Cole Anthony adjusting to bench role, still aiming for more

Cole Anthony is adjusting to a new role off the bench. He is learning to thrive in it as he pushes to do more. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony is adjusting to a new role off the bench. He is learning to thrive in it as he pushes to do more. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Anthony has been a starter for the Orlando Magic for the first two years of his career.

That may not have been the role the Magic envisioned for him when they made him the 15th pick in the Draft, but circumstances — both injuries ahead of him and the shifting roster around him — pushed him into that role.

In some respects, he crushed it. He is a scoring dynamo who is able to create off the dribble and hit deep 3-pointers. He looked like an All-Star in the first quarter of last season before injuries slowed him down.

In other respects, his flaws were apparent. His inefficiency and his lack of durability hurt the team. It was still a good season for Anthony, but the team’s struggles pointed toward questions of his long-term viability as a starter.

Markelle Fultz’s return only further muddied the point guard position. It seemed to relegate Anthony to that original role. The one he had never done before.

And that sets up the story of his season.

Cole Anthony is playing a new role as the point guard off the bench. He is doing what he can to adjust and own the role as he hopes to push the Orlando Magic for more.

It was inevitable that when Fultz returned Anthony would shift to that seemingly preferred role coming off the bench. The one where Anthony could be a bit more of a scorer with bench units and not have to manage the game completely.

Still, this is a major adjustment for Anthony. One that he has taken in stride.

"“For me, I don’t think it’s much of a change,” Anthony said after Tuesday’s practice. “I still feel like I get the opportunity to go out there and score, pass it, rebound and defend. It ain’t nothing but the same thing to me. It’s the game I love to play so I’m going to play it at the highest level I can.”"

His minutes have shrunk from starter-level minutes of 31.7 minutes per game last year down to 27.2 minutes per game in just three starts in 11 appearances so far this season. Since returning from injury and cementing a role off the bench, Anthony is averaging 25.4 minutes per game.

This may seem like a small adjustment, but it is a big drop. Especially when a player has to change his preparation coming off the bench.

Anthony has shown little effect of it, embracing the role and averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent and 40.0 percent on threes since coming back from injury and coming off the bench.

Whether he starts or comes off the bench, these kinds of efficiency numbers will help the team and help Anthony find his role.

"“Cole has been great,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Tuesday. “Playing with a level of poise these last couple of games, trying to make the right play and the right decision. The one thing I really appreciate about what he’s doing is even if shots aren’t falling for him, he is still trying to make the right play. Defensively he has been great navigating over and under screens, trying to get back into the basketball and sit down and guard.”"

This has given Anthony plenty of opportunities to contribute.

The Magic have long said that they are going to play by committee. Everyone will make contributions.

Anthony has certainly done that.

He made key contributions in wins over the LA Clippers (13 points on a night the team was struggling offensively) and the two wins over the Toronto Raptors (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 3-for-5 shooting from deep in the first game and another 14 points and six assists in the second game).

He arguably was the better point guard in both of those games against Toronto. There was a good case for him to close those games — before the Magic get into some of their bigger organizational beliefs in this developmental season.

It should be clear Anthony can still make a big impact and play a big role off the bench. The starter/bench designation should not matter so much — except when it comes to clutch minutes where Anthony has seen a nosedive going to 4.3 total minutes in three clutch appearances whereas he played the second-most clutch minutes on the team last season.

That might be the biggest adjustment. Anthony is used to having the ball in his hands with the game on the line. And he has proven his chops at handling that pressure.

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Anthony still has a lot more he wants to accomplish and still believes he can be an impactful player. He is eager to do more even as he spends his time splitting minutes with Fultz at the moment (the Magic have been willing to play the two alongside each other in some lineups too).

That is the part that is driving him.

He is not in direct competition with Fultz per se — no one is a bigger cheerleader for his teammates than Anthony — but he wants to push his way into the lineup more and get more opportunities. He wants to own his role to the point that Mosley has to play him.

That is driving him to improve.

"“I feel like I should be out there more,” Anthony said after practice Tuesday. “I ain’t going to whine or pout about it. I’m just going to work harder. My mom sent me this quote, it’s a Gregg Popovich quote, it was something about make me look like an idiot for not playing you. It’s sticking with me. I’m just doing what I can to help this team win and I feel that’s what I’ve done these past few games.”"

After meeting with the media Tuesday, Anthony grabbed his phone to get the full quote. The idea is the coach is trying to convey to a player unhappy with his playing time to play so hard and so well in the minutes he gets that the coach looks stupid for not playing him more.

This is the mindset Anthony is trying to bring. Although it is not like he is not playing at all.

Anthony is still a critical component of this team and a major reason why the team is on this current win streak. And he has played well in this new role.

Orlando is still getting a feel for its rotation as it gets healthier. There is going to be plenty of healthy competition and maybe even some friction as players aim to do more — R.J. Hampton is certainly already experiencing some of this as he has been squeezed completely out of the rotation.

Players have had to step up throughout the roster. And there are plenty of spaces for them to shine.

"“We have a bunch of dudes who are capable,” Anthony said after practice Tuesday. “Any given night, anyone can get it going. You don’t go away from someone who has a hot hand. That’s kind of shown in our wins. We’ve had multiple dudes get double digits, maybe a couple of dudes getting 20. It really has been by committee.”"

This is the biggest realization for a young team to learn. This is where Anthony has found some success at this stage of his career. It is where he is pushing for more but also finding his comfort in a new role.

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Everyone will get their chance if they accept and succeed in their roles. So far, Anthony has embraced this challenge and is eager to keep pushing himself and his team forward.