brian Quinnett. A year later they were back in the first round, this time nabbing Jerrod Mustaf. Heading into the 1991 draft, the Knicks were at a crossroads. A couple of crossroads.
A few weeks before the draft, Pat Riley was hired. Expectations rose, along with a newfound pressure. Jackson’s career had stumbled and fallen off over his first four years; he’d lost the starting job to Cheeks. Riley wasn’t going to mellowly process the whole sinking Jackson thing. A year and a half after Jackson and Strickland were both Knicks, the point had become a point of concern for New York.
In that year’s draft, the top point guard prospect was LeFrak City’s own Kenny Anderson. Anderson would be one of the first players to hear their name called; the Knicks, picking 12th, had no chance at him. But the second- and third-best point guard prospects might be available: Greg Anthony and Terrell Brandon. At the time, Anthony was more highly regarded by most people, seemingly with good reason.
Playing point for UNLV, the dominant program in men’s college basketball at the time (a palindromically niiice 69-6 his last two years there), Anthony nearly averaged a double-double (11.6 points, 9 assists) his senior year while hitting 40% of his 3s. His assist-to-turnover ratio was almost five-to-one. A celebrated defender, Anthony led the Big West Conference in steals all three years with the Runnin’ Rebels. All that for a team who every night faced an opponent extra geeked to beat them down and still won 90% of the time.
Brandon spent two years at Oregon. He shot way more than Anthony, and more poorly from deep his senior year (34%). He also had about half as many assists and double the turnovers for a sub-.500 team that finished fifth in the Pac 10. Cleveland was picking one spot ahead of the Knicks and the Cavs’ point guard, Mark Price, had torn up his knee that year, missing 66 games. No one knew how he’d look after surgery. With the last pick in that year’s lottery, Cleveland was expected to take Anthony. They took Brandon. Anthony was a Knick.
Anthony was a disappointment in four years in New York. He was not a destructive defender, not nearly enough to indulge an offensive repertoire that was sub-par even by the standards of the ‘90s Knicks, whose offense more often than not consisted of this.
Anthony also just seemed like kind of a jerk. Even as I enjoyed seeing him piss off Michael Jordan or sucker-punch Kevin Johnson, he didn’t come across as more than the sum of his parts, as a player or a personality. Anthony became the Vancouver Grizzlies’ first pick in the 1995 expansion draft and was soon out of sight, but all these years later Anthony is once again in our orbit, which may bode well for the 2020 Knicks.
The first-year Grizz featured players with names like “Big Country” and “Blue.” After Anthony’s disappointing Broadway run, including just 74 starts in four years, he was Vancouver’s best guard. He led the team in attempted threes, putting up nearly as many as John Starks. Starks was a renowned, unabashed bombardier, for good reason: in heart and in impact, he was the most important Knick after Patrick Ewing. If Anthony were any sort of weapon, he was Chekhov’s gun: the only justification for him shooting was that he was there, as a basketball player, and basketball players eventually fire.
Imagine being a Vancouver fan in 1995. Your introduction to NBA basketball is Greg Anthony missing 3s and getting to the line more than Bryant Reeves, the 7’0”, 275-pound center the Grizzlies selected with their first-ever draft pick. Oh. That’s right. You don’t have to imagine. You watched the 2015 Knicks, whose “best” player depending how hard you squint was Shane Larkin or Jason Smith.
Now, 29 years after Greg heard his name called by David Stern, his son Cole is projected to be a lottery pick in this October’s draft. The younger Anthony’s numbers look more like Brandon’s than Dad’s: a lotta points, but on a lotta shots, and nearly as many turnovers as assists, all for a sub-.500 North Carolina team that finished 13th in the ACC. The Knicks could use a player with Cole’s upside, but along with the fantasy comes the fears. It is here that I rely on Greg to make the case for Cole, via Chekhov.
30 years. 30 years is a long time. You know how many things happen in 30 years? For millions of people, that’s a lifetime. Yet here we are in 2020, and Greg Anthony, who once inspired hope and participated in turning the Knicks from a loser to a winner, is back in our consciousness because his son could inspire hope and participate in turning the Knicks from a loser to a winner. Could the 2020s be the new 1990s? If so, then 1991 was act one; at that time, Anthony was introduced to the audience. But he never really fired, never caused a consequence. The one time the eyes of history began turning in his direction, when he would have been wiiiide-open for a 3 that’d go down as a legendary make or all-time heartbreak, Hubert Davis took the shot instead of swinging it to the corner.
You know how some people pop up in your life mad unexpectedly, years, even decades after you last thought of them? Everything unfolds as it must. If a gun appears on the wall in act one, it will be fired by act three. Greg Anthony lingers over the Knick organization a quarter-century after he left for the Pacific Northwest. There has to be a reason. Maybe it’s Cole. Maybe Cole becomes what Steph Curry was supposed to in New York: the prince that was promised, the progeny of a pro baller who first crossed our minds at a school in North Carolina.