Orlando Magic rookie Cole Anthony showing hidden signs of development

Cole Anthony is still finding his way through his rookie year with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony is still finding his way through his rookie year with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

It is official.

The Orlando Magic will not make the 2021 NBA Playoffs. The injuries to the team during the season derailed the potential of this unit from the start. But the team had clearly reached its ceiling and was not going to do more than get out of the first round.

With the promise of a top pick in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft and a bevy of young players struggling to get playing time on the roster, the front office decided to chart a new path.

Orlando currently sits 14th in the Eastern Conference with the fourth-best odds to win the Lottery. On top of that, they have a slew of young players still on their rookie contracts in Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke, R.J. Hampton, Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba along with under-25 players in Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz set to return from injury next season.

The Magic suddenly have a young core they can build and grow with.

The franchise has to make the best out of the situation at hand now. The team still has playoff dreams, but they are largely just dreams — they trail the Chicago Bulls by 4.5 games for the final play-in spot with 17 games to play and FiveThirtyEight gives the team less than a one-percent chance of making the playoff field.

It is a fairly safe bet the Magic will not make a third straight postseason.

The best thing this franchise can do at this point is to make sure they are getting the most out of their young players’ potential. Most notably is their first-round draft pick last year out of North Carolina in Cole Anthony.

Cole Anthony has not blown anyone away with his statistics in his rookie year. While there will be plenty of work to do, there are plenty of hidden ways Anthony has improved this season.

They have to get him comfortable with this situation in a hurry without the veteran leadership because Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier are all gone.

So this situation calls for the organization to put more focus on a guard like Anthony. At this point, he is one of the players on the team with the biggest upside. After two months out with a fractured rib, the Magic are trying to make up for some lost time and get the rookie back up to speed.

For the season, Anthony is averaging 11.0 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists per game. He is posting only a 42.5-percent effective field goal percentage and hitting on 29.6-percent of his 3-pointers.

Since returning from his injury last week, Anthony has played in 24.0 minutes per game in five games, averaging 11.0 points per game and shooting 40.4-percent from the floor overall, including just 13.3-percent from deep. Some of that is certainly a product of getting used to new teammates and getting back up to speed in the NBA game.

In Wednesday’s win over the Chicago Bulls, he had his best game since his return, scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and dishing out five assists. He did a good job attacking the lane and finishing around the basket, showing the dynamic driving ability that makes him so promising.

It is imperative for the organization to find ways to develop his body so he can feel confident penetrating the lanes to find open players and make it easier for him to score. So there is plenty of work for this coaching staff to do in Orlando.

The first thing this coaching staff needs to work on is Anthony’s long-range shooting ability.

In this new NBA, the players who are considered three-point snipers are pulling up from 30 feet with ease.  Anthony was not known for his deep three shooting ability in college but he was known for knocking down threes. He shot 34.8-percent beyond the arc in his only year as a Tar Heel.

Although Anthony hasn’t had a great rookie year shooting the ball, this development in this area is mandatory if he wants to make an impact on a team heading for the NBA lottery.

Anthony is shooting worse than 30-percent from beyond the arc this year as he gets used to the NBA line. But there are still some encouraging signs from the rookie.

In the 10 games before his injury, as Anthony settled into his starting role, he made 50.0-percent of his 3-pointers. He was clearly starting to find some comfort and rhythm from deep.

The Magic were certainly hoping Anthony could add some more shooting. But he still has a long way to go.

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  • Anthony is scoring 0.90 points per possession on spot-up shots, according to NBA.com. He is shooting a 44.6-percent effective field goal percentage on such opportunities. He is also making only 31.0-percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers according to data from Second Spectrum.

    Despite these terrible numbers, data from Basketball Index suggests teams still respect his 3-point shot enough to cover him on the perimeter. That may be enough for now.

    It is clear that Anthony’s best skill is his ability to get to the basket. He has made a living in the paint, although his finishing ability still leaves something to be desired.

    All a natural learning experience for a rookie.

    From a raw statistical basis, Anthony is not having a terrible rookie year even if he is not putting up ground-shaking numbers or splits.

    There are only six rookies who are scoring more points per game than Anthony at this point in the season. Impressive for the 15th pick in the draft.

    So he is not playing poorly. The organization just needs to continue to develop the right way.

    A lot of that will be putting him in situations where he can grow and develop not only his shooting but his court vision and point guard ability.

    In his first season, he is averaging 1.9 turnovers per game and 4.0 assists per game. Anthony is one of the best players in the league at getting into the paint, but according to data from Basketball Index, he has only a 7.1-percent assist rate on his drives.

    Add that to a 52.4-percent adjusted field goal percentage at the rim and the tough shots he tends to take in the paint, and that means Anthony tends to get himself stuck too deep without a clear outlet when the defense collapses around him.

    Still, the statistics may not have caught up to his potential, as is often the case with rookies.

    He averages 7.4 assists per 100 possessions and 19.1 potential assists per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Index. His passes largely lead directly to shots too, meaning that Anthony does a decent job setting up his teammates.

    Orlando Magic
    Orlando Magic /

    Orlando Magic

    Of course, his team and Anthony are not performing optimally all season. Basketball Index’s Role Adjusted Assists per 75 possessions metric suggest Anthony generates 1.73 assists per 75 possessions fewer than you would expect, one of the worst marks in the league.

    Anthony can certainly improve as a passer. And his deep drives often get him stuck. But he could also use some scorers around him to help bump this number up.

    All the deeper numbers indicate something is there for Anthony to grow with. And that is the most important thing for now.

    The team has to find ways to get his assist average up so he can affect the game in more ways than he is currently doing now. Some of that will come with more playing time and experience. Other parts of that will come with development in his game.

    He will have more opportunities to do so now that the franchise is heading in a different direction in 2021.

    Although Anthony has made a few nice dishes in his rookie year he has to become more of a point guard facilitator for this young team too mesh and feel confident with what they are doing.

    Next. 5 questions the Orlando Magic face to finish the season. dark

    There is always room to grow for a rookie guard and there is no exception for Anthony.