Anthony Black clearly needed a breath of fresh air.
The rookie had looked like a rookie in most of his first two preseason games. He was moving around looking for his place and trying to find his fit in this new league and this new roster. The statistics were not impressive and frustration was mounting.
Black gave one brief glimpse of what he could do.
In that game against the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, Black got his one highlight of the preseason so far, catching the ball on the wing, and outleveraging the defense to get downhill for a one-handed jam.
Black needed that moment. It is easy to see the smile on his face as he went back to the other end of the court. It felt like a sigh of relief.
The sixth overall pick of the 2023 Draft has struggled at least statistically in his first three preseason games. It has led to quite the conversation online about Black.
Anthony Black has had a rough preseason statistically. But the rookie believes he is making steady progress and the Orlando Magic seem happy with the gains he has made.
The reality is that Anthony Black — along with fellow rookie Jett Howard — might find themselves outside the opening night rotation considering how deep and healthy the team is right now. That is a disappointing thing considering where the Magic drafted him.
Development though is a long arc. Black will get his moment this season. And right now he and the Magic are focused more on growing and developing him, making sure he makes steady progress through the preseason and into the regular season.
"“Really a lot of it is new to me being in this position,” Black said after shootaround Friday. “I’m just trying to take it day by day and grow every day. Really all parts of my game are growing, so I’m trying to keep doing that in training camp and when the season has started.”"
Black has struggled at least statistically in the preseason. In 45.5 minutes across three games, Black has scored a total of seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. He has dished out two assists against three turnovers.
It does not look like the player who is ready for the step up to the regular season. It looks more like a player who is still trying to get comfortable and find his place. If anything, the game looks like it is still moving too fast for him and Black is trying to catch up.
That is normal for rookies. At some point, the game slows down for them and they start to operate more comfortably. Black still has not reached that point and that has put him a bit behind the 8-ball as the season approaches.
The Magic still seem to have a long-term approach with him. It is about getting more comfortable and poised every game.
"“He has become more of a presence on the floor,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after shootaround Friday. “I think with all young guys, it takes them a minute to try to figure out what’s going on, where do they fit, the style of play, the speed of play. He’s done a great job of that. And now he is finding his voice in commanding the floor. I think that’s going to be the big piece for him that he will continue to grow at that he has gotten better since the beginning of camp.”"
Communication remains a big piece of the puzzle for the Magic overall. And that is an area Mosley said Black has done well. He is trying to talk his way into comfort and fit in with the overall direction the team is trying to build.
Black said the biggest thing he has worked on is learning how to manage his teammates better and have more command. The Magic want their players to have a voice and to be part of solving problems and figuring things out.
That can be a lot to ask of a rookie. Point guard is one of the more difficult positions to learn as a young player. And so there is going to be some growing pains expected. Especially for a young player in a leadership position with older players.
Defensively, Black has certainly fit in. Everyone knew his offense and particularly his shot, which already has undergone significant work this offseason and through training camp, would take some time to develop.
Black was always going to make his mark defensively. There, he has looked far more comfortable as a player. He has gotten a block and some steals and looked much better attacking on that end.
For a rookie, having something that will get him on the floor is certainly a big key. When the Magic call on Black this season — and regardless of where he stands in the rotation on opening night, that will happen — they will know he can at least handle himself on that end.
The Magic do have an advantage because of their depth, health and competition in training camp. That may be why Black will find himself out of the rotation to start the season, but it will be a big reason why he will ultimately get better.
"“I think it’s good for everybody on the team to compete against each other,” Black said after shootaround Friday. “With how talented of a group we are, I feel like our competition makes us better. Every day we play, I feel like we are getting a little bit better. Personally, it’s helping me be more acclimated to NBA defense and pressure. I definitely appreciate the competition from everybody.”"
That story from the first day of training camp that David Steele told on the Orlando Magic Pod Squad of Jalen Suggs hounding Anthony Black so much that coach Jamahl Mosley had to stop practice to get players to come back and help the rookie is a reminder of how deep the team is and how much the rookie still has to grow.
Black has gotten plenty of pointers from teammates and everyone still supports him. Despite how rough his preseason has looked at times, nobody should be giving up on him by any means. You do not draft a rookie for their rookie season. Everyone will have to watch how he grows and improves as the season and his career goes on.
The regular season is coming though. And that is undoubtedly a step up for him. He still has some work to do to prove he is ready and prove he can contribute.
With the Magic expected to give some more opportunities to deep bench players against Flamengo, it could be a big moment for Black to start putting some pieces together.
"“It’s just another chance to get comfortable for me,” Black said after shootaround Friday. “Every game, I feel like I have taken a step forward from there. Tonight, hopefully, I will do that again. Every day I’m just trying to take baby steps forward.”"
The baby steps are indeed there. But there are plenty more to take for Black as the preseason ends and the regular season begins.
It has been a preseason of steady progress. One where the fruits may not be apparently realized for a little while.