Cole Anthony’s ‘second season’ shows Orlando Magic rookie’s growth

Cole Anthony has shown tremendous growth since returning from an injury providing the Orlando Magic with one bright spot to close the season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony has shown tremendous growth since returning from an injury providing the Orlando Magic with one bright spot to close the season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Anthony does not seem like the kind of guy who will look back at his rookie year with a sense of accomplishment.

He had some huge moments during his rookie year. None more than his game-winning 3-pointer against the Memphis Grizzlies. That followed an incredible fourth-quarter showing in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If rookies are supposed to have moments that prove they can play, Anthony has plenty. While he did not win the Rookie of the Month for April, he seems on track to make an All-Rookie team. Anthony has had a very good rookie year.

But he knows more than anyone else how much work he has to do. He is open about that work too — admitting even after Friday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers how much better he has to get at managing the game and dealing with the pressure from top defenders.

In his last 10 games since that moment against the Grizzlies, defenses have changed how they guard him. He has faced more pressure than ever.

The one constant for a rookie and a young player in this league: They have to evolve.

Cole Anthony will finish his rookie year having grown and learned a lot in the course of a season that was interrupted with injury and showed the Orlando Magic a ton of promise.

If Anthony’s rookie year is any indication, he is more than ready to evolve and continue to grow his game. He is more than able to study his game and watch others and change and slow down.

Anthony called his time after his rib injury his second season. And no doubt, his second “season” was better than his first.

"“I think I have been finishing a lot better,” Anthony said after the Orlando Magic’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in April. “My three has been off a little bit. I’m going to have to work on that. I’ll fix it, I’m not really worried. I’m always going to work. I’ve been passing better. I’ve done a much better job leading the team and being a voice of reason for everybody. I honestly feel like I’m in my second season at this point. I had a long break off. Came back and still have a bunch of games yet. I feel like a vet. At this point, I might be a vet. We’re kind of young.”"

Anthony for the season, entering Sunday’s final game, is averaging 12.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. He is shooting 39.6-percent from the floor overall and 33.7-percent from beyond the arc.

Before his rib injury, Anthony scored 11.0 points, 3.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game with a 37.5-percent field goal percentage and 32.5-percent mark from deep (on 10.8 field goal attempts per game) in 25 games.

After his injury, his scoring jumped to 14.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game with a 41.9-percent field goal shooting and 35.0-percent mark from deep (on 12.3 field goal attempts per game) in 21 games.

Anthony has certainly been afforded more opportunity as the Magic made their shift toward this rebuild. But Anthony has also gotten a lot better in key areas too.

Learning playmaking

It is easy to see his three-point shooting improve. It is easy to see how much his playmaking and organization ability has improved from those numbers.

But Cole Anthony is right that his shooting at the rim and attacking has gotten better too.

Anthony shot 47.9-percent on 2.9 attempts per game on shots within five feet before his injury. After his injury, that jumped to 51.8-percent on 4.0 attempts per game.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

He scored 4.9 points per game and dished out 0.6 assists per game on 9.2 drives per game before his injury, according to data from Second Spectrum. After his injury, he averaged 5.6 points and 1.0 assists per game on 11.9 drives per game.

These may seem like small improvements, but they have clearly had a big impact.

"“I think he has learned pace and tempo of the game a little bit more,” assistant coach Tyrone Corbin said after the loss to the Lakers in April. “He always wanted to go so fast. He still has moments where he is a little too fast. He is understanding better now he has to run a team first and then make plays from thereon. They are going to follow his lead. He is doing a better job understanding his pacing at times and pulling back at times. He is a scorer by nature and we are going to need him to score baskets. But he needs to organize his team better first.”"

Anthony obviously still has a lot of work to do. He is a rookie and he has gotten burned plenty of times.

That game against the Lakers was a major lesson for the young guard. Dennis Schroder torched him scoring or assisting on 16 of the Lakers’ final 18 points to ensure the Lakers got out of Orlando with a win.

Anthony has been targeted, as all rookies are, defensively in a major way too. The numbers are a bit mixed on this proposition — he has a -1.2 defensive box plus-minus but 0.8 defensive win shares, and both marks rank higher than his offensive counterparts.

Anthony said his approach has changed. Early on, he was trying to prove himself a lot by scoring. But as all young players do, they realize there are other ways they need to affect the game.

Slowing things down

Cole Anthony responded well to the challenge. In the immediate aftermath of that loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Anthony had perhaps his two biggest moments of his rookie season.

He hit the closing shots with a fourth-quarter flurry in wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Memphis Grizzlies later in the week. It takes a lot to close a game and Anthony showed he had the audacity to close out big games.

Ironically, the way to get those big moments is to slow things down.

"“A little bit more patience,” Corbin said after the loss to the Grizzlies. “Trying to get us organized first, waiting to see where the bigs are, waiting for the first part of the play to set up to get the bigs to lean one way, able to get downhill and attack and read when he gets into the lane. He’s very athletic and has a strong body so he can absorb some contact and finish over and around contact. In Cleveland, I thought two of the layups he was right in there with [Jarrett] Allen. He’s athletic and has a strong body and a really good touch around the rim. His pace and poise have gotten a lot better.”"

That understanding of how to manage a team and be a point guard is one of the more difficult things to learn for a young player. This has been a constant lesson for Anthony.

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
  • Indeed, the Magic probably had to throw Anthony into the deep end far sooner than they anticipated with all the injuries. They are probably thrilled with how Anthony has handled all the challenges.

    Anthony has had flashes that show just how good he could still become. It really does feel like he has had two distinct seasons — one before the injury and one after.

    There are always lessons to learn for a rookie. The game still has to slow down for him.

    "“Everything just slowed down,” Anthony said after the loss to the Charlotte Hornets in early May. “Just whether it was a matter of getting my teammates involved or also knowing when to get my own shots, it’s really been finding that balance. I think all that time off really gave me a chance to study the game, watch from the sidelines and watch film. Just studying opponents, our team and seeing what I can do to help improve this team. I definitely feel like a vet. Like I said before, we’re young, so I might as well be a vet.”"

    He still has plenty to learn. After those huge moments against the Grizzlies and Cavaliers, defenses have adjusted how they defend him. They are putting more pressure on the young guard and forcing him to make more decisions.

    Anthony is higher on scouting reports, especially with all the injuries facing the Magic, and he has struggled to close his season with his efficiency and turnovers. But that is always a lesson for a young guard.

    He is already thinking about his offseason and what he needs to do to improve.

    Anthony has shown his willingness to work, even when he is not able to get on the court. He has shown just how much better he can get.

    Steve Clifford is key for Orlando Magic's future. dark. Next

    If he did what he has done to end this season just by watching, what is an offseason going to bring for this young player?