2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Cole Anthony readjusting his role to Sixth Man

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 05: Chuma Okeke #3 and Cole Anthony #50 of the Orlando Magic talk against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at Amway Center on November 05, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 05: Chuma Okeke #3 and Cole Anthony #50 of the Orlando Magic talk against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at Amway Center on November 05, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Some players when they enter the league are given the keys to the organization.

Cole Anthony was given what might be considered more of a rental.

During the 2022 season, Anthony unexpectedly took on a leadership role and became the center of the offense. Usual starting point guard Markelle Fultz was injured for the majority of the season and only played in 18 games and there was just not enough talent on the roster to justify moving him to the bench.

Anthony was the guy, even getting early All-Star buzz.

He was the only true and reliable point guard on the team and he could run the offense. He led the team in points, assists and field goal attempts as the main point of the Magic offense that was looking for a star, a leader, and a facilitator.

However, this was only a one-year stint.

Fultz came back and played at a high level, along with the addition of first-overall pick Paolo Banchero, a healthy Bol Bol and the increased role of Moe Wagner led to a role change for Cole Anthony.

He went from being the focal point of an offense to adjusting to being a sixth man and having to be a spark off the bench.

That change is not easy for anyone to handle. It is easy to think of it as a demotion — especially after Anthony started 99 of 112 games in his first two years. Starting only four his third year was a major adjustment.

A young and improving talent who got a taste of being “the guy” having to take a step back and not only share his touches but lose his starting role.

He handled this transition about as well as anyone can, and this really shows a number on his character.

Cole Anthony went from being the guy on the Orlando Magic’s early rebuild teams to being a key cog off the bench. Anthony took over that role as well as anyone could and mapped out his future in the league.

The fact he is so young and was willing to take a major role change for the better of the team, and the willingness to take a stat hit to make the team more successful, shows how dedicated he is to winning and that he is an absolute team player.

The fact that he thrived in this role only confirmed the kind of person and player Anthony is.

Most young guys would have had a hard time with this transition and would have taken a hit on their ego. But Anthony not only made this transition with a smile, but encouraged his teammates and was one of the best hype men for the Magic.

Not only did his character show, but his on-court game translated as well. The argument could be made Anthony had a better season this year than last year. He was an offensive spark off the bench for the Magic and did a great job of running the bench unit.

Anthony averaged 13.0 points per game, with 3.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. These are really good sixth man numbers — eighth in scoring among players with at least 41 games off the bench — and are exactly what the Magic needed to see out of Anthony this season.

He averaged 3.3 fewer points, 1.8 fewer assists and 0.6 fewer rebounds per game than the year prior while playing 5.8 fewer minutes per game, starting 61 fewer games. His usage rating went from 25.1 to 21.5 percent.

He integrated himself into the team more, but he still found a way to impact the game.

By the end of the season, he was back to playing how he played in November when he generated brief All-Star buzz. He averaged 14.9 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game on 47.1/41.8/91.4 shooting splits after the All-Star Break.

It showed Anthony can easily fit into this role and be effective.

His stats overall took a slight hit when he played fewer minutes and he was no longer the center of attention. He was also the primary ball handler way less. He shared the court with Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz, Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero throughout the season who would all be primary ball handlers. Last year Anthony was basically the only main ball handler.

While taking a step back in usage and minutes, he had a career-high in blocks, offensive rating, offensive rebounds, with a career low in turnovers and fouls. This shows growth because it is hard for young players who are primarily scorers to find value and worth without scoring the ball and he did that.

His defensive presence was felt way more, probably because he did not carry as much of an offensive load and he took care of the ball, made good decisions, and hustled for rebounds. The Magic made up for some of his shortcomings by having him pick ball handlers up full court, as Anthony did his best to be a pest and slow opponents down from entering their offense quickly.

The best improvement in his game off the bench was his efficiency. Last season when Anthony was the first option and the primary scorer, he struggled with efficiency at all levels. This is normally the case for young players forced into a first option role.

This year coming off the bench his numbers sky rocketed. He had career highs in shooting percentages in every single category. He shot career highs of 45.4 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three, 50.0 percent from two — 47.4 percent from mid-range and 63.2 percent from within three feet. He also shot 35.3 percent on corner threes and 89.4 percent from the free throw line, which were also career highs.

His efficiency was the biggest part of his offense that he needed to improve on going into this season and he showed that he had been working in the offseason and that he can be a productive efficient scorer.

He also showed that he can fill in as a starter when needed. In the 4 games he started 12.8 points per game, 7 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists showing that he can still run that starting guard and primary facilitator role when needed.

Even though he showed that he could start if asked his main job was to be a killer off the bench and he did just that. Even though he was a bench player he was still top 5 in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and blocks per game on the Magic.

He had 26 games with at least 15 points including eight 20-point games and a season high of 28. He also added 24 games with five or more assists and with a season-high of nine and 32 games with five or more rebounds including the game he had a double double with 10 rebounds and was one assist shy of a triple double.

Anthony was a threat from every aspect of the game and it was amazing to watch him get better as the season went on.

You could see him adjusting and figuring out his sixth man role.

Before the All-Star Break, he averaged 12.0 points per game, 4.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on 44.3/33.1/88.4 shooting splits in 25 minutes per game. After the All-Star Break, he averaged 14.9 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 47.1/42.8/91.4 shooting splits in 27 minutes per game.

He also had a positive plus/minus after the All-Star Break which he did not have in the first half of the season. That type of improvement is what you need from a sixth man during the course of a long season.

If the Magic were playing playoff basketball, Anthony would have been playing his best basketball at the right time which is the best you could ask for.

On the other side of the ball, Anthony showed improvement as well. His defensive rating got slightly worse and he got fewer steals than last year but he showed a lot of good as well. His defensive field goal percentage got better as well as his defensive field goal percentage on guarding three pointers and mid range shots as well.

The only place he really struggled and declined was defending around the rim but that can definitely be improved on and he is a smaller guard, so that may never be a strong suit.

Although not all of his numbers got better defensively he definitely looked more comfortable and confident on defense. He even won some of his tougher matchups.

He held Sixth Man of the Year Malcom Brogdon to 4-for-11 shooting, runner-up Immanuel Quickley to 3-for-9 shooting, C.J McCollum to 2-for-7 shooting, Fred VanVleet to 0-for-6  shooting and Donovan Mitchell to 2-for-9 shooting.

These are some of the league’s best 6th Men and starting guards that he played amazing defense on.

He showed a lot of defensive potential to build on and he showed that he can hang with the best in the league. Having your 6th man be a lethal scorer is deadly, but having him be an above average perimeter defender makes him that much more dangerous.

. G. Orlando Magic. COLE ANTHONY. A-

Overall Anthony handled the transition back to the bench and being a sixth man as well as anyone could. And he did it with a smile on his face.

A lot of people questioned Anthony’s future with the Magic after Fulz’s return, the Magic running a bigger lineup, and Suggs and Harris getting the starts when they decided to not go big, but he showed that all that does not matter.

Anthony made it evident he can be an elite sixth man, that he can run the second unit and that he can score, distribute, rebound and defend at a high level off the bench. He showed he can be the sixth man and bench point guard of the future.

As the Magic grow and get better they can be successful with Anthony at the helm of the bench and him leading the second unit. Although it might not be the starting role he had last year. Having depth and really good bench play is so important in the league and especially in the playoffs.

Next. Player Evaluations: Jonathan Isaac let another year pass by. dark

The teams that make it far in the playoffs every year have depth and fresh legs so they do not tire out their starters, and Anthony provides that value to the Magic. It is exciting to begin to imagine what he is going to be able to do next season as a 6th man with one season of experience under his belt.