2023 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Cole Anthony’s third season is a true crossroads

Oct 3, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (50) looks to the sideline prior to the game the against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (50) looks to the sideline prior to the game the against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Anthony has never had a problem with confidence. Every time he steps on the floor, he thinks he is the best player out there – and that is what Orlando Magic fans love about him.

We know the story by now.

Cole Anthony’s basketball career looked like one of the more sure things when he was the 5-star prospect in high school. He checked all the boxes: son of a former NBA point guard, insane mixtapes and off-the-chart athleticism.

One season at North Carolina took Anthony’s traditional basketball rise to stardom and threw it out the window. Anthony suffered an injured knee, North Carolina limped through the season, and his draft stock plummeted.

The Orlando Magic watched as Anthony fell down the draft and took a shot on him with the 15th pick in the 2020 draft. When a Markelle Fultz injury forced Cole Anthony into the starting lineup just six games into the season, he instantly became the front page for the Magic.

Highlight plays, high scoring games, noteworthy interview sound bites – this was the Cole Anthony experience.

Cole Anthony was pushed into the spotlight and has had to learn to swim in turbulent waters with the Orlando Magic. His third season could be a watershed moment for the young guard.

In his rookie season, Anthony ended up starting 34 of the 47 games he played, with a good share of the playmaking responsibility falling on his shoulders.

At the time, this was perfect. The Magic were rebuilding and eventually tore it all apart at the trade deadline.

His sophomore season (last season) was much of the same. Anthony started all 65 games he appeared in, averaging 16.3 points per game to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.

He was first on the team in scoring, first in assists and third in rebounding. That sounds great, but the Magic were not great. The team finished 22-60 and, as we know it, won the lottery. All part of the plan.

This brings us up to now. So who really is Cole Anthony?

It is safe to say we have a decently good idea.

Anthony is an uber-athletic, ultra-confident, lead guard. He is a scorer at heart and can put up points in bunches. But he can also be erratic with the ball, shows holes on the defensive end and has yet to show he has the ability to orchestrate an offense by himself.

It is simple, but it is really not. If it was that easy to evaluate a player, where would the excitement be? Sports are fun because situations change, players grow, and roles become defined over time.

Let’s start with situations changing.

The Orlando Magic plan on turning a corner this season.

Any rebuilding team’s plan has the No. 1 pick at the top of every shortlist. The Magic have their guy in Paolo Banchero.

From night one, offensive game plans will be built around Banchero’s ability. The nights where Anthony is picking his spots and orchestrating offense will now be few and far between. His role is shifting as other players come to the front — let alone the impending return of Markelle Fultz that could push Cole Anthony into the sixth man role he has not played since early in his rookie year.

It also goes beyond Banchero.

Franz Wagner had a breakout season as a rookie and showed more playmaking chops than anyone expected. The Magic may have gained two point-forwards over the course of two drafts.

There is enough sample size from Anthony to know it might not be optimal for him to be taking the lead on half-court possessions.

Last season marked the 10th straight season the Orlando Magic were in the bottom 10 of the league in points per possession. They posted a league-worst offensive rating at 104.5 points per 100 possessions.

That is part of the reason why Anthony seemed destined to head to the bench. But, as is tradition, injures have muddied that water a little. Both Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz are likely to miss the start of the seaosn. The Magic may begin the year with Anthony starting at point guard again yet again.

But in an ideal world, Orlando sees Fultz as the lead ball-handler with Anthony playing a supporting role.

Things will ebb and flow this season, but we do know it will be different.

This is where growth comes in.

On media day, Anthony stated his goal still is to be an all-star. There is nothing wrong with that, plenty of players less talented than Anthony have all-star aspirations. And young players should believe in maximizing their own talents.

Growth will be key in taking a step toward this goal. Anthony was in the gym all summer and spent a considerable amount of time in Orlando working out.

A simple thing that would open up a lot for Anthony is just improved shooting. The percentages are still not great and a couple more makes would make the defense respect him more from the perimeter.

Anthony hit on only 33.8 percent of his 3-pointers on 6.0 attempts per game. He was merely in the league average for 3-point shooting, making 28.8 percent of his pull-up 3-pointers and 36.3percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.

Anthony had to create for himself a lot last year and that proved to be at the heart of his and the Magic’s difficulties offensively.

Defensive effort is another place to look to.

Anthony has the body, athleticism and attitude to get into guys and make things difficult. The Magic hope that taking away some of the offensive responsibility may give him the capacity to exert extra effort on the other end.

This is an area Anthony acknowledges he needs to continue to improve. He rates well chasing plays but is not considered a strong individual defender. Point guards certainly are not afraid to attack him.

Increased efficiency, defensive improvement and more nuance on offense all come with time in the league. Anthony is still only 22 years even though he carries himself like a veteran. There is still time.

Lastly, roles develop over time, especially for rebuilding teams. Most of the time, the leading scorers for the teams that got the top pick are not in the fold for the following years.

Related Story. Bol Bol needs to make his way onto the court. light

The leading scorers the year before the Philadelphia 76ers selected Joel Embiid in 2014 were Evan Turner and Michael Carter-Williams. The Boston Celtics the year before they drafted Jayson Tatum had Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. Those players were gone fairly quickly after the new core was established.

Even the Dallas Mavericks the year before they got their hands on Luka Doncic were led by Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews. Teams change as it becomes clear how they are going to rebuild.

It may well be different for Anthony. Just because he was leading the way for a team with a bad enough record to secure the number-one pick, does not necessarily mean he will not be part of the core moving forward. But his role will have to change. Clearly using Anthony as the leading scorer was not creating winning outcomes.

But Anthony is young and still developing. Many nights during this rebuild, he was the lone bright spot for the Magic.

He is still incredibly talented. The confidence is there — it was not long since Anthony was running circles around many of his peers currently in the NBA. He was drafted where he was and considered a top prospect for a reason.

Next. Jonathan Isaac's goal is to play and stay on the court. dark

The Magic have in their mind the ideal role for Anthony. But that does not always mean that he sees it that way. This is the beauty of this league.