Cole Anthony has the most to prove for Orlando Magic

Cole Anthony has impressed in two years with the Orlando Magic. But questions remain and a role change may be coming quickly. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Cole Anthony has impressed in two years with the Orlando Magic. But questions remain and a role change may be coming quickly. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Cole Anthony’s career has not gone the way anyone would have expected.

He was one of the top high school prospects in his class when he arrived at North Carolina. He indeed looked every bit the top guy to start the season on what quickly became an overmatched Tar Heels team. Then a knee injury slowed him down.

He fought hard to recover and get back to try to help his team reach the NCAA Tournament, but it was clear he was a step slow (and he admitted later he tried to return too quickly likely to his detriment). That caused his draft stock to slip and he went 15th to the Magic.

His rookie year was supposed to be a slow development on a veteran team trying to make the playoffs.

Just six games into Cole Anthony’s career, Markelle Fultz’s ACL injury thrust Anthony into the spotlight. He has seemingly never let go of it — making highlight plays, replayable soundbites and plenty of impressive scoring performances.

Anthony had a stable place in the Magic’s rebuilding environment. The team relied on him as its main creator.

Cole Anthony has been thrust into a featured role in his first two years with the Orlando Magic. As the Magic’s rebuild solidifies, Anthony’s role may be changing. And he has a lot to prove about his fit in the league.

But everything is preparing to change for him once again. Like so many other players on this Magic roster — especially in this kind of prove-it season for the Magic — Anthony has a lot to prove. And while there is plenty of focus on other players, Anthony’s adjustment will be the biggest and one of the most important to watch.

Anthony had a breakout season last year, averaging 16.3 points per game in his sophomore year last year. He is a capable and solid scorer.

He showed that in the first quarter of last season when he averaged 19.6 points per game and 5.9 assists per game. He shot 41.6-percent from the floor and 36.6-percent from beyond the arc during that stretch.

To finish the season, he shot 39.1-percent from the floor and 33.8-percent from deep. Teams were able to focus on him and bottle him up. He became the good stats on a bad team player.

There was plenty of promise with what Anthony showed. But there always lingers the question of what he can do to contribute to a winning team.

And other players on the roster have started to rise around him. It is hard to decipher a clear place for Anthony in this growing ecosystem. At least one where he is playing the same ball-dominant role he did last year and through the injury-filled 2021 season.

Fultz has returned from injury and his scintillating finish to the season. Fultz made a clear positive impact and was a better facilitator and playmaker. While he has questions about his shooting — and perhaps still his overall health — he seems to have entrenched himself as the team’s starting point guard.

Fultz at least has been slotted as the favorite, pushing Anthony into likely bench minutes.

Similarly, Jalen Suggs has been getting plenty of buzz as a player who has to improve. The Athletic tabbed him as the player with the most to prove this season for the Magic after his difficult rookie season.

But Suggs should naturally improve as a second-year player. And with Orlando having a better understanding of his skills could easily put him in a position to succeed and grow more.

It is still uncertain what his ultimate role will be. With Gary Harris’ injury, Jalen Suggs is likely slotted into the starting lineup. Considering the Magic invested the fifth overall pick in the 2021 Draft in him, they have a lot riding on his development.

In other words, there is already a lot of focus on Suggs and what he can do this season. It will be a big one to set the course for his career and where the Magic go.

This is why there is much more for Anthony to prove.

His place in the league is not set and the Magic may well ask him to take a lesser role, coming off the bench for the first time in his playing career. It is not clear what the Magic intend for Anthony or whether Anthony can do more.

It might be easier to put it this way: Outside of our post covering the point guards on the roster, we have not written a post on Anthony since his player evaluation. At least one that has his name in the post (for SEO purposes, we put full names in the headline).

With all the young players on the roster, it seems like it has been easy to forget Anthony exists. He has seemingly become an afterthought on this stacked, young roster.

There is excitement for his potential as a scorer. He has earned that. But more than any other player on the roster, it seems like the Magic have the most information on how he fits into that lead guard role.

Anthony got plenty of points and has improved tremendously as a passer and a defender last year. The team’s struggles are certainly not all on him. But the record still speaks for itself.

He had his big burst games early in the season. But teams adjusted and Anthony struggled to find that same spark — he scored 20 or more points 19 times last season but only four came in the 2022 calendar year.

That shows Anthony’s promise as a scorer. But also the inconsistency and the conclusion that he may not be a starting point guard.

Adjusting from a starting role to a bench role is difficult. And there is no guarantee a player like Anthony will succeed n that kind of a role. Even if his scoring bursts and his ball-dominant play might be more successful coming off the bench.

The good news there is that Anthony is a competitor first. He is going to compete hard and aim to get as much as he can and as big a role as he can — inevitably injuries are going to push him into a few starts this year.

The other good news is Anthony has a lot of competitive fire, but he is about his teammates too. There is no bigger cheerleader for this team and his teammates than Anthony. If Orlando wants him to come off the bench, there should not be too much worry about him embracing that role and cheering on his teammates in the starting lineup.

It is not completely certain where Anthony will ultimately slot in the lineup. But with two solid years under his belt, questions still remain about his ultimate role and what he can be.

It seems likely Anthony is going to be at the center of one of the major shifts in this Magic roster this season. And how he handles it, takes to it and adjusts to it will be a big part of his career arc too.

Next. Orlando Magic lose a lot without Gary Harris. dark

Anthony might be the player the Magic think they know the most about. But he really is the one player who has the most to prove as his career starts to solidify.