Cole Anthony has a lot more to prove to stay in Orlando Magic’s plans

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 /

When the Orlando Magic drafted Cole Anthony in 2020, the whole franchise was filled with a ton of optimism because snagging Anthony with the 15th pick felt like a steal.

Anthony was ranked a top three player in the country in high school. His stock after his lone season at North Carolina dropped due to the knee injury along with his inconsistent play. But the talent was still undeniable. And the scoring potential was something the team desperately needed.

Albeit, a lot of that inconsistent play was due to the limited talent around him at North Carolina.

Anthony entered the NBA and got thrown into the starting lineup quickly because of injuries on the Orlando Magic’s roster. He has had some incredible moments — including a pair of game-winners his rookie year — and played admirably for the team this season. Nobody is for his teammates more than Anthony and he is a great addition to the team’s overall culture.

But this is still about Anthony’s ability to play. And still about what he brings on the court. And there, the results continue to be inconsistent.

The Orlando Magic have to make a decision on Cole Anthony soon. He will be entering his fourth season next season. The Magic have 3 options: Extend him, Trade him or give him one more season to prove himself.

Anthony has had to adjust this year to a bench role as the Magic get healthier. He is averaging 12.1 points per game and 4.4 assists per game while shooting a career-best 47.9 percent effective field goal percentage.

There are nights where Anthony looks like a dynamic bench scorer carrying the team’s depleted bench and lifting the team’s energy like he did in the win against the San Antonio Spurs. Then there are nights where Anthony struggles to get much of anything going and the whole bench unit lets the team down, as Thursday night in an 0-for-8 performance against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The decisions Jeff Weltman and company have to make simply are not easy. The Magic are at the part of their rebuild where they have a bunch of players with good potential. But they are still growing and have not proven much in this league.

The NBA is a contract-based league, and the time to assess Anthony is simply coming to an end. The team will have to preview some key decisions that come starting this offseason. The front office must make a decision very soon.

So far, Anthony has been very lackluster on both ends, to be fair. He is simply not someone the Magic can trust on a nightly basis for his production.

It certainly is a very tough pill to swallow since Anthony is a fan favorite with his comical off-the-court activity. He is a great teammate and he is someone who genuinely loves his teammates. There is no doubt about that.

But he is under contract for one more season after this season before he would hit restricted free agency. The Magic, outside of Markelle Fultz, lack a true point guard that can run the offense when Fultz goes to the bench or is injured. They were really hoping Anthony would and could become that. However, his inconsistent play has hurt the Magic.

Anthony is averaging a career-low in points but despite playing five minutes fewer per game than last year, he is averaging about the same number of assists and rebounds. He is shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from 3-point land. The overall field goal percentage would be a career-high if he can keep it up, it would be the first time in his career he would shoot better than 39 percent.

He shot 38 percent at North Carolina, and then 39 percent in his first two seasons with the Magic. The fact shooting 41 percent would be a career-high is a concerning thing in itself. The 31 percent would be a career low for Cole.

Listed at 6-foot-2, although plays a lot smaller than that, he is a below-average league defender, an area where Anthony admits he needs to improve.

Cole Anthony has a -2.71 Defensive Real-Plus-Minus (DRPM). He is in the 39th percentile in the league with only 1.6 deflections per game. DRPM is the player’s impact on his team’s defensive performance per 100 possessions.

The Magic have a defensive rating of 117.2 with Anthhony on the floor.

Due to Cole Anthony’s struggles running the offense, the Magic have tried to pair Anthony to an off-ball role next to Markelle Fultz at times or have Franz Wagner bring the ball up to keep Anthhony off the ball.

But he has struggled in that role as well. Anthony is shooting just 27.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers on 2.7 attempts per game. Anthony is shooting 40.7 percent on pull-ups per game on 4.2 attempts per game.

Out of the 10 shots Anthony attempts per game, four of them come with him taking more than seven dribbles per game. He is shooting 40.9 percent on those shots.

That is one criticism for Anthony’s game, he often times dribbles too much running the clock down. A big part of why he struggles with playmaking as well.

On wide-open shots where the closest defender is more than six feet away, Anthony is shooting 40 percent on 2.5 attempts per game. On shots considered “open” where the defender is 4-6 feet away, Anthony is shooting 41.9 percent, on 3.8 attempts per game.

So on average, six-plus shots out of the 10 per game Anthony attempts are either “open” or “wide open,” which makes his struggles even more concerning.

The Magic play slower with Anthony as well. The Magic’s pace without Anthony is 100.4 possessions per 48 minutes and with him is 96.1. One of the biggest keys to the Magic’s success has been pushing the pace and running out in transition.

There have to be some real conversations about where Anthony fits. Fortunately, he still has half a season to get accustomed to this role and begin to own it more consistently.

Anthony is still a young player at only 22 years old. He still has the chance to develop into a good player. But the Magic need to make a decision soon on who they want to move forward in this rebuild with as their core pieces.

Whether to keep Anthony or move on from him will be a decision Weltman will have to make in a few months.

Next. Orlando Magic win by committee. dark

One thing with Anthony is that he plays his heart out on the court, his effort is always there. Hopefully, Anthony can turn it around this season and prove his worth and impact winning.