Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley was always going to choose defense for his injury replacements for Markelle Fultz (out with left knee swelling) and Wendell Carter (a fracture to the third metacarpal in his left hand that he will undergo surgery to repair). But there was no way he could be sure how his rookie guard would react.
Anthony Black had been pretty much completely out of the rotation until the injuries started piling up for the Magic and was suddenly thrown into his first meaningful minutes in his professional career.
He would get the start for the Magic as they aimed to continue their defensive intensity and disruption. The two things Black was drafted to do.
Anthony Black has risen into the rotation thanks to early-season injuries for the Orlando Magic. And his poise and calm stepping in have helped make the transition seamless and made it clear Black should play.
So what was his reaction to hearing the news he would get his first start? Mosley was just as surprised as the media hearing the answer to say that Black did not have much of a reaction. Mosley said he just looked at him. He was not shocked at all and it did not change anything about him.
It was more a head nod and the belief that it was time to get to work.
That is who Black is. He is someone who is always ready. It is why he is typically one of the first players in the gym and why he was spotted after the Orlando Magic’s home opening win against the Houston Rockets, where he saw only mop-up minutes at the end of a blowout win, getting shots up after the game.
Black is the kind of player who stays ready so he does not have to get ready. And he was ready to step into the starting lineup.
"“I felt like I was pretty ready for it,” Black said after Saturday’s game. “There wasn’t really a sense of nerve or anything like that. It turned into me getting fully locked in and getting ready to play. I felt like I pushed the pace, and defended. I think I took my open shots which has been good for me. Just trusting my work and my teammates took care of the rest.”"
Black scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, making his first four shots to make the first 10 shots of his career. That included making two of three 3-pointers, an important aspect of his development.
What has stood out about Black is that on offense he does not seem to be trying to do too much. It never feels like he is forcing his offensive game and he sneaks behind the defense for cuts. And defensively, he has played with a ton of poise and confidence, making an impact on that end.
In Saturday’s game, the Magic had a 95.2 defensive rating with Black on the floor, a team-high among rotation players. Orlando has a 94.8 defensive rating with Black on the floor early on this season, certainly buoyed by strong play defensively when the deep bench groups were in against the Houston Rockets and LA Clippers.
He had an amazing +32 in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers, a stat that made even Paolo Banchero do a double take when he looked down at the box score.
Black has stepped in on both occasions so far and made his presence known.
"“He wasn’t afraid,” Mosley said after Saturday’s game. “I think that’s the thing they said about that young man from the beginning. He embraces moments. He has a high basketball IQ. He’s tough and he’s a team guy. He is willing to make the easy play and the easy pass and the right decision. I think those are the things that stand out the most are his maturity level as a young man in his rookie year.”"
Black’s high basketball IQ is a constant refrain whenever anyone talks about him. He does not play like a rookie it seems. And everyone seemed to realize that. They knew once he got on the floor, his skill and talent would be apparent.
Mosley said the team was confident he would step right in for that reason. And the way he has played has certainly made it even harder to imagine the rotation without him — a testament to this team’s depth and the difficult choices Mosley has to make night in and night out.
This is certainly one of them because Black has delivered on a lot of things for the Magic. And certainly when called into duty, he has proven himself ready.
That is a credit to Black’s poise. It must not have been easy for Black to sit and wait for his turn as a highly touted draft pick. But he did his work and tried to learn as much as he could in the process, gleaning from teammates and watching film.
That preparation has paid off for this stretch. And the better he plays will allow injured players to take their time coming back. There is a long way for that. For however long Black is going to play, the team hopes to see him continue to make this impact.
The one thing the Magic know is that Black will be ready whenever his number gets called. And he will be ready to do whatever the team needs him to do. That is all anyone can ask for from a rookie.