Cole Anthony makes Orlando Magic return all about the team

Cole Anthony made his return to the court Wednesday and finally got to add to his Orlando Magic teammates. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony made his return to the court Wednesday and finally got to add to his Orlando Magic teammates. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

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For most of the last two months, Cole Anthony has been a mainstay on the sideline. Nobody was more pumped for his team’s success and was there to pump his teammates up quite like Anthony.

When the Orlando Magic were on the road upsetting the LA Clippers, Anthony was front and center celebrating and savoring every moment. Even knowing how close he was to return to the court.

You could see it in social media posts from him hyping his teammates up. Nobody seemed to be cheering the Magic harder than their rookie point guard.

Ultimately Anthony wanted to be on the floor and grinding with his guys. Even during pregame, he wanted to reveal his return, but he gave a quick check to the Magic’s PR staff to make sure he could say it.

Anthony is always a team guy.

Cole Anthony returned to the court for the first time in two months and made an immediate impact, not only as a hype man on the bench but now a facilitator on the court.

What the Magic have experienced to this point in his short career was not the player labeled selfish for freelancing and trying to carry a North Carolina team into the NCAA Tournament in his lone year in college.

Even on a night where he stepped up and had a strong game for his first outing since Feb. 6, he was trying to pump up his teammates and demand more of himself.

"“The feeling was surreal to be back on the court,” Cole Anthony said after Wednesday’s game. “Twenty-five games are a lot of games. That’s almost a college season, which is crazy to think about. That’s a very long time. When I checked into a game, it was an awesome feeling. About a minute later, I was winded. I’m glad to have one game under my belt. Unfortunately, it was a loss. If we can lock back in, we can get the next few.”"

Anthony should have something to be proud of regardless. He said after the game he needed to get back into shape and play a lot better.

He still scored 13 points and dished out seven assists in 29 minutes for his first game back after a 25-game absence. There were large swaths of the game where Anthony took over offensively, controlling the pace of play and scoring in bunches.

His first stint saw him hit a 3-pointer, then he used the threat of his shot to get a pick and roll to it a floater over the defense.

Then he made a play that reminded everyone why he was considered one of the top prospects in his high school class. He put up a hesitation move that had the whole NBA world buzzing, finishing with a floater over Robin Lopez.

Anthony definitely felt some confidence after making his first two shots. And that permeated his game throughout the night.

It was never enough for someone like Anthony.

He said he felt pretty tired and, indeed, he missed his next five shots. Anthony’s rookie season has been characterized to this point by bursts of efficiency and bounce followed by long fallow periods where his jumper will not fall or he drives wildly to the rim.

In that sense, at least, Anthony seemed like he was picking up where he left off before the injury.

Anthony tallied assists by showing tremendous patience and making simple ball reversals. He made decisive passes into the paint for an alley-oop to Terrence Ross and on an inbounds to Mohamed Bamba. Then he kept the ball moving to Ross and to Bamba on the perimeter in the second half, setting them up for key shots.

Anthony still has to work on his overall efficiency as a shooter. But for a first effort after so long off, Anthony’s energy and exuberance were more than enough to make his minutes successful.

"“Cole was excited to play,” Terrence Ross said after Wednesday’s game. “You could see it. He was out there happy, making a lot of plays, shooting the ball well, getting in rhythm. It was fun having him back out there. We miss having him running around and playing with that offensive spark and helping us compete out there. It was good to have him back.”"

No one quite knew what to expect from Anthony after so long away from the game. Coach Steve Clifford suspected he would play well considering the work he put in.

Anthony said in the pregame shootaround he had been working on the court for a while and felt ready to play. The training staff was just making sure the injury had fully healed. It was an injury that Anthony said had built up over time and was not because of a hit he took in that game against the Portland Trail Blazers in early February.

The team was rightfully cautious bringing him back. And they likely will remain cautious as they bring him back. But it was hard not to be excited with how quickly he seemed to fit right in with this new group.

"“I thought he did a lot of good things,” Clifford said after Wednesday’s game. “I thought he would struggle with his conditioning part and I thought he got through it well. You could tell he has done a good amount of work to make sure he is on top of things in terms of what we’re running on offense and what we’re doing on defense. It was good to have him out there.”"

There will still be reminders that Anthony is a rookie.

He is still eager to make the most of his season and that opportunity is still present. Especially with the magic seemingly embracing their young players more after the trade deadline.

For his part, Anthony is still grinding to get better. He said he wants to work with Russell Westbrook in the offseason, a player he met while he was in high school. The two seemed oddly chummy during the team’s game Wednesday considering Westbrook’s single-minded competitiveness during games.

The advice Westbrook gave Anthony he said was to be aggressive, be you and to allow that to create for your teammates. Anthony, like any rookie, has been searching for his place on the floor and with the team.

Anthony has certainly found it in one respect. He is the team’s ultimate cheerleader. And he gets pumped when his teammates do well.

He spent part of his postgame presser getting Wendell Carter and R.J. Hampton over. He called Carter a “dog” who “works his tail off every single game.” And he said Hampton is a “raw” 20 years old. But that is a good thing because he is only going to get better.

The Anthony-Hampton duo that played 25 minutes together during the Magic’s game Wednesday and showed promise offensively at least. The prospect of those two rookies together got everyone excited.

And, of course, on cue, Anthony made sure to shout out his friend Bamba and his career-best 19 points since nobody else asked him about it in his press conference.

Orlando Magic have to rediscover will to rebound. dark. Next

Anthony is done cheering from the sidelines though. He is here to make things happen and, in his hopes, help the team finish the season strong to shine a light on this team’s future. A future that may well be in his hands.