The Orlando Magic have finally drafted a bona fide scorer from an elite college program in Cole Anthony and now can focus on how they can get the most out of his scoring potential.
The skillset is there.
Cole Anthony entered college as one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation — in most recruiting services top five. He won MVPs at the Nike Hoops Summit and the McDonald’s All-America Game. In early season mock drafts, he was going No. 1 or almost certainly in the top five.
Anthony was a can’t-miss prospect. So how did he slip to the 15th overall pick?
A productive but frustrating season at North Carolina did the trick. The Tar Heels failed to meet expectations and Anthony suffered a torn meniscus. With the team failing to meet expectations and Anthony having to carry a larger-than-normal role, the shine off his potential started to fade.
So the only big question for Anthony, the Orlando Magic’s first-round pick from North Carolina, is can he be the diamond in the rough the organization has been looking for?
As a freshman Tar Heel, Anthony averaged 18.7 points per game, 4.0 assists per game, 5.7 rebounds per game. Cole Anthony has had one of the best collegiate careers out of any current players on the Magic’s roster and was one of the best scorers as well.
Markelle Fultz is the only one who might claim a better college run, after averaging 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in his lone year at Washington. Fultz is a long way from that player after thoracic outlet syndrome cost him the first two years of his pro career.
Even Nikola Vucevic, the Magic’s leading scorer was not better than Cole Anthony in college. Vucevic averaged 11.1 points per game, 8 rebounds per game and 1.1 assists per game during his stint at USC.
Both Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac were selected higher in the draft than Cole Anthony was but were never seen as scorers on the next level. The organization thought Gordon’s ceiling was high as the scouts watched him jumping out of the gym and could not pass on that in 2014. And in 2018, Jonathan Isaac’s body-type looking like Kevin Durant coming out of college was too much to pass.
Gordon only averaged 12.4 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game and 2.0 assists per game during his freshman year at Arizona. And Isaac only averaged 12.0 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game and 1.2 assists per game as a freshman for the Florida State Seminoles.
Since 2014, the Magic have drafted four players in the top 15 including Cole Anthony — Aaron Gordon at fourth in 2017, Jonathan Isaac at sixth in 2017 and Mohamed Bamba at sixth in 2018. None of the players drafted before Anthony had greater potential as a scorer in the NBA.
So the big question for Cole Anthony is, can he translate his scoring to the next level quickly and reclaim that potential? Can he become the third-leading scorer for this team and an immediate impact player for a moribund offensive team?
Currently, Evan Fournier is the second-leading scorer for the Magic averaging, 18.5 points per game, 3.2 assists per game and 2.6 rebounds per game. Last year, Vucevic led the team with 19.6 points per game,10.1 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game.
The current third-leading scorer for the Magic is Terrence Ross at 14.7 points per game. Ross is still exclusively coming off the bench. Gordon is right behind him at 14.4 points per game and Fultz was at 12.1 points per game.
The Magic certainly hoped to get a scoring boost from Isaac as he got more confident on the ball. But Isaac suffered an injury that took him out of play last year when the Magic seemed to be getting things together. Isaac underwent surgery on his left knee to repair a torn ACL and a meniscus tear, and it was the same knee he injured back in January of 2019.
Orlando’s offense was not strong last year anyway. The team lacked any true creators, often relying on Fournier as a secondary creator as they started to trust Fultz more. While Fournier has shown some efficiency there, it is not his strong suit and takes him away from important floor-stretching duties.
The Magic will likely start Anthony off the bench, but there is some belief he can play alongside Fultz. In either case, Anthony’s ultimate success depends on his ability to fit right in as a scorer for the Magic.
He is probably the most natural scorer on the team now, with a killer instinct to hit big shots and the ability to create space for his own shot off the dribble.
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With an open slot for the Magic to add scoring in any fashion, if Anthony can find his stroke in the NBA, it would provide a huge boost to the team. And if everyone comes back healthy then the Magic could possibly inch their way toward a fifth or sixth seed in the Eastern Conference in 2021.
This big question is a complicated one because who knows how Anthony fits with this current team?
He would be considered a backup point guard if the season started today because D.J. Augustin has been the catalyst at the position (that Anthony would be most comfortable with). Orlando hopes that it can take advantage of a trend of two-guard lineups around the league and play Anthony in lineups with Fultz.
This team knows Anthony will not put them over the top, So it is all about the growth from year to year.
The first step for Anthony is to make it known who he is and not to shy away from who he has become. The Magic organization selected this young Tar Heel for a reason and it will not just to be a bench player for a team looking for a bona fide scorer.
Central Florida has finally gotten what it needs. They found a true scorer. Now they need to see what he can do in his rookie year.