The early parts of the Orlando Magic’s Summer League opener saw the sixth overall pick, Anthony Black, work to get himself comfortable.
The goal was to keep things simple and that seemed to be the message for him. He did not try to do too much, focusing on probing defenses and getting comfortable on the court. He fired passes to teammates and seemed hesitant on drives.
Black just looked like he was still figuring out his place on the floor. Something that only experience was going to resolve.
Orlando though kept its confidence in him. Teammates kept urging Black to be aggressive. He just needed to have confidence and get more comfortable to take off.
Anthony Black looked the part of a rookie early on in his Orlando Magic Summer League debut. But as the fourth quarter started, things clicked and Black showed what he could do in making a strong opening statement.
And so as he entered the game in the fourth quarter, the Magic were trailing by eight points and they needed a spark. Those urges to be more aggressive finally landed and Black finally looked comfortable.
Black scored 10 of his 17 points in quick succession early in that fourth quarter, displaying the driving and shot-making that created so much hype around the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. It helped draw the Magic back into the game and gave them a real chance to win.
"“Just the way the game was going, I felt like we had been in a drought, I thought maybe I need to be a little more aggressive and get to my stuff,” Black said after Saturday’s game. “My teammates were finding me. My teammates were telling me to go and be aggressive all game. I turned it on then. The ball screen with Rob [Baker] was working good. Rob was setting good screens. So I was working off those.”"
Black finished the game with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. He scored 10 of those points in the fourth quarter. He did this by finally turning on the jets and becoming a more aggressive driver, getting to the basket for a few tough finishes over the Pistons’ supreme length on the interior and then following it up with some surprisingly smooth jumpers off the dribble.
He hit 7 of 10 of his shots, showing how his selective shot-taking could still lead to efficiency despite questions about his overall jumper. If anything, the Magic needed him to get that aggressive scoring mindset sooner.
Black would still say he had a lot to improve upon. And there is a lot to improve upon for a rookie playing his first game.
Four of his five assists came in the first quarter. That was when Black was looking to get comfortable the most and seemed more willing to defer to teammates.
His drives were more probing at that point, but Black still showed the ability to push the pace with pinpoint push-ahead and kick-out passes.
Beyond that, he had seven turnovers with some passes that were too hot to handle as he tried to make the right play and a few times where he drove into traps and had the ball knocked away from him. This is the price a player can get for driving without aggression. A hard and important lesson learned as Black got more and more comfortable.
Adding to this though, Black was active defensively. He did a great job defending the lightning blur that is Jaden Ivey — Ivey finished with 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting with six turnovers himself — and was active in passing lanes and in help. He had three steals but plenty more deflections and difficult passes.
His size is going to be a problem for a lot of guards when the Magic deploy him and he gains more confidence and comfort defensively.
The rookie was the standout from the Orlando Magic’s 89-78 loss to the Detroit Pistons in their Summer League opener. And previewed what more is still to come as he aims to improve the rest of his time in Las Vegas.
"“First off, I love their confidence,” Kevon Harris said of the Magic’s two rookies. “Especially AB coming out there and running the offense for us. I feel like they are getting their feel. The game will slow down as they keep going. I had fun out there playing with them. They play hard, and they compete. That’s all you can ask for. We’ll keep growing and they’ll keep getting better. I’m looking forward to it.”"
That was the goal for the Magic was to try to get Black comfortable.
It was clear once he had that comfort how good he could be. And that is the comfort the Magic are going to try to create for him and their other rookies.
Magic Summer League coach Dylan Murphy said getting his sea legs and getting comfortable were the biggest keys for Black. Once he had that comfort he was able to put players in the right spot.
During the regular season and individual plus/minus rating may not mean very much. But in this Summer League setting, it is a sign of a player’s overall impact and whether he is helping contribute to winning. Black had a +4 plus/minus, for what it is worth. A sign that he was a calming figure for a young team.
"“His poise level is really high,” Murphy said after Saturday’s game. “I felt like when things were kind of getting a little sketchy for us and a little discombobulated, he was really able to calm the group down, share the ball and make good plays. It helps when you make shots to get your confidence going.”"
That is probably the biggest compliment a coach can give a young player in his first NBA-level game. Black showed a lot of that poise throughout the game as he looked for his spots. He looked to facilitate for most of the game as he tested what he could do.
That is what a lot of Summer League will be for with him. It will be about him testing what he can and cannot do and getting comfortable being on the NBA floor.
Black slowly gained that comfort as the game went on. And when that light bulb switched on, Black became a truly difficult player to contain and handle. That is what Black is hinting at.
All Orlando needs to see is whether Black can build on this in his second Summer League game. The team will want to see its rookie look more comfortable and confident the next time out. And that should be something to see if Black can take off from there.