Cole Anthony’s rebounding a spark for Orlando Magic’s attack

Cole Anthony will play a key role for the Orlando Magic off the bench as they try to make a postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony will play a key role for the Orlando Magic off the bench as they try to make a postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Cole Anthony has embraced a new role coming off the bench for the Orlando Magic this season.

This might have been a tough pill to swallow for Anthony given he started all 65 games he played last season. But he deserves credit for accepting the role. He has shown maturity, poise and selflessness that belies his age as a vocal leader for the team.

The Magic bench lacks offensive weapons, and using Anthony’s creation with the ball and ability to spread the floor has proven to be vital. These skills continue to keep Anthony on the court. But his rebounding is standing out above the rest as a unique skill.

Anthony’s strong rebounding speaks to everything that makes Anthony unique.

Cole Anthony has embraced his role off the bench. But the Orlando Magic guard’s surprising rebounding ability has given him extra value to the team.

Anthony is fifth on the team in rebounds per game but is the shortest member of the Magic. The team as a collective has poorly rebounded on defense, so Anthony’s 4.6 rebounds per contest pick up the slack. He uses his quickness to box out and crash the glass on defense, often flying in past box outs to grab boards and picking them up with some emphasis to ward off bigger players.

Anthony is fifth in rebounds per game for players under 6-foot-4 in the NBA this season. The four that average more are Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Ja Morant and Kyrie Irving. They collectively average 33.3 minutes per game, while Anthony is at 24.7 minutes per game. He is using his athleticism to rebound and push the ball up the court for fast break opportunities.

Those four more seasoned players create more offense than most of the league and are great at pushing the pace to provide offense for themselves and others. Westbrook was one of the first players of this new generation to model his game after rebounding and pushing the ball. Anthony can emulate this style and excel at it.

The Magic have a group of skilled forwards who can run with Anthony and score in bunches similar to the early Oklahoma City Thunder rosters with Russel Westbrook leading the attack for Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka. They were tenacious on defense and could tire out a defense trying to run with them.

When Anthony rebounds and starts to push the ball down the court, he creates fast break opportunities, which has been one of the areas where the Magic have thrived this season.

Anthony gives wings and bigs the ability to sprint down the court to create passing lanes and open shots. A lot of Orlando’s offense is generated through playing solid defense and grabbing rebounds.

The bench for this team should run a similar model, and Anthony would be the glue forming this style of play. He has shown commitment to improving and helping his team succeed. He’s frequently praised by coaches and teammates for his work ethic and dedication to his craft. Coach Mosley will continue to mentor Cole and develop his skill set in the coming years.

Defensive stops create opportunities on offense as the opposing team does not have time to get set running back so the Magic can exploit matchups. The coaching staff should continue to encourage Anthony to rebound and use his dynamic playmaking as Orlando’s half-court offensive efficiency is the 5th worst in the NBA.

The Magic’s poor efficiency is a result of their lack of shooting and directly affects Anthony’s offensive game.

Teams will put their best defender on Anthony who will take away the three-point shot and force drives to the lane. Help defenders can then sag off other players in help because of the lack of shooting threats on the floor for Orlando. When this happens Anthony can get trapped and it results in turnovers.

When Anthony does get going he can have games like Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks when he scored 28 points, hit three 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds, including five defensive rebounds.

Orlando will need Anthony to improve his decision-making when driving and passing the basketball. But this is where he thrives.

Anthony plays best with the ball in his hands creating opportunities for his teammates. He is a skilled ball-handler and a deft passer who should utilize his speed to create through fast breaks.

Anthony’s vision and court awareness are also gradually improving and are already impressive for a player of his age and experience. Anthony is continuing to show the ability to make quick decisions and execute passes in traffic. These skills are areas that need to be emphasized in his continued growth into a playmaker.

In addition to his passing ability, Anthony is a capable scorer. He has a smooth shooting stroke and the ability to get to the rim and finish through contact. He is averaging 17 points per 36 minutes, and his ability to stretch the floor is a key component to keeping the defense honest.

Anthony is having a down year in his shooting percentage averaging 33.8 percent from behind the arc on 3.3 attempts per game. This number is below the league average and his career average, but this statistic comes with an asterisk. The three other players who play consistent minutes off the bench, Jalen Suggs, Bol Bol and Moe Wagner are averaging a combined 31.5 percent from three.

Jonathan Isaac’s return should aid in the lack of shooting as he continues to get back into the rotation. Despite more than two years of not playing, he is shooting 40 percent from three, which is second-best on the team. Anthony will benefit from having another capable shooter on the floor, and hopefully, with Isaac’s increase in attempts, he stays consistent.

Despite these offensive challenges, Anthony has shown signs of what he can blossom into as a player, and he can use his rebounding to Orlando’s advantage.

At 22 years old, there is an argument to be made Anthony is the most important Magic player coming off the bench this year. He is eligible for a rookie-scale extension this offseason, so Anthony and the Magic are hoping to have a strong twenty games to finish the season. He is important for this young Orlando team providing offensive creation through his shooting, ball handling, and rebounding.

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The Magic would like to be in the conversation for the play-in tournament and Anthony will need to be dependable in all facets of his game. The emergence of Anthony’s rebounding offers hope for his future combined with an improvement of passing ability, scoring prowess, and tempo he plays with. If he continues to develop and limit his weaknesses he could be a key piece of a future Magic team that is built around athletic, talented players.