The Dallas Mavericks as a team was small and unathletic across the board. In a league where across the positional spectrum, bigger players at guard and forward positions are en vogue, this was a problem for Dallas as the season wore along. While the Dallas big man rotation took the brunt of the criticism, it applied throughout the roster.
Enter Anthony Black, a 6-7 connective wing with point-forward traits. He might represent an imperfect fit with Luka, but could be the best pick for a team with so many defensive issues and few lottery-level bigs available.
Anthony Black was a heralded high school recruit, joining the nation’s #2 freshman class at the University of Arkansas. The team didn’t quite live up to their hype because of injury and poor fit, but Black was a good college player–a great defender and passer whose scoring game was compromised by Arkansas being one of the worst long-range shooting teams among high major conferences. Black had been a consistent winner through high school, playing three years at Coppell High School (editor’s note: Cowboy Fight Never Dies) and finishing his career with a state championship with powerhouse Duncanville.
Positionally his 6’7” size for a guard is reminiscent of recent lotto picks like Dyson Daniels and Josh Giddey. His wingspan hasn’t yet been measured but he has all the defensive tools, and is an intelligent playmaker and furious slasher on the offensive end.
Aesthetically, Black is also fun. His floppy hair, herky-jerky game, and ability to be the finisher and the initiator in the fast break could give the slower, older Mavs a jolt.
Anthony Black’s biggest strength is a rare intersection of traits that allow for versatility on both ends of the floor. He truly can run point, though he’s not quite the passer Josh Giddey is. He is a much better defender though, and can pressure the rim more than Dyson Daniels.
As a passer, Black is best in transition where he doesn’t have to rely on his burst to create a special advantage (his burst is good, not great, but he’s also crafty and physical; as we will get to later, his shooting improvement will be necessary to open up his passing). He does show some pick-and-roll instincts and the ability to snake his way through a set defense for beneficial passing angles, and he’s good at finding shooters from in the lane. Few rookies are ready to run professional sets, and Black is not a savant, like Giddey or Lamelo. Still, he has the vision to eventually play point if his self-creation opens up his playmaking. Either way, as a connective passer Black could be deadly in the short roll and off second-side actions.
Defensively, Black has a chance to be special. He has range, quick hands and a ball-hawk mentality, averaging over two steals a game. He’s physically versatile, with decent feet and a broad-shouldered body that can probably add muscle and allow him to guard most assignments outside of the very biggest post players and fastest jitterbug guards. His instinct are top notch; he makes the right decision in terms of saving balls, filling gaps, and navigating screens. His defensive swing skill is secondary rim protection; he can play minutes at the 4, but if he can use his considerable wingspan to be an impactful weak-side helper it makes him all the more versatile.
Black does like at-rim events though, on both ends. He relishes contact, and his handle is tight enough that his size allows him to carry a lot of momentum towards the basket–he went to the line a ton. I think Black was a pretty deadly driver when he had space, which was rare, and made it difficult to tell how much of the reticence was due to a good, not great, first step–for large swaths of the season be seemed to recede in the background as an attacker. Those more positive on Black (which I am) think NBA spacing will allow him to get into the lane and get defenders on his hip; spacing reinforces his driving strength, and from that skill he could initiate more.
Black’s career will be defined by how serviceable he is from distance. I think he can be impactful with an inconsistent shot, but at 30% on low volume, Black was right in the gray area between inconsistent and bad. I’m no shot doctor, but his form is troublesome; a kind of two-handed push shot. His free throw percentage was in the low-sixties, so hard to gain much confidence from there. Still, he sometimes had stretches where he looked confident pulling up, which is truly half the battle for some prospects.
The shot and driving game are intrinsic to one another, and on a team with no spacing and multiple future draft picks, it’s hard to know how much was selfless floor-general behavior or lacking a scorer’s mentality. He also would dribble into loaded up defenses, telegraph passes, or find himself over-committed, though that too could be due to clogged paints (especially in the SEC, where most teams are built like Arkansas). In the NBA, smart playmakers have clearer lines of sight and runway. Bigger creators like Black can more easily get bogged down in the muck of collegiate “no middle” defense, though Black’s own lack of shooting didn’t help.
Black doesn’t have much of a mid-range game, or appear to have the potential to be a “go-get-a-bucket” type. He’s developing a floater, but it’s not a featured weapon unless open against drop coverage. His mid-post scoring bag is very raw. Again, he likes making it all the way to the rim and finishes strong, but unless you’re an elite, elite athlete, there’s probably a ceiling on your scoring offense without an in-between game.
There’s been some reporting that Black has a bit of an attitude, and he does talk a lot. There’s also been mention of a good work ethic. I disapprove of critiquing intangibles on college players without concrete examples; Black just seems to be an intense competitor, which should help him more than hurt him.
Fit With Mavericks
On first blush, Black’s fit with the Mavs is imperfect because of the long-standing idea that outside of a rim-runner, every player around Luka should be a good shooter. The Mavs have run up against the limits of that construction, and one would hope for new ideas and attitudes.
So much of a long-term fit would depend on the shooting, but having large ball-handlers as part of the rotation early on can only help the Mavericks match up. Hopefully, the team doesn’t plan on depending on a rookie to start right away as is. Having bigs who can stretch the floor will allow Black to fit in quickly. Using him as a screener early on, using him in the dunker spot, and employing him as an offensive 5 a la Bruce Brown would work. Playing him positionally between Luka and a big interest me, and will become easier if Black exhibits the weakside rim protection previously mentioned (this is important because the Mavs need more overall length as much as a true rim protector).
Last year showed us the shortcomings of a good offensive fit without a defensive foundation. I can live with a little less spacing in the name of matching up positionally. It’s imperfect, but unique perimeter size is its own strengths. Black will have to become a certain level of shooter to fit well with Luka and another non-spacer, but can possibly be good enough on defense and as a connector to make up for it. The versatility of his athleticism makes this easier than if he were a small guard or big, and there is still the possibility of growing into a good shooter, opening up fringe all-star upside.
Again, Dyson Daniels and Josh Giddey are recent examples of the positional archetype. Black is somewhere in between, a defensive playmaker who uses his size offensively like Giddey but is not such a preternatural passing genius. Other comparisons I’ve seen are Shawn Livingston, or a bigger Derrick White, but he doesn’t have their in-between game (though he’s more athletic).
In many ways, it’s a recent archetype–the big wing creator who’s more role player than star– and therefore each edition comes with their own nuances. Calling Black something like the theoretical midway point between Josh Giddey and Derrick White isn’t crazy, nor entirely accurate.