Anthony Black has had to sit and wait to start his NBA career. He got to run with the Orlando Magic’s second unit during much of the preseason, but it was still clear the Magic would be seeking stability to start the season. They were no longer a team that would simply gift minutes to their rookies. They would have to earn their keep.
And so through the first four games of the season, Black had to wait.
He got a nearly five-minute cameo at the end of the Orlando Magic’s season-opener against the Houston Rockets and showed his potential even in that short stint with an energetic five points and two blocks that included an and-1 finish and a block that everyone got to enjoy because of a review to overturn a foul call.
Black showed that energy in the preseason and everyone sensed he could be an impact player defensively when his time came.
That time came late in the first half of Thursday’s game against the Utah Jazz. Gary Harris had left the game with a sprained right groin and Jalen Suggs faced foul trouble. And so for the first time in his career, Black played meaningful minutes.
For all the cliches of “next man up” mentality and always staying ready, Black actually delivered. He stepped up when his team called on and needed him.
Injuries hit the Orlando Magic suddenly in Thursday’s game against the Utah Jazz. And the team will lean on players like Anthony Black to step up and be ready.
Black finished the game with nine points, two steals and three rebounds. He made all four of his shots. The only blemish on his record were a pair of fouls against Collin Sexton and two missed free throws in three attempts, including one when he was the injury replacement shooter for Wendell Carter after he left the game with an injury on the final play.
But Black was a revelation, getting into his man on defense and playing with tons of energy. He did not try to do too much (outside of an ill-advised push-ahead pass that ended in a turnover) and kept his offense mostly to cuts into open space. The Magic were happy to find him and his apparent weaknesses never emerged.
"“I think he’s a young man who stays ready,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s game. “He stays in the gym, continuing to work. He’s got a great, great basketball IQ where he sees the game a different way. And his teammates rust him. There was not a hesitation in him being on the floor in a late game because he is mature beyond his years in that area. He is a heck of a defender. He is going to learn how to make the right play as the game goes on.”"
There might be a push to play Black a bit more because he is such an excellent defender and energy booster for a team that really values its defense. It is easy to see why the Magic fell in love with Black during the draft process.
Of course, that is just one game. And being able to do something consistently is the trick for any young player in the league.
And right now it does seem like the Magic will need Black more and more. They are going to need a lot of players more and more now.
"“We’ve got a lot of guys who are hungry and weren’t able to play,” Franz Wagner said after Thursday’s game. “I’m really happy for AB and the way he played tonight. It was probably the first game where he really got minutes. He definitely showed he is deserving and probably should get a little more maybe.”"
The unfortunate thing for the Orlando Magic is that, despite the breakthrough for Paolo Banchero and the win over the Utah Jazz, the Magic will be facing their first bit of injury adversity this season.
Harris left the game at halftime with a strained right groin. Markelle Fultz was a late scratch because of swelling in his left knee. Carter left the game late and was revealed to have a fracture in his third metacarpal in his left hand. That is likely an injury that will keep him out for several weeks.
All players will be re-evaluated with the team back in Orlando. Their status for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers is certainly in the air — the Orlando Magic had not submitted their injury report before 2:30 p.m. ET.
For all three players then, it will require players to step into their roles. It is truly “next man up.” And everyone is going to have to step up and be ready now.
Black entered the rotation because of the injury to Harris and Fultz. He certainly made the most of his minutes and stayed ready for the chance. There will be plenty of other players who have to step up.
Moe Wagner will at least see an increase in minutes if not a slot into the starting lineup if Wendell Carter has to miss time. Goga Bitadze will certainly slot into his first meaningful minutes of the season and enter the rotation if Wendell Carter is out too.
The shifting in the rotation and the potential loss of three players could also help Jett Howard enter the rotation. Or it could just mean the Magic tighten their rotation to nine players as they seek the right balance.
Regardless, the good times of health are coming to an end. They were always going to. And everyone on this roster is going to be called on at some point to contribute and play meaningful minutes.
Black stepped up in a major way when his number was called on during Thursday’s game. That is what is going to have to happen repeatedly now that the Magic are facing injuries.
The best teams learn how to adjust and fill in when players have to miss time. It is a part of the 82-game season. And the latest test for this team to maintain its defensive push and identity and stay in the race this season.