Orlando Magic aren’t the only ones obsessed with size, Cole Anthony’s contract proves it

The Orlando Magic believe they have the depth to withstand the ups and downs of the season. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic believe they have the depth to withstand the ups and downs of the season. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

It is a joke every draft night now. It has been for several years.

If you want to know who the Orlando Magic are going to pick, just go to the Combine page on the NBA’s stats page and find the player with the longest wingspan. That is who the Magic are going to pick.

It has been a surprisingly reliable predictor.

Why did the Magic pick Anthony Black with the sixth overall pick in the 2023 Draft? Who wouldn’t want a 6-foot-7 playmaking point guard? Especially to pair with the team’s 6-foot-10 playmaking forwards in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Black has the size and versatility that seems to be essential to the offense the Magic are going to run.

Why did the Magic (surprisingly) take Jett Howard with the 11th pick in the 2023 Draft? Howard was 6-foot-8, 215 pounds and gave the team all the shooting they would expect to get from Gradey Dick (6-foot-8, 205 pounds) and Jordan Hawkins (6-foot-5, 195 pounds). Howard’s size was a big part of the equation.

Perhaps this is the underlying story behind Monday’s surprising extension news with Cole Anthony, a deal that became official Monday afternoon and was first reported not 10 minutes after we published a post about how Anthony will have the chance to showcase all of his skills in a role tailor-made for his strengths.

Anthony has agreed to a reported three-year, $39-million extension to stay with the Magic (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). Bobby Marks of ESPN reports there is a team option on the third year of the contract.

Cole Anthony signed a new extension with the Orlando Magic that caught Magic fans by surprise. But for a league trending bigger and more versatile, it shows how thin Anthony’s market might have been.

It was somewhat stunning considering most Magic fans expected Anthony to try to rent out a medium-sized Brinks truck and make the Magic really think about whether to bring him back. I had him going in the $15-million range as a floor for him. I thought that would be a non-starter for him because Anthony seemed to believe he could be a future starter.

In some respects though, Anthony is not the future of the league. He was always playing an uphill battle to find his place in the league. He was just going in the opposite direction of the league.

He went in the opposite direction of the way the Magic typically go too. They just could not pass on the talent and scoring potential to go with what they thought back in 2020 was a future playoff team.

Anthony has made good on that and has earned a place in the league. He earned the expectation that he would get a nice payday coming off his rookie deal.

Forced into starting his first two seasons after Markelle Fultz’s torn ACL, Cole Anthony topped off at 16.3 points per game and 5.3 assists per game in the 2022 season.

Coming off the bench last year, Anthony averaged 13.0 points per game and 3.9 assists per game on the most efficient shooting of his career — he posted 45.4/36.4/89.4 shooting splits with a 51.6 percent effective field goal percentage and a 57.0 percent true shooting percentage.

This embrace of his role off the bench and the potential he could be a future sixth man of the year seemed to have him set up for a bigger role.

But that does not seem to be the direction the market was going. The league just was not going to value a player of his size or (at this point) inconsistency as a scorer because of his lack of versatility.

Anthony’s stated goal of becoming a starter seemed to be aspirational. He certainly can produce stats like a starter. But getting paid like a starter seems like a different challenge.

At the end of the day, Anthony’s size — 6-foot-2 — is probably what is holding him back. He is not a self-creator off the dribble or in one-on-one situations. And defensively, Anthony can be someone who gets taken advantage of despite his effort and his willingness to dig in as best he can.

Size is everything in the NBA these days. And scoring guards like him are getting passed to the wayside.

Just look at what happened with rookie extensions in his draft class.

Payton Pritchard at 6-foot-1 signed a three-year, $30-million deal despite averaging only 6.6 points per game for his career and playing in only 48 games last year. He may be in line for a bigger role with the Boston Celtics this year and is a solid shooter, but it is hard to believe Anthony could not have gotten more considering his production.

Similarly, Josh Green, selected 18th overall and averaging 9.1 points per game for his career, signed a reported three-year, $41-million deal. That was more than what Anthony got.

This merely suggests that Green’s skills as a wing defender and growing offensive player were seen as more valuable than Anthony’s proven scoring ability. It just points to how Anthony’s skill set is seen as somewhat limited because of his size.

The same could be said for other big contracts handed out to members of Anthony’s class.

Deni Avdija signed a four-year, $55-million despite his 9.2 points per game last year and his career 8.1 points per game. But Avdija at 6-foot-9 and showing some promise as a versatile forward had more value. Especially for a team that probably is not going to be spending much for the next several years.

Devin Vassell and Jaden McDaniels brought in five-year deals worth $135 million and $131 million respectively. They got that for their versatility and their specialty skills — Vassell as a knock-down shooter and McDaniels as one of the best defenders few people are talking about.

The point is that versatility is in. That is what is valued around the league.

That is something the Magic certainly value. Their offense seems to be based on getting their big ball-handlers going downhill. Anthony may thrive more working off the ball as a shooter and rotation attacker rather than as a true attacker.

Anthony probably said it best during training camp about the team’s defensive potential: Everyone can play multiple positions and defend multiple positions . . . except him. That might be selling Cole Anthony a bit short because he has the shooting ability to pair with other ball handlers like Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz, his two most common pairings last year along with Franz Wagner.

But it revealed a truth. A truth the Magic have certainly been working toward with their roster construction and philosophy.

Anthony may very well be on the outside of this direction and this philosophy. He quite possibly could be. And the league probably has set the market low even for a strong scorer because of how limited his skills are beyond that, especially on defense.

Next. Orlando Magic getting reintroduced to Jonathan Isaac. dark

It was surprising to see Anthony get a bit more than the mid-level exception at the end of the day. It feels like his production and his impact is much more than that. But that is the market for a small guard in a league trending bigger and more versatile.

Size is king and that is the one thing Anthony cannot make up.