6-foot-7 combo guard Anthony Black is one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft. The 19-year-old Arkansas product exhibits a many attributes that will have NBA General Managers gushing over him come draft time.
Mock drafts have Black going anywhere from top-five to the end of the lottery, but not many believe that he will make it past the No. 14 overall pick. If you watched the NCAA tournament this year, you saw Black with his flowing hair make beautiful passes and play lock down defense for the Razorbacks en route to helping them secure a Sweet Sixteen appearance. There is plenty to love about Black’s game and how it can translate to the NBA, but there are also key areas in which he can improve.
Before getting into the prospect analysis, the reason I singled out Black and wanted to write a piece on him is because the Minnesota Timberwolves met with him during the NBA Combine in Chicago last month. This is most likely just a front office doing their due diligence on prospects, but it is interesting how Minnesota decided to meet with Black given he is a projected lottery pick and the team does not have a pick until No. 53 overall, late in the second round.
I will take any excuse, however, to do some analysis on a prospect that has any link to the Wolves.
One of the most fun and best parts of Black’s game is his ability to make plays. He is a more than willing passer and averaged 3.9 assists with the Razorbacks this past year. They constantly relied on him to initiate the offense and set his team up with good shots for the whole game. He was expert in the pick and roll game and had a good feel for dicing up the defense with his ability to read the play as it was happening. He also was great at hitting the open man on skip or swing passes as well as back door cuts.
This is a nearly 10 minute video of strictly him making great reads in the pick and roll and setting up his teammates with great looks that will translate well to what the NBA is looking for in guys that can manipulate the defense using the pick-and-roll. He can get going downhill but also use the drag dribble to survey the defense and give his teammates time to get open by the rim or on the perimeter. I want you to all imagine him using a hard Rudy Gobert screen and throwing him a huge lob that would get the Target Center on their feet or a Naz Reid slip screen and quick pocket pass that leads to a thunderous one handed slam. His ability to pass and initiate flow in the offense is what many teams love about his upside.
Another great attribute to his game is his ability to make a profound defensive impact on and off the ball. He stands 6-foot-7 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan. He uses that length and his quickness to slow ball handlers down and force turnovers at a high rate; Black averaged 2.6 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in his time with Arkansas. Versatile defensive guards are at a premium in the NBA, as having the ability to guard multiple positions is a huge step towards becoming an elite defender. He has shown flashes of this ability in his time in Fayetteville.
Enjoy this 30-second clip of Anthony Black getting two steals and a deflection. He’s one of the best defensive guards in the entire draft. He has very quick hands, disruptive, and can defend 1-3. Easily one of the best two-way playmakers in the draft at 6’7”. pic.twitter.com/Mp5kbSz9q6— Global Scouting (@GlobalScouting_) May 23, 2023
In this clip, he helps in on the post and collapses to get a steal. This is something that he can do as he is really good with his hands to get that steal but he still has the length and quickness to get back out on a shooter if the post player were to pass it back out. He then tips a pass using his long limbs. That does not end in a steal before he finally gets switched on to a wing player. He beats him to his spot multiple times and completely contains him before getting a steal and making the hustle play to secure the ball.
While just one play, it encapsulates all of his most valuable assets as a defender. He uses his length, quickness and IQ to keep players from being able to do what they want to do on offense. He is also quite good at chasing shooters off of the perimeter. Watching his tournament highlights below, high level shooters like Gradey Dick had problems when Black was locked in chasing him around during their matchup against Kansas. This just shows the times he secured the block, but there are plenty of other examples of him having a strong contest that leads to a miss.
(You can also see some fun playmaking highlights and athletic finishes in this video so enjoy).
Watching his tape and looking at how he weighs 198 pounds there can be some problems with him being able to defend bigger and stronger wings. I think he does a phenomenal job when the player he is guarding is smaller or the same size as him but when he runs into a stronger, more aggressive driver is when he runs into problems. To illustrate this, I watched some tape from Arkansas’s game against Alabama and specifically focused on a couple of the possessions where he guarded projected top-three pick Brandon Miller.
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The first clip Black is guarding Miller in an off-ball screen action. It is a decent screen and gives Miller a slight step on Black going to his left. While Miller is only marginally taller and weighs just a little bit more than Black he is a strong NBA-level driver who can get to the rim. He uses that step to seal off Black and just pummels him all the way to the rim. This is where I can see the Duncanville, Texas native running into problems guarding bigger wings and players who are stronger than him. He shows a tendency to give up too much ground and that gives the driver the ability to seal him off and finish through him.
The second clip is an instance where Miller is in an iso situation with Black defending him. Miller hits him with a couple size-up dribbles then notices that Black has a staggered stance with his left foot in front of his right (trying to force him left). Miller makes the smart play (as most NBA players will do) and attacks the top side foot — in this case Black’s left foot — to go middle towards his dominant hand. Black continues to drop and does not try to cut off Miller as he drives into the lane. Miller gives him a bump which knocks him back and allows him to finish with ease at the rim with his left hand.
These are just a couple of the examples against an NBA talent in Miller where Black has to work on his physicality. When a smaller player gives up that much ground and does not try to cut off the driver, they will get easy buckets at the rim. This is the biggest area where Black will have to improve as a defender to reach a new level and be able to guard more positions. I would feel confident putting him on most 1’s and most 2’s but not if they have a significant strength advantage over Black.
Shooting off Screens
Another part of his game that Black needs to improve on is his shooting off of screens. If he is going to be a primary ball handler and run the pick and roll he needs to be able to make open threes when the defender goes under on the screen. Through college and until he is able to do that consistently, it will be difficult for him to find sustained success as a primary ball handler. He does have a solid shot mechanics wise but needs to be able to hit it at a solid percentage for him to become more than just a passing threat on screens. Also, if he is off the ball he needs to add a catch and shoot three so that he can be a threat outside the arc on offense.
Overall, I do think that Anthony Black is an intriguing prospect through his energetic defense and playmaking potential. He does not come without his warts (as with all prospects). I think that with the right situation and development his most accurate player comps would be Malcolm Brogdon or Josh Giddey — big playmaker guards who can defend their position well.