Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony should make the All-Rookie team

Cole Anthony's improved finishing in the paint has been a good sign for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony's improved finishing in the paint has been a good sign for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The confidence is growing.

Cole Anthony did not win Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April — that award was given to Toronto Raptors guars Malachi Flynn. But Anthony’s confidence should be at an all-time high after a stellar performance in a win against the Memphis Grizzlies, topped off with a game-winning 3-pointer and a postgame interview for the ages.

On May 1, Anthony logged 26 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals in a 112-111 victory over the Grizzlies. That stat line is reminiscent of what great players do in this league. And the best players in the NBA average something around that.

The Magic do not have the expectation that Anthony will be one of the premier players in the NBA. He is not quite an All-Star player. But the organization is expecting that Anthony makes significant improvements.

Cole Anthony’s rookie year has been a fresh sign of progress and optimism in an otherwise bleak season for the Orlando Magic. It should end with Anthony getting a spot on the All-Rookie team.

This year the first-year point guard is averaging 12.3 points per game 4.6 rebounds per game and  4.3 assists per game. His 12.42 player efficiency rating is not bad for a rookie point guard.

Those numbers are almost certainly good enough to earn a spot on the All-Rookie team with likely Rookie of the Year frontrunners Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball. Anthony ranks fourth in scoring, fourth in assists and 10th in rebounding (surprisingly for a point guard).

Anthony may be in a tier below the frontrunners for the big award, alongside Tyrese Haliburton, but he has clearly put together one of the best rookie seasons in the league so far.

The likely candidates for the all-rookie team this year include locks like Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton, but also solid contributors like Cole Anthony, Saddiq Bey, Immanuel Quickley, Malachi Flynn, Jae’Sean Tate and Desmond Bane, among others.

Anthony certainly should stand out on that list of contenders.

The Magic should closely examine how they were able to get Anthony going in the fourth quarter when he took over and helped the Magic erase a 20-point third-quarter deficit. Especially early in games, Anthony has struggled to get himself going as he gets a feel for the defense and the flow of the game.

This game shows that Anthony has clearly improved and is emerging into probably the best player on a roster that is one of the worst in the NBA. There is room to grow for Anthony and he is showing he can be a leader on an NBA team now that he has been thrown in the fire.

A lot of his emergence happened because he was able to play more minutes than were expected during his rookie season.

This was supposed to be a year where Anthony play a minimum bench role and could learn from behind Markelle Fultz. After Markelle Fultz’s injury, and the departure of three starting players in Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier the franchise had no other choice but to see what their first-round draft pick was made of.

And for the most part, Anthony has impressed his coaches and the fans in Central Florida.

Since returning from a two-month absence with a rib injury, Anthony is averaging 14.5 points per game, 5.3 assists per game and 4.9 rebounds per game. He is shooting 42.9-percent from the floor and 35.1-percent from beyond the arc in those 15 games since returning.

In other words, his scoring is up and his playmaking is up in addition to better efficiency that has been tracking better lately too.

Anthony has grown the most as a passer and playmaker where coaches say he is playing a lot more patiently and making better decisions on when and how to attack the basket. His field goal percentage within 10 feet rose from 43.1-percent to 46.9-percent. A solid increase and a display of his growing finishing ability.

His offensive development is crucial for the future of the Magic. The better he gets as a perimeter player the better it is for this team because most of the top guards are leading the best teams. T

The franchise has not drafted a perimeter player like Cole Anthony since the days of Jameer Nelson. But the difference was that the organization paired him with Dwight Howard on draft day. The Magic had selected their point guard and center for the foreseeable future. Jameer Nelson also had a veteran in Steve Francis to grow under before they eventually shared the floor together and Nelson pushed the former All-Star off the team.

This allowed Nelson to not play with a particular amount of pressure, the same pressure that a guy like Anthony sees every day because he does not have a player to draw double teams so he can flourish or a teammate half as good as Dwight was on Nelson’s team.

Right now it just seems as if the Magic only have their point guard of the future, with Nikola Vucevic being traded away to the Chicago Bulls at the trade deadline.

The Magic said early in the season they hoped to be able to one day pair Anthony with Fultz together in lineups. That plan certainly might still be in the works when Fultz returns next season.

And the Magic will welcome back Jonathan Isaac too as a talented young defender allowing Cole Anthony to be more aggressive on the perimeter.

No matter what the future holds, Anthony has had a fantastic rookie season that is worthy of recognition. He should be on the All-Rookie team, even if he did not get a much-deserved Rookie of the Month Award.

Anthony is certainly hungry for more:

This is the exact attitude the Magic want to see from their young guard. And his play has been encouraging for his place with the future. Orlando is certainly going to consider how players might fit with him as they prepare for the Draft — with a lot of ball-handlers available among the top picks along with foundation-block big man Evan Mobley and scoring guard Jalen Green.

Next. The Magic aren't tanking, but they aren't optimizing their team either. dark

The team should be able to pick up a few more wins as Anthony continues to emerge with these last few games.