Patience can be a dirty word for teams in the hunt for contention. Or even a team like the Orlando Magic that seems on the cusp of contention.
There is a lot of anticipation for this upcoming season. And while there are a lot of players who will surely still be growing into their roles and improving, this is going to become a season where production and results are going to matter a bit more.
There is not going to be a lot of time to wait for development at a certain point. The margins for making the postseason and achieving the team’s overarching goal. One of the bigger questions for this season then is about the balance between short-term needs to compete for a postseason spot and long-term development for young players.
The focus on the short-term might take over later in the season where some allowance for the long-term could take place earlier in the season.
The Orlando Magic are shifting into a focus on winning more in the short-term. That means rookies like Anthony Black have to find a way to impact early and be patient with their growth.
The one thing that has become abundantly clear is that the attitude within the roster has changed. Even Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has had to admit that young players will no longer be gifted their minutes. There will be lots of internal competition as much as the team will be competing on the court for wins and something beyond “getting better.”
How does a rookie like Anthony Black fit into this picture? Where does he slide in?
On one hand, he is the sixth pick in the draft and enters the league with all the expectations that come with being that high of a draft pick. He also enters the league as still a fairly raw prospect, especially offensively.
He not only has to find ways to improve his game but also find ways to contribute to the team.
This is not the case of the Magic preparing to throw a rookie into the fire, hand him the ball and ask him to go as they did with Paolo Banchero last year. They are not going to lean on their rookies — either Anthony Black or Jett Howard — contributing a major role immediately. They can take a patient approach with Black.
That does not mean the Magic should not expect anything from Black. The goal for Black is to carve out a role and find a way to contribute while improving his other skills gradually as the season — and the years — go on.
Black’s outlook for his rookie year is to focus on his strengths and contribute to the team where he can.
Black was known at Arkansas for his stellar defense. He averaged 2.1 steals per game and 0.6 blocks per game last year. He had a 3.9 defensive box plus-minus and 2.4 defensive win shares according to Sports-Reference. He was 15th in the nation in total steals last season and fourth in the SEC in defensive win shares.
At 6-foot-7, Black was certainly big for the guard position. He used that size effectively to lock down opposing players. That was the biggest strength he brought with him from college. And at the very least that is the skill he brings to the league immediately.
Black showed some of that at Summer League, where he averaged 2.0 steals per game and 0.7 blocks per game in his three appearances at Summer League. And a reminder, Black said on his video blog that he was dealing with an ankle injury during Summer League. Some of his mobility was certainly limited.
The Magic clearly love positional size and role versatility. Black fits that mode measuring at 6-foot-5.75 without shoes guard with a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine. Orlando clearly wants to use that versatility.
And that versatility starts with his defense. The Magic believe he is capable of guarding any perimeter position. And that is part of how the Magic seem set to use him.
That is what will make Black valuable and help him gain playing time. Because the Magic roster is loaded at guard.
Black may not log a ton of minutes at his natural point guard position this season. Orlando has Markelle Fultz entrenched as a starter with Cole Anthony likely backing him up. Jalen Suggs too can handle the ball and will likely get minutes off the bench (or potentially as a starter).
This is the part where Black’s present will require some patience.
Orlando is likely to get him in games because he is a rookie. But where and in what role will remain the question. Are the Magic actually going to plan to use Black as essentially a small forward and play him that far out of position? Will they move Anthony or Suggs off the ball and keep Black on the ball as a point guard?
This versatility is certainly valuable. The Magic are not going to shy away from moving players around and having more ball handlers capable of running the offense is never a bad thing. But it should still be noted that Black needs a lot of work.
The biggest knock on Black coming out of Arkansas was his poor shooting. He averaged 12.8 points per game on shooting splits of 45.3/30.1/70.5. Those stats do not suggest his jumper will develop quickly.
At Summer League, Black averaged 11.0 points per game on 13-for-32 shooting and 1-for-6 shooting from deep. Again, an ankle injury slowed him in Vegas.
It is hard to debate that Black’s shot will need to take some time to develop. Already you can see Black working on improving his shooting from Black’s offseason video blog.
But the progress is going to be slow. It is going to require patience.
His shooting, at least from what we saw in Arkansas and in Summer League, is not quite NBA-ready. He should be able to contribute as a defender immediately. And that will get him on the floor.
But the rest of his game will need some rounding out. It will likely be a year of learning for someone like Black. It will be a year that requires some patience for him to unlock all of his capabilities.
That may be the overarching message when it comes to Black. He has to carve out his role with this team and the reality is that Black may be drafted more for the team the Magic may one day become more than the team they are now. He may have a difficult rookie season.
The goal for Black then is to keep everything simple. He will need to focus on his defense and playmaking and getting out in transition to contribute and help his team win. He likely will have a simple role off the bench as he continues to put the pieces of his game together within a Magic team that is expecting to win this season.
Black will need some patience to reach his potential. And his rookie year will likely start with focusing on the simple and his strengths.
Will that be enough to give him minutes consistently and help the team win when the pressure starts to ramp up? That will be the question he has to answer immediately as he grows for the long term.