Cole Anthony’s time with the Orlando Magic has been a journey, with unexpected climbs, dips and detours along the way.
When you lay it all out, it may seem like it has been longer, but Anthony is only entering his fourth season with the Magic. And he is still only 23 years old.
Those are important factors when talking about a player’s outlook, or even the big picture, because, as we have learned before, a player is not fully developed and rarely has reached his peak this early in his career.
Anthony’s career has been less linear than others, which likely contributes to this false sense of “this is the year to prove it” that has been swirling around his narrative. It may also simply be because his game is more mature than others his age, making it seem like he is further along in his development.
It really could just be because he is in a contact year and the Magic have an abundance of guards on the roster.
However you shake it, Anthony is a bigger part of the Magic’s master plan than your average person likes to think. He has proven himself already, and, more importantly, has proven he is willing to be flexible in any role for the organization.
Cole Anthony is in the crosshairs entering a critical contract year for the Orlando Magic. But he has established himself as part of this team’s future far more than many recognize.
Injuries and a rebuild thrust Anthony into the starting lineup very early in his rookie year and he ended up leading the team in scoring and minutes played in his second season.
Coming into last season, he was asked to take on the role of sixth man, your quintessential bucket-getter off the bench. Every good team has one and the Magic know Anthony fit this archetype perfectly.
Anthony took the role and ran with it, which is rare for a 22-year-old who has been a star his whole life and just led the team in scoring. But that is what makes Anthony different.
He knows he can be one of the vocal leaders of the team and still come off the bench. He knows he can be one of the primary scoring options while coming off the bench. And he knows his game might be better suited coming off the bench.
Still, Anthony has the mindset of being a starter. He believes he can be relied upon for major minutes and believes he can have a bigger role. That kind of confidence is valuable even if it still ends with him playing major minutes off the bench.
Sixth men still get paid.
Playing in 60 games last season and coming off the bench for 56 of them, Anthony averaged 25.9 minutes per game, the lowest of his career. His averages dipped a little, 13.0 points and 3.9 assists per game. But that is expected. The ball was in his hands less.
What is important is he played the most efficient basketball of his career. He shot 36.4 percent from three and 45.4 percent from the field, both the highest splits he has posted in a season.
After the All-Star Break, Anthony really seemed to come into his own. He averaged 14.9 points per game and 3.6 assists per game with shooting splits of 47.1/41.8/91.4, taking 11.4 field goal attempts per game, 3.8 3-pointers per game and 2.8 free throw attempts per game (all increases over his season average of 10.2 field goal attempts per game, 3.4 3-pointers per game and 2.8 free throw attempts per game).
Anthony found his groove as a volume shooter who could do so efficiently. And that has everyone excited about what Anthony can bring to the team this year.
On top of this, he still rebounded extremely well for a guard his size, averaging almost five rebounds per game, making him one of the better rebounders on the bench regardless of position.
One of the most encouraging developments last year was the chemistry he built with Jalen Suggs, another blue-chip guard prospect who was asked to take a lesser role for the good of the team.
Anthony and Suggs were a menace in the second unit. Most franchises do not have the luxury of bringing two young lottery picks off the bench, let alone guys that play with hunger and fire.
When on the court together, Suggs and Anthony wreaked havoc on the defensive end, occasionally trapping the ball handler and playing full court. This effort and intensity allowed the second unit to get out and run and have nearly the same explosiveness as the starters.
Lineups with the Anthony and Suggs duo had a net rating of +3.4 points per 100 possessions. That included a stellar 108.1 defensive rating.
Anthony is largely not considered a strong defender because of his lack of size. But coach Jamahl Mosley used him well to put token pressure on opposing point guards to slow them from coming over the mid-court line and initiating the offense. That was his main role, just eke out one or two fewer seconds for opponents to run the team’s offense.
Anthony does not have strong individual defensive numbers. But he fit in well with the team’s overall defensive vision. And that was how he embraced his role. He fit what the team needed and excelled in it.
Throughout NBA history, contenders have always had dynamic guards off the bench, the Manu Ginoblis and Jason Terrys of the world.
Cole Anthony is closer to a Manu Ginobili than he is a Jason Terry or J.R. Smith. He can be the Magic’s heat-check guy, but he offers much more than just buckets.
Based upon the Magic’s personnel decisions, it looks like they feel the same way. Drafting Anthony Black was not necessarily a death sentence for Cole Anthony’s future with the team, it more solidified his role as the Sixth Man, giving the Magic another ball-handler to move Anthony into a catch-and-shoot off-the-ball role — Anthony made 34.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
Picturing a contender in the modern NBA, Anthony slots in perfectly has an offense-first energy guy off the bench and may even be a little overqualified for that.
Bringing it all together, there are not many question marks regarding Anthony’s future in Orlando. He is due for a new contract, but the Magic will find a way to get a team-friendly deal done.
Anthony functions as one of the leaders of the team, sounds like he contributes to the overall good vibes in the locker room. He has really grown up with these players.
As the Magic continue to build, hopefully making the playoffs this season, Anthony’s contributions will be even more relevant.
Anthony is the type of guy who, at some point in his career, will score 24 points off the bench in a close-out game in the conference semifinals. He is a player who can hit a dagger three to clinch Game 1 in the NBA Finals.
If he is going to do those things someday, he might as well do them in a Magic uniform.