Anthony Black is all potential.
Everyone can see exactly what the Orlando Magic see in him. They can all see the potential he creates.
A 6-foot-7 ball-handler who can move the ball and attack the paint, an excellent defender who can guard all three perimeter positions. He is an apparently selfless player and a perfect fit in the Magic’s family atmosphere — he certainly thinks so.
Black has a lot of work to do. He might have been dealing with an ankle injury that limited him in Summer League, but the limitations in his game were also abundantly clear. His jumper still needs a lot of work. And that might be the biggest thing that limits him for now.
For now may be the most important point though. There is a lot of time to develop and grow as a player, even if there are going to be some bumps along the road and a long road to get there.
Anthony Black is looking to make an impact in his rookie year. The best way to do that is to focus on his best skill: his defense. That will be his ticket to earning playing time.
Rookie seasons are always that kind of up-and-down journey. Most great players show who they are going to be in their rookie years but it is still the worst season of their careers. The consistency is never quite there for them. There is just so much to learn.
It is often best to keep things simple. Give them a role they can handle and allow them to lean on the one skill that likely got them into the league.
For Paolo Banchero, the Magic put him in a lot of pick and rolls and expanded his offensive responsibilities as the season went on, but he also had a lot of latitude to make mistakes and grow in the process.
For Anthony Black’s fellow rookie in Jett Howard, he will likely lean on his shooting to make an impact in his rookie year. That is his most translatable skill to the NBA and the most translatable skill the Magic need for this roster.
That has made Black’s fit all the more difficult to assess for the Magic.
What is the skill that he will rely on to make the Magic a better team? If this season is truly going to be a competition everywhere on the roster, how does Black fit in when he is so similar to Markelle Fultz as a guard with a questionable jumper or Jalen Suggs as an ace defender with a questionable jumper?
At this point, Black’s focus should be on the most simple thing he can provide this team. And the Magic should be trying to set him up for success.
That role is likely Black’s defense. It is the most evolved part of his game and something that will endear him to coaches and teammates pretty quickly — not to mention the most likely identity for this young team.
For Black to have a successful season, he should lean on his defense, using it to power his attacking and playmaking on offense and in transition.
There is no doubt he meets the physical attributes the Magic like and the attributes to be a great defender. It feels like the Magic will lean on him for that defensive energy at the very least in his rookie year. And it looks like the Magic will be willing to use him defensively at almost every position. That is at least the confidence they have in his abilities.
There are plenty of measures to suggest Black can be a strong defender.
He averaged 2.1 steals per game, 2.4 defensive win shares and a 3.9 defensive box plus-minus (meaning the team was 3.9 points per 100 possessions better than the average player with Black on the floor). That DBPM was 13th in the SEC and his defensive win shares were fourth.
Arkansas had a 96.2 defensive rating with Black on the court, according to FOX Sports. That is some incredible defense that Black has been a part of.
Black made his mark at Arkansas on defense. It helped make up for his poor shooting and helped feed the transition game where he thrived and could control the pace of play as the point guard.
That will ultimately be what decides his career and how far he goes — both in the league and with this Magic team as they start to climb the standings. It is a big hurdle for him to overcome.
Because his shooting was so poor — 45.3/30.1/70.5 shooting splits and that poor free throw percentage is a sign his shooting still needs a lot of work — he had to create a lot of his own opportunities through his defense and versatility.
There is obviously an awkward fit offensively — playing him alongside either Markelle Fultz or Jalen Suggs seems like a risky proposition considering their own poor shooting reputations. So unless Black has made dramatic improvements as a shooter even since Summer League, the Magic are going to have to be intentional which groups he plays with to ensure his success.
Still, Black made an impact at Arkansas and perhaps some of his offensive shortcomings were heightened by what some describe as one of the worst-spaced courts among top prospects in the Draft — his backcourt mate was Nick Smith Jr. who was also a poor perimeter shooter.
The Magic do not have great shooting, but they should have better spacing for Black to attack offensively — not to mention the NBA is a more spaced-out league than the college game.
If the pressure on his offense is relieved then his defensive prowess should come to the forefront. And that is what the Magic are going to rely on from him to start his career. It is the skill that got him to the NBA and the one that will get him on the court his rookie year more than anything else.
Unlike shooting, this skill alone may not keep him on the floor when the games really matter and the pressure increases. The Magic are going to need shooting to win at the higher levels they are aiming for.
But defense goes a long way. And Black should be able to lean on his defense to get himself on the court and make an impact in his rookie year. That is where he should put most of his focus and where Black will make his biggest impact.