When Cole Anthony steps onto the court he screams confidence. Loudly.
The second-year guard lit stars in the eyes of Orlando Magic fans around the world with flashy highlights and major scoring performances. Anthony often followed those highlight-reel slams by giving his victims a snarling look or some playful banter. And then a good postgame interview for good measure.
Everything about Anthony screamed swagger. And for a young Magic team looking for an identity, they needed this character and bravado.
Hesitation. Right to left crossover. Step-back three. Swish.
Left-handed behind the back bounce pass to a slashing Mo Bamba. Slam.
And who could forget when Anthony laced up the iconic New York streetwear Timberland boots and jumped over his father — and New York legend — Greg Anthony during the NBA All-Star Dunk Contest.
Cole Anthony was a vibe. And the Magic needed all the vibes they could get to get themselves through a 22-win season.
While the Magic’s overall season did not prove to be anything underwhelming, Cole Anthony took on a role that gave the city of Orlando some yearning confidence, and finally, some buzz around the Magic.
The question now becomes whether vibes alone are enough for a young player like Anthony.
After a year spent as the team’s main creator and scorer, there are a lot of questions remaining for the second-year player. The roster too will begin to shift around him and his role may very well change entering the 2023 season.
While Anthony showed a ton of promise and expansion to his game. He was still horribly inefficient and after that initial burst of promise, he settled into an injury-filled, poor shooting season. The Magic pushed Anthony to be their best player and he struggled to rise to the occasion in a lot of ways.
Anthony showed what could make him a really good player but he still lacked the consistency to get there.
For the season, Anthony averaged a team-best 16.3 points per game and added 5.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. But he shot 39.1-percent from the floor overall and 33.8-percent from beyond the arc.
That buried a promising start that seemed to embody the kind of energy the Magic were hoping to have and get from their young guard.
During the first 15-game stretch of the 2022 season, Anthony scored nearly 20 points on 16 attempts per game. In contrast, he only attempted16 shots or more in six games of his rookie season.
It was made clear that new coach Jamahl Mosley was relinquishing the leash that Steve Clifford — Orlando’s previous head coach — once held on Cole Anthony, which allowed Anthony to play at a free-flowing pace.
Anthony took advantage of his increased opportunity and showcased tons of dazzling plays throughout the year.
Anthony led the Magic on and off of the court. He showed that he was willing to be that leader for a franchise.
But, there are always two sides to every coin.
While yes, Anthony did lead Orlando in many offensive categories, he did so while leading one of the NBA’s worst teams.
Basketball is a team game and Orlando’s overall record was not a byproduct of solely Anthony, but a team is led by its star. A team goes as its star goes.
Anthony’s 16.3 points per game were the lowest of any team’s leading scorer, followed by the LA Clippers’ Reggie Jackson.
Anthony played like the star, but he was essentially a league-average shooter at best and near the bottom third in total isolation effective field goal percentage — 38.2-percent, placing him in the 40th percentile according to Basketball Index.
Anthony could get to the rim and ran enough pick and rolls to get himself downhill. But despite his improved passing, he was still not good at dishing back out to the perimeter and was an overall negative on his drives.
According to Basketball Index, Anthony was a positive at creating shots at the rim, but one of the worst players at finishing at the rim. He had a 54.91-percent adjusted field goal percentage at the rim according to Basketball Index, placing him in the 41st percentile in the league.
There are still a lot of areas Anthony has to improve despite his penchant for scoring.
Anthony also struggled defensively throughout the year despite some improvements on that end.
Consistently being picked out by other lead guards, Anthony’s innate athleticism did not seem to help much on the defensive side of the ball. He often would get beat over screens causing him to reach as the opposition drove by him.
Anthony produced in the lower echelon of starting guards in Defensive Box plus-minus, an advanced metric that tracks the difference in per 100 possessions when a player is on the court versus when they are off.
Anthony was able to get his share of steals throughout the season. He could be a feisty defender at times. But it is still clear he has a long way to go.
About the only thing Anthony did consistently on defense was his rebounding, which is otherworldly for a guard.
Anthony got to test himself a lot this season. He got put in a featured role. Now he has to figure out how to rise to it in his third year on what appears to be a much more crowded roster for a young player.
Player Grade: C+
Cole Anthony passed the 2022 tests, but not with flying colors.
The intangibles are there for Anthony to become a star player in this league, but he is not there yet. He has failed to make that sophomore leap that some of his fellow 2020 draftees have made.
Players like Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Desmond Bane, all of whom have shown promise to play many years in the league.
Anthony is almost in that tier, but not quite yet. His consistency on the defensive end raises a level of concern. Anthony was not a bad defender, but he was not a good one either.
It may be a reach to put Anthony in the all-star tier. There is a crowded backcourt and Anthony’s struggles as the starting point guard for this team this past season may push him to be the sixth man. That could be a better way to focus his scoring instincts and hide some of his defensive deficiencies.
This next issue may be one that I weigh more heavily than others: Winning.
Winning matters. I need to see Anthony produce on a team that is competing for something. And that may ultimately be in a different role.
Is that a fair knock? Maybe not. But, the great players outperform expectations, especially when those are low.
Anthony has left no question that he can be a key piece, but can he be the key piece?
That is something he is going to have to earn. And even then it might be time to focus on a shift for Anthony.
The one thing he put on full display was his swagger. He is a great teammate and always cheering on his teammates. That should be something worth keeping around.
The question now is just in what role.