Cole Anthony is Orlando Magic’s X-factor to stay in playoff race

Cole Anthony has already had an up-and-down rookie year. His play might well determine the Orlando Magic's future. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Cole Anthony has already had an up-and-down rookie year. His play might well determine the Orlando Magic's future. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

At North Carolina, Cole Anthony was a dynamic scoring guard burdened with carrying a team that was lacking the talent of typical North Carolina teams. On top of that, he was doing it all while rushing back from a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Coming to the Orlando Magic was meant to give him some freedom. The 6-foot-3 point guard would be grown slowly off the bench behind Markelle Fultz. He would give the second unit some needed offensive punch as he learns the league.

Especially considering how little time there was to prepare for this season.

All those plans got thrown out the window quickly. Fultz tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Suddenly, Cole Anthony had to start for the team and grow up a lot faster.

The Magic have certainly floundered since then as the rookie point guard learns the ropes. Their best play came though with Anthony playing confidently and assertively.

Even with the Orlando Magic struggling, Cole Anthony and his play might well be the difference between fighting for a playoff spot and going back to the Lottery. Either way his development becomes the deciding factor of this season.

The up and coming rookie combo guard is the x-factor for the Magic to make the playoffs for the third straight year or to keep their season from slipping away.

Orlando has a pretty good idea what they can get on a consistent basis from Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and even Aaron Gordon. But Cole, as a rookie, is an enigma.

Right now, his floor and ceiling in the short-term are nebulous, to say the least. He can really help this team this season if he plays up to his potential.

Anthony is currently averaging 10.6 points per game on an icy 40.7-percent effective field goal percentage. Since entering the starting lineup, Anthony is averaging 11.8 points per game while shooting 37.5-percent from beyond the arc with a 44.9-percent effective field goal percentage in 29.5 minutes per game.

The numbers are certainly improving. But he is still a rookie prone to rookie mistakes and still confined to a narrow role with the team despite playing as the starter.

Next Man Up

The odds may be stacked against this team given the myriad injuries that will sideline both Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz the rest of the year. Both are devastating blows, particularly with Fultz because it transpired during the season, giving them fewer options regarding free agents.

That is why the Orlando Magic had to replace him with an in-house alternative.

They are devoid of depth at the point guard position. And the fact that Michael Carter-Williams is also still injured exacerbates matters. At least he is very close to recuperating from his injury and Evan Fournier finally returned from the back spasms that sidelined him for multiple weeks.

All of this has compelled Orlando to call Anthony’s number earlier than expected. Likely to be relegated to a bench role going into his rookie year, he must step up now.

There is no way to sugarcoat it because Orlando needs to bounce back after a stretch involving losing 10 of its last 12 games. This knocked them out of the eighth seed after being the last undefeated team.

Anthony got off to a very slow start, particularly with his shooting, to begin the year. But the last couple of games, he has improved.

Live Feed

3 potential buy-low trade targets for the Cleveland Cavaliers
3 potential buy-low trade targets for the Cleveland Cavaliers /

King James Gospel

  • Phoenix Suns can benefit from Magic's situation to nab Cole AnthonyValley of the Suns
  • 3 young scoring guards Raptors could add at trade deadlineRaptors Rapture
  • Washington Wizards vs. Orlando Magic prediction and odds for Friday, December 30Wiz of Awes
  • When Is Jalen Suggs Coming Back for the Orlando Magic? Betsided
  • Magic vs. Knicks Prediction and Odds for Monday, October 24 (Trust Knicks at Home)Betsided
  • This has manifested itself in regards to his shooting from behind the arc. He has shot 41.2-percent from the floor and 47.1-percent from long distance in his last five games. That is higher than his first 11 games of 32-percent from the field and only a success rate of 18-percent from deep.

    Anthony is still being used largely as a shooter and floor spacers rather than a creator.

    His recent showing against the Charlotte Hornets at home, where the Orlando Magic held on to win, is hopefully a harbinger of what is to come. He had 21 points, including 4 treys, and 3 assists. He knocked down an elbow three and corner three for two of his attempts that were very impressive.

    He is showing a knack to get open, whether in transition or their half-court offense. This was conspicuous in that game. Plus, he proved to get his teammates involved. Particularly Nikola Vucevic.

    This warrants optimism because Fournier has looked like an adroit scorer of late, but he needs help from his backcourt mate if they want to break out of their losing funk.

    Anthony is also proving he can handle the point guard duties, while not being too ball-dominant, either. This was substantiated by recent tape like their last win over the Hornets among other games.

    There is no doubt that fans were frustrated with his slow start, but the potential is there.

    Keep in mind Anthony is learning on the fly after getting pushed into a new, more prominent role. The Magic do not have the time to wait on him to produce. He must step up going forward.

    Keeping the patience

    Patience was a reasonable long-term goal, but the Orlando Magic are going to ask a lot from him this season and rightfully so.

    They did not waste a first-round pick on the number-4 ranked prospect in the illustrious 2019 high school class for nothing. Orlando drafted him so he can be a long-term at either guard spot. The goal was likely to make him the starting shooting guard alongside Markelle Fultz.

    That is where Anthony comes into play as a playmaker.

    His defense and rebounding are respectable right now, but his overall shooting while better, still is not good enough if you look at his numbers on the season as a whole.

    Orlando Magic
    Orlando Magic /

    Orlando Magic

    Antony has shown potential as a pickpocket, recording six steals in his last eight games. That matched his total over his first 12 games. He has also taken numerous charges early in the season, setting a strong tone on that end even as he catches up to the speed of the game.

    While his assist totals are erratic from game to game, he has consistently rebounded the ball better of late. He has at least five rebounds in five of his last seven games after accomplishing that only six times in his first 13 contests.

    As mentioned earlier, his outside shooting and overall shooting have improved, which is big. The reason being is that Evan Fournier cannot be their only good outside shooter starting, especially with Terrence Ross entrenched as a sixth man.

    Orlando is limited on offense to begin with so any help they can get on that end would be much obliged. Besides improving his shooting, he needs to be a playmaker who can get others involved and make them better.

    Besides that, he also needs to stay healthy because Orlando has no other viable, healthy options at point guard on his roster.

    Now it needs to translate to wins.

    Signs of progress

    One win that stands out besides the Charlotte Hornets win was on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    It may have been only one game, but it was arguably his best all-around game of the young season and he topped it off with a game-winning, off-balance three-pointer. Even more impressive, he did it as time expired.

    It was pretty impressive how he had to drive the length of the court after securing the rebound. Keep in mind that Orlando had no timeouts and less than five seconds to pull this off, while down by two points.

    That was easily the highlight of the Magic’s season so far. And a sign of his confidence and presence on the floor.

    Cole Anthony has a long way to go to reach the expectations coming out of high school. But this rookie season will be huge for him in his long-term development.

    His recent play has improved and he needs to keep it up. If he can stay healthy and coach Steve Clifford can coach him up, he and Markelle Fultz can form a dynamic, mesmerizing two-point guard backcourt in the future.

    Next. 1st Quarter MVP: Nikola Vucevic building star resume. dark

    It also helps that Anthony is capable of playing either guard spot. Do not sleep on Cole World or be surprised if he works out.