Orlando Magic’s Cole Anthony exudes bravado, humility

Cole Anthony has been a star in the making for the Orlando Magic. But Anthony knows there is more work to do. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony has been a star in the making for the Orlando Magic. But Anthony knows there is more work to do. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The chants were raining down from all over the Amway Center as Cole Anthony stepped to the foul line to put the game away Sunday night in a 107-100 win over the Utah Jazz.

M-V-P! M-V-P!

Those are letters not strung together for an Orlando Magic player or chanted for a Magic player from the Amway Center crowd since Dwight Howard was around more than a decade ago. It has been a long time for Magic fans to find a star of that caliber.

Anthony is probably not of that caliber. Even by his own admission, he is not the MVP that Magic fans are looking for. Not yet, at least.

"“I’m super happy that everybody was into it, chanting that,” Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “For me, I want to be realistic with myself. I don’t feel like I deserve that yet. I want to get to a point where they can rightfully say that and I feel like I’m a serious contender. I’m not there yet. It might be sooner, it might be later, at a point in my career I want to get to a point where they can say that and I feel like I deserve that.”"

Anthony is probably right to say he is not an MVP yet. His All-Star credentials are still growing (and will likely not be helped by the team’s likely record by the time voting closes in February). But they are growing nonetheless.

What still stands out about Anthony is how much he represents what this young team wants to be about.

Cole Anthony is a brave and confident young player helping the Orlando Magic build their culture. He is doing it more by keeping the spotlight on others.

He has bravado and gumption, very unafraid to take on the big moments and fearless in the face of them with the growing ability to execute. But he still remains about his team.

His always entertaining postgame interview on Bally Sports Florida exemplified all this. He talked like he was Muhammad Ali — all confidence with his chest puffed out to back it up. But he also deferred to his teammates and gave them their shine.

In that moment, Sunday it certainly felt like it was deserved.

Anthony scored 33 points on 13-for-20 shooting including 5 for 10 from beyond the arc. He set up his impressively advanced pull-up game well, beating the Jazz off the dribble. He got into the lane and was creative to ward off Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

On one key possession, Anthony faced down Gobert and hit a pull-up jumper over him. One that even had the Jeff Turner and the Magic broadcast a bit speechless that Anthony was able to hit.

Anthony earned every bit of the accolades he is starting to get.

He is averaging 20.2 points per game with 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. He is shooting a 55.2-percent effective field goal percentage with 41.4-percent shooting from beyond the arc. All these numbers are a significant leap from his rookie season.

This past week, Anthony earned a nomination for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He averaged 24.5 points per game with 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game in the past four games.

Adding to this story, Anthony has been one of the best pull-up jump shooters in the league. It is that audacious move of coming down the court stopping and suddenly taking a shot. It is a shot that is usually low-percentage and difficult to take.

But Anthony is hitting 49.3-percent of his pull-up jumpers according to Second Spectrum. That is the third-best percentage among players with at least five attempts per game. He trails only Seth Curry and Kevin Durant.

That is impressive no matter how you cut it. And his game seems like he is continuing to expand.

"“You know he’s not afraid to make a big play, but a lot of times his big play was on the defensive end,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday’s game. “He is getting into the basketball the same, fighting over screens and trusting the pass when he needs to make the pass. If you looked at a lot of those situations he is taking tough shots, he is also looking out of the corner of his eye to find where the big fella is down the floor so he can make the pass back to the big. Those times when he didn’t see it, those are the decisions we are asking him to make. When he recognizes where his teammates are and when it’s time to take the shot, take the shot.”"

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Anthony has always had the bravery to take that shot. We all saw his big shot-making late last season from his game-winning basket against the Memphis Grizzlies to his late flurry to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers. The win over the Jazz on Sunday was another layer of evidence.

Anthony plays with bravado and confidence. That is absolutely necessary to be successful in this league. There needs to be a bit of irrational confidence to do well in the league.

Right now, the Magic need Cole Anthony to play with this focus and confidence — the team has a +3.0 net rating with Anthony on the floor (only Mychal Mulder has a positive on-court net rating) and a team-worst -29.7 net rating when he is off the floor. The team has been at its best with Anthony on the floor.

But Anthony, while working and improving his own game, has also made sure to make it all about his teammates too. He has the humility to know he has a lot more work to do and to try to build up more for his team.

"“I just really want to do whatever I can for my team to get the dub,” Anthony said after Sunday’s game. “Whether that means me scoring a bunch, defending, passing rebounding, whatever it takes. I want to do that for them. That’s really what it’s all about.”"

Anthony earned his confidence on the court and in his work this offseason. He said he and his group that trains him really put in the work this offseason to be “the best version of myself” he possibly can be. He truly came back a different player.

Anthony has come to exemplify what the Magic’s culture wants to be. For a young team, it is important to have a team leader be fully bought in. In his second season, Anthony is filling that void.

It takes a lot to earn “M-V-P” chants even from a home crowd. Indeed, it has been a long time since Magic fans have seen a guard who is dominating so clearly.

It takes a lot for a player at that level to have the humility to defer that mantle as they further try to earn it. And then to further go to bat for his teammates.

This is what a team needs in a leader.

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Anthony still has a lot of development to go — and this roster will change this season — and he understands that too. But playing with MVP bravado with the humility to bring his teammates along and keep working, that is what has made Anthony’s start so exciting.