Orlando Magic’s change have pushed Cole Anthony to grow

Cole Anthony had a solid rookie year with plenty of room to improve as the Orlando Magic change. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony had a solid rookie year with plenty of room to improve as the Orlando Magic change. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone feels like a rookie right now as the Orlando Magic continue their Summer League practice.

Some of that, of course, is because this is Summer League. there are a lot of young players who are lacking experience. Everything is still fairly new. And especially this year, after last year’s Summer League was canceled, the whole experience is new.

Add on top of that there is a new coach implementing some new strategies, plays, philosophies and terminologies, it is easy for even second-year players to get a bit lost. Everyone is starting at ground zero.

Or almost there.

No one can discount the experience that comes from a rookie year. Especially for a player like Cole Anthony, who was thrown right into the fire last year with the rash of injuries the team suffered — especially the Markelle Fultz injury that came just eight games into the season.

Cole Anthony had a solid rookie season but one where he and the Orlando Magic understand there is plenty of room to improve.

Anthony is entering this Summer League with weighty expectations to improve off what should have been an All-Rookie season for him. For a young group, Anthony is something of a leader among the youngest group, but still with so much to learn and grow.

Anthony had a good rookie season, but he understands he can still be so much better.

"“I was pretty much thrown into the fire from day one,” Anthony said after the team’s practice Friday in Las Vegas. “Especially after Markelle got hurt, I really got thrown into that fire last year. they say the best experience is game experience, I really enjoyed that. Just got to keep building from last year.”"

Anthony averaged 12.9 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists per game. He had shooting splits of 39.7-percent from the floor, 33.7-percent from beyond the arc and 83.2-percent from the foul line. After the trade deadline, Anthony averaged 15.0 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game and 4.5 assists per game with shooting splits of 41.7/34.8/82.9.

This all came with a two-month absence due to a rib injury. And also included some stellar moments like his game-winning shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies and a 37-point outing in the season finale against the Philadelpiha 76ers.

Anthony knows there is still a lot of growing to do. His season was good but certainly one with flaws. His shotmaking was inconsistent but improved as the season went on. As was his playmaking, especially as a point guard and leader later into the season. His ability to learn and grow as the season went on is an encouraging thing for the young guard.

He knows he missed out on some important development by playing without a Summer League. It was a point former coach Steve Clifford made about Cole Anthony and his development throughout last season. It may have cut him a little slack, especially with his willingness to improve, learn and compete.

And so Summer League is certainly a bit of a restart for him.

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  • So too is it a restart in terms of the expectations and terminology th team is implementing. That is what comes with having a new coach.

    NBA strategies are not so different across coaches.

    There are a lot of similarities between teams it is the communication and terminology that is different. Coach Jamahl Moosley has put an emphasis on communication as a foundation for the team’s defensive principles. That will be far more important as the team adjusts to the different calls and coverages Mosley wants to implement.

    On an individual basis, then, Anthony’s next improvement will come not just from being a more efficient scorer but also becoming a defensive leader. It is clear that defense is going to be a central focus for Mosley’s Magic teams.

    This is undoubtedly an area where Anthony has to improve and he understands that.

    "“This year coach wants me to be an elite defender,” Anthony said after practice Friday. “I don’t think I was the best defender last year. My goal this year is to become a much better defender. He keeps telling me to be more and more like my dad. We have some new principles and everyone has their own calls . . . it’s pretty much I’m a rookie again learning his new scheme and everything new about him.”"

    Anthony ended up producing 0.9 defensive win shares last year with a -1.3 defensive box plus-minus, according to Basketball-Reference. Anthony was not much for defensive activity for most metrics. He was good at recovering loose balls and getting some steals. But, especially as a rookoie, Anthony was someone opposing defenses targets.

    According to Basketball Index, he was in the bottom fifth of the league in almost all of the catch-all defensive statistics — such as RAPTOR or Real Plus-Minus. There is a lot for the young guard to learn and improve on that end. It doe snot take much metrics to figure that out.

    Rookie guards especially often get targeted and the injuries the Magic face indeed put Anthony in some bad positions to improve and show off defensively.

    Orlando Magic
    Orlando Magic /

    Orlando Magic

    Most offseason workout videos showcase shooting and athleticism drills. Working on defense is not as flashy to post on social media. But this is undoubtedly where Anthony has to show some improvement and work.

    That is where he and the team want him to improve. It is here where lacking some Summer League and a traditional practice and regular season schedule probably hurt him most.

    For better or for worse, Anthony is viewed as a leader on this team now. That comes with being a point guard. Anthony is at least his team’s biggest cheerleader. And his willingness to address and focus on his defense is a sign of that budding leadership.

    "“He is developing himself into just trying to lead,” Mosley said after practice Friday. “Just watching that occur, him wanting to sit down and guard defensively, him pushing R.J. [Hampton], him pushing Jalen [Suggs], him pushing Franz [Wagner], him pushing his other teammates. For me, that’s big that he is working on his leadership and his ability to sit down defensively.”"

    Friday’s viral moment from Summer League showed off that leadership knack.

    During his post-practice interview, the rookie Suggs came up to jump into frame playfully before leaving. Anthony called him back over and hugged him, kissing him on top of the head. The team has seemingly already become a brotherhood and Anthony certainly seems like someone who is at the center of the comraderie the team is feeling.

    Anthony has always impressed with his understanding of how difficult playing in the NBA is — he mentioned how he has to play like his dad, the defensive-minded Greg Anthony. He always seemed to have a maturity that goes beyond his rookie experience. And more importantly a willingness to work hard to get there.

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    The proof will come on the court, of course. But Anthony knows he has to change and improve to keep up with everything going on around the Magic.