When the Orlando Magic took Anthony Black with the sixth overall in the 2023 NBA Draft, they got many things.
They got an athletic oversized guard who can fly past defenders and get to the rim. But they also got a very talented and smart defender. To some, Black might be the best defender in the draft class.
That is surely one of the things the Magic were looking for when they selected the 6-foot-7 guard. Orlando has valued players with positional versatility like Black. And they are going to love using him to defend every wing position.
How exactly the Magic deploy that defensive versatility and whether Black can truly defend every position is going to determine exactly what his role will be during his rookie year.
With Orlando trying to establish a defensive identity for its team, Black’s defense is crucial to the team’s future and what it is looking for from its rookie.
Anthony Black has the defensive moxie to shift the flaws the Orlando Magic have had on the defensive end of the floor. He can do this with his active hands and pure athleticism.
Defense is something Orlando could use to help itself down the stretch when the team wants to become more competitive. Last season, the Magic were in the bottom half of the NBA for defensive rating (18th, 113.7). They did finish the season strong, finishing sixth after their 5-20 start on Dec. 7, but still at 113.1 points allowed per 100 possessions.
There are still a lot of things for the Magic to improve to become the defensive team they believe they can be — especially their ability to defend the 3-point line and preventing second-chance points and opportunities.
This has been a common theme over the course of the past few seasons as Orlando has not been in the top half of the league rankings for defensive rating since the 2020 season that was interrupted by COVID-19.
Adding Black adds to the group of long, rangy defenders that dot the Magic’s roster. Black seemed like a perfect fit for the team and its overall defensive philosophies.
That is, at least, if his defensive abilities and stats translate from his time at Arkansas.
In Black’s lone, freshman season at Arkansas, he was a defensive master. He totaled 2.4 defensive win shares, fourth in the SEC; and a 3.9 defensive box plus-minus, 13th in the SEC. The Razorbacks had a 96.9 defensive rating with Black on the floor, the 19th-best mark in the conference according to Sports-Reference.
That number is even more impressive considering Black played the most minutes in the conference by a fairly big margin.
Futher he averaged 2.1 steals per game with the Razorbacks showing just how active his hands were at all times throughout the year. He was a top-five steal leader in the SEC.
To put this in comparison to Orlando last season, Markelle Fultz led the team in steals with 1.5 steals per game.
Black also brought in 74 steals in 36 games played last year. That is more steals than all but two players (Markelle Fultz and Franz Wagner) on the Magic last season. Keep in mind that the grand majority of those Orlando players played in more than 36 games.
Black was a menace in passing lanes. The Magic experimented a lot with picking players up full court — particularly using Cole Anthony to try to tire players out and get the ball out of ball-handler’s hands.
Just imagine Black and his size and his energy playing that role and forcing teams to slow down and get into their offense latter. Orlando is likely imagining that possibility too as a way to start the team’s defense with a physical, aggressive tone.
In the blocks department, Black had 0.6 blocks per game which was a higher average than all but three Orlando players who were all centers.
As for his famed athleticism, Black can jump out of the gym with a max vertical leap of 39.0 inches which was sixth out of all of the 2023 draft prospects at the NBA Draft Combine. This can help greatly on jump shots and dunks, but more importantly, it also assists with the ability to block shots and take advantage of his 6-foot-7 oversized frame for a guard.
No doubt, Black’s offensive game will still need some work.
He struggled as a shooter throughout his season at Arkansas — hitting only 30.1 percent of his 3-pointers and 70.5 percent of his free throws on 5.3 attempts per game. He can put pressure on teams in the paint, but there is still work to do to round out his game.
That will certainly be the focus as he makes his debut at Summer League on Saturday against the Detroit Pistons.
But often for rookies, the early parts of their careers are based on what they are already good at and the skills that got them to the league.
The Magic certainly drafted Black with a lot of belief in his defensive ability. And they can certainly find ways to use him on that front early in his career. That could very well be something that boosts the Magic very quickly this season.