Cole Anthony’s patience and preparation paying off for the Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic point guard Cole Anthony checked out of the game midway through the fourth quarter to give way for Terrence Ross to finish the game. The closing lineup was in as the Magic tried to get back into the game.

As Cole Anthony went to the bench, assistant coach Lionel Chalmers told the young guard to stay ready. So Anthony said he took it upon himself to stay engaged with the game.

He cheered made baskets and stayed into the game as it played out. He was not going to sit this one out as the Magic tried to find a victory with time winding down.

It seemed like things were looking dire when Terrence Ross fouled out of the game. Cole Anthony would get his chance to close the game.

With the Magic down by five and nearly 30 seconds left, the Magic scratched out an interior pass inside to veteran forward James Ennis. Ennis pump-faked to get two players past him, but he spotted the rookie in the corner. He fired the ball to Anthony in the corner and he calmly hit the shot.

The Magic were still alive.

That moment was a building block, just like so many moments in a young player’s career are building blocks. Each experience teaching him something new and something different. Something to build and learn from.

Cole Anthony is building his confidence and the Orlando Magic have given him the chance to grow and develop. His game-winning shot is a sign of this confidence.

Anthony said Ennis came to him after he made that shot and told him, I believe in you and keep shooting confidently. After that, Anthony said, he was determined to get to that same spot and hit another.

Little did Anthony know that would not be the only big shot he made. He would have to be ready when the ball surprisingly found him on the win after a pair of missed free throws.

Four seconds is not a lot of time to make any major decisions. it is not a lot of time to get rid of the ball. You need a single-minded focus to get down the floor, find your spot and fire.

Anthony felt good after hitting that previous three and when the ball found its way to him, he knew it was his shot to take. Without a timeout, there was nowhere else to turn.

Anthony got up the floor and found his spot on the wing, hitting a twisting 3-pointer over the defense to deliver the Orlando Magic a 97-96 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, breaking a six-game losing streak and giving the team some much-needed breathing room.

“It felt good,” Cole Anthony said after Wednesday’s game. “I didn’t really see the shot after I shot it. I saw it go through the net. Shoot, that was it.”

The moment seemed to be a blur in real-time. The celebration was certainly one too.

Anthony’s teammates mobbed him on the sideline as he tried to urge them to run to the locker room before the officials put any time back on the clock. Anthony still had a postgame interview to do on FOX Sports Florida.

Uneasy start

It has not been an easy start for Cole Anthony. The season has been a bit rushed and compressed because of the pandemic. Anthony essentially only had a month from the time he was (finally) drafted and the start of training camp.

On top of that, the Magic’s plan to bring him along slowly got derailed when Markelle Fultz went down with an injury. The Magic expressed confidence in him to run the point guard position, but it was still clearly with some restrictions and caution to keep up his confidence.

Anthony is a competitor, that much has been clear even through the first 15 games of his career. And he has been especially hard on himself as he goes through this ringer and struggles to catch up to the game.

Anthony is averaging 10.3 points per game while shooting 33.7-percent from the floor and 26.9-percent from beyond the arc. Since Fultz’s injury (including the game he got hurt), Anthony is averaging 12.1 points per game while shooting 36.8-percent from the floor and 32.3-percent from beyond the arc.

Like most rookies, he has looked like the game is still a bit fast for him. Things are only starting to slow down for him. It has been a frustrating education for him.

“I think it can only help you,” coach Steve Clifford said after Wednesday’s game. “He’s a confident guy. I thought tonight before watching the film, I thought he played a much more complete game tonight besides the shot. He’ll get better. He has the right attitude and he is learning the NBA. He is making progress.”

Clifford has been perhaps Anthony’s fiercest defender as everyone asked questions about his early struggles. He has pointed to the lack of preparation time and praised Anthony for his competitiveness. Anthony indeed has perhaps surprised defensively with that fire, drawing several big charges early in the season.

But it is also he is not quite ready for the role the Magic have pushed him into. The trial by fire Anthony is going through has been a struggle for him.

Steady improvement

There are signs Cole Anthony is playing better and learning.

Wednesday’s game, beyond his game-winning shot, was certainly a sign of that.

He scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, making all three of his 3-pointers. He has now scored in double figures in four of his last five games, stringing together several impactful plays and solid performances. He has now had three straight games with only one turnover — following a five-turnover performance against the Boston Celtics last Friday.

Anthony is still struggling to shoot — Wednesday marked just the second game he has shot better than 50-percent from the floor — but he has looked comfortable and confident enough to shoot.

The Orlando Magic have largely let him play through his mistakes in the minutes he has gotten. The team is clearly trying to foster some confidence in him to make up for the time he did not get before training camp.

“I really don’t think I’m anywhere close to where I want to be,” Anthony said after Wednesday’s game. “I still have a long way to go. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. But I feel like I have two times as much to learn now. There is so much more for me to learn from teammates, coaches and opponents. I just want to get better every single game.”

Anthony gave a shout out to his teammates during the postgame press conference for their support for him throughout the year. He said he know he has struggled but everyone on the team has helped him in some way as he tries to acclimate.

Evan Fournier said he was happy for Cole Anthony that he got that shot, hoping it will be a confidence boost for the young player.

Everyone on the team is confident this is not Anthony’s last big moment in the league and for this team.

“The kid is a competitor,” Fournier said after Wednesday’s game. “He’s a hard worker. His time is going to come. Tonight was growth and I really couldn’t be happier for him.”

All eyes were on Anthony with all his potential scoring and shot-making ability. It was a sign of how good he can be and the patience he has shown to get himself to that moment.

Ironically it was a moment when Anthony had to speed up that showed Anthony’s patience and potential. It was a moment where he was reacting on the floor to conditions with a clock ticking down that he seemed to find his poise. Perhaps one of the few moments early in the season where he was just playing.

This is the point that the Magic have to get their young players. They need to get to a point where playing and executing are second nature. That is always tough for young players especially.

And obviously, the results were big. The sign of a player who can figure out a way to find his place in the league.