Orlando Magic will have to get young guards up to speed to replace Markelle Fultz

The Orlando Magic will push Cole Anthony into a bigger role than they were prepared for thanks to Markelle Fultz's injury. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic will push Cole Anthony into a bigger role than they were prepared for thanks to Markelle Fultz's injury. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are going to have to figure out life without Markelle Fultz. They are going to ask Cole Anthony to step up much sooner.

There was little time to process the shock of Markelle Fultz‘s injury.

It all happened so suddenly and Markelle Fultz was getting helped off the floor as the team had to gather and think about how to move forward. The Orlando Magic would have to find a way to fill in this wide gap seemingly on the fly.

They would have to turn to a rookie point guard at that.

Filling in Fultz’s shoes was never going to be easy. The Magic would have to share that burden with everyone. Nikola Vucevic stepped up with six assists in the game. The team seemed to snap into focus and steely determination, erasing the early eight-point deficit and zooming ahead to build as much as a 23-point lead.

The Magic seemingly had a rallying cry to win this one for their fallen teammate. They knew Fultz would not want them to roll over.

But the initial adrenaline of Wednesday night will give way to the unforgiving journey on the road. Eight of the Magic’s next nine games are on the road. And the Magic are going to have to get two young point guards up to speed very quickly to maintain this sizzling 6-2 start to the season.

It will not be easy.

"“It’s very difficult,” Vucevic said after Wednesday’s game. “I think the point guard position is probably the hardest for a young player. Some of the best players in this league are in that position. Your role on the team is huge. You have to run the whole team, get everybody set up, know everybody’s play, have a feel for the game. It’s very difficult. It’s not easy for a young player to have to do that.”"

Stepping into the spotlight

That has been part of the struggle for a young point guard in Cole Anthony.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Cole Anthony is going to get pushed into the deep end much faster than the Magic wanted. Thoughts of bringing Anthony along slowly are now completely out the window.

"“I feel really well prepared,” Anthony said after Wednesday’s game. “Making a shot would help. In terms of the offense, defense, passing rebounding, I feel really well prepared. Making a shot would help. But it will come.”"

Coach Steve Clifford confirmed Cole Anthony will step into the team’s starting lineup beginning with Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets. The team will look at potentially using some bigger lineups and experimenting with other combinations as they figure out how to proceed and get the most of this team.

Anthony though will have the biggest responsibility. Clifford said he thinks Anthony is ready to take the reigns and grow in that role. He will undoubtedly face some major tests and growing pains.

Anthony has been tough on himself throughout the year. He has had some struggles in averaging 8.6 points per game but he is shooting just 30.3-percent from the floor and 19.0-percent from beyond the arc.

Anthony has shown progress though as a playmaker with 3.4 assists per game (5.7 assists per 36 minutes). He has also been a surprisingly effective rebounder at the guard spot — he is averaging 4.9 rebounds per game and his 9.9-percent rebound rate places him 12th in the league among guards who have played at least 20.0 minutes per game.

So far Clifford said he has been impressed with Anthony’s development this year. The shooting numbers are not there, but Clifford said he liked the way he has grown defensively and in organizing the team. Anthony’s competitiveness has always stood out.

"“I think that’s where everything starts having a good approach,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “He likes basketball. He likes to be in the gym. He likes to practice, he likes drills. He’s hard on himself, but I think he does it in a productive way. There’s obviously going to be growing pains. There will be nights where it will be tougher. But he’s a talented guy and I think he has a great approach.”"

Pressed into duty suddenly Wednesday, Anthony scored eight points and dished out three assists while shooting 4 for 12 from the field. He also had three turnovers in a career-high 32:06 of game action.

Some of those stats are the simple growing pains of a rookie. Clifford said after Wednesday’s game he thought Anthony did well in the game. And despite the poor shooting numbers, he feels Anthony has done well.

Opportunity present

Still, this is an opportunity. And Cole Anthony is going to be playing without training wheels.

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Teammates and coaching staff have largely excused Anthony’s slow offensive start, citing the lack of training camp or Summer League to get into a rhythm. They are confident that he will come around as they empower him more. Pushing him into the starting lineup may very well push him out of the shell.

The injury is also an opportunity elsewhere on the roster for players to step up.

With Michael Carter-Williams also out with a hamstring injury (Steve Clifford said he is still in a walking boot and will not make the trip to Texas with the team), two-way player Jordan Bone is in line to step into the starting lineup.

Jordan Bone tallied 12 minutes in Wednesday’s win, scoring seven points on 3-for-4 shooting. The point guard known for his speed coming out of Tennessee showed a compact shooting motion and an understanding of how to change speed and control the tempo of the game.

Clifford said Bone is more of a scoring guard. And the team is going to need to give them something on both ends to keep up their second unit’s dominance so far this season.

"“I just have to go into this opportunity with the utmost confidence and continue to learn so I can have that confidence to run this team when I’m out there, make this team do well on both ends of the court,” Bone said after Wednesday’s game. “I can’t really say anything else. It’s just an opportunity that I just have to be ready for.”"

The focus though is clearly on Anthony, the Magic’s prized rookie and someone who came into college at least with a ton of buzz.

Anthony is stepping into the lineup far sooner than anyone anticipated. Certainly far sooner than his production would suggest. The Magic’s plan to bring him along slowly is almost thrown out the window now, even if his role as the starting point guard will still be somewhat limited.

Anthony is going to have to grow by learning from experience more than ever. His teammates will have to help him and be patient with him, instructing him on the court where they can. The team will be re-learning its point guard all over again.

But ultimately Anthony’s success will be on him. He will be successful if he studies and understands how to organize the team effectively. He does not have to do too much, after all. There are plenty of teammates to lean on.

The Magic have confidence in him. And that is the first step.

"“He’s built for this,” Terrence Ross said after Wednesday’s game. “He’s not shy of any moment. He’s a tough kid. He’s improving really fast. He’s picking everything up. It’s going to take some time, but you’ve got to go through it. They have to figure out where they are, figure out their niche and how they contribute every single night. This is going to be good for him. It’s going to help him grow up a little faster. It’s about how he handles it.”"

How quickly Anthony gets up to speed and finds his comfort will determine how successful the team will be. The Magic will be able to fill in with some of their veteran players to support him.

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But the Magic’s season has undoubtedly changed. And they are asking their young rookie a bigger question than they likely hoped to ask of him this soon.