The Orlando Magic fan base had a dagger in the heart with the season-ending injury to Markelle Fultz, now all eyes turn to Cole Anthony to step up.
This was supposed to be Markelle Fultz’s year.
Central Florida was a clean slate from the former No. 1 NBA Draft pick. The Philadelphia 76ers picked Markelle Fultz before Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum.
Injuries slowed down Fultz’s development. He played only 33 games in two seasons in Philadelphia thanks to thoracic outlet syndrome that gravely affected his ability even to shoot.
Shortly after being traded from Philadelphia for Jonathon Simmons, a first-round pick and a second-round pick in February 2019, Fultz became an instant attraction in Orlando. Everyone believed in his upside and wanted to make sure he was 100-percent healthy before coming back to the court.
Fultz was a revelation on the court. He quickly became a starter for the team and established himself as an important part of the team’s future. He signed a three-year, $50-million extension in the offseason. And then started the season off with more maturity and stellar control over the Magic’s new pace-filled offense.
Fultz was one of the big surprises of the season, averaging 12.9 points per game and 5.4 assists per game (stats heavily skewed by his four-minute cameo in Wednesday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers before his injury). He was central to the team’s success.
So Wednesday’s season-ending injury has definitely put a hamper on an unimaginable start to a season for a young up-and-coming Magic squad.
It is putting stress on a young roster that now has to scramble and find a way to fill in for this key player.
It is going to force them to rely even more on rookie Cole Anthony.
Cole Anthony may not be exactly ready to be a starter or play starting minutes in the NBA on a team with playoff ambitions, but he and the Magic are about to find out quickly.
Anthony has to embrace the next man up mentality seen every year in sports when a starter goes down for whatever reason the next player to substitute that position has to have the mentality they can win with him as well. The team has to embrace Anthony even more now.
With Fultz suffering a torn ACL, a lot of responsibility of getting the offense going will be placed on the shoulders of a player they planned to ease into the fire.
But now with this unexpected injury to Markelle Fultz, head coach Steve Clifford really has no choice but to put Cole Anthony in a very uncomfortable position. But that comes with being a professional, you never know how this will turn out.
Anthony will have to step up in a major way. So far this season, he is averaging 8.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in 21.5 minutes per game off the bench. Clifford has been impressed with his defensive competitiveness and ability to organize the team.
But his shooting has lagged behind — making just 30.3-percent of his field goals and 19.0-percent of his threes. This will be a key for the Magic to continue winning. Anthony’s shot has to start to come around.
King James Gospel
Clifford though has cut his rookie some slack. He often points out what Anthony and other rookies are going through this year is unfair to them. Not having a Summer League or September mini-camp to learn the NBA has put all of them a bit behind the curve of where they normally would be.
Anthony’s first starts though will certainly be trial by fire.
The Magic have their toughest schedule ahead of them thus far as they play eight of their next nine on the road, including the longest road trip of the first half of the season beginning next Wednesday with a pair of games against the Boston Celtics. The one home game is a date with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
But it is what it is.
The Magic have to find a way to channel the next man up mentality for players like Anthony who will get more minutes than he probably needs at this point in his young NBA career.
He has shown he can light it up when he has confidence, so the Magic coaching staff has to find ways to get him comfortable with the defensive coverages that he will see on most nights.
Anthony played more than 30 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers mainly because of the injury to Markelle Fultz, he ended the game with eight points. The more comfortable he is inside of that 30-minute span will allow him to settle in more as the games ratchet up in the near future.
His teammates should be able to help. The fact Orlando has players who can create for others in Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, and to some extent Evan Fournier, and they can run their offense through multiple players should ease some of the pressure off Cole Anthony.
Now Anthony knows he will be playing the majority of the game instead of the 17-21 minutes he received before Fultz’s injury. That alone can spark a different mentality inside of a player.
Even two-way players like Jordan Bone showed what he is capable to do in limited minutes which is impressive to any coaching staff in a dire need situation of offense.
It will be interesting to see who steps up and how that Magic fare against the Eastern Conference elite. But we will never know exactly how this season could have ended if not for injuries to a key player on the roster.