Anthony Black must constantly stay ready for Orlando Magic

Anthony Black's minutes have become sporadic since the Orlando Magic's backcourt got healthy. The rookie guard has had to live the old mantra -- always stay ready.

Anthony Black has had an up-and-down rookie year as he awaits his chance with the Orlando Magic during their Playoff push.
Anthony Black has had an up-and-down rookie year as he awaits his chance with the Orlando Magic during their Playoff push. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Black's work these days is rarely seen on the court at the Kia Center.

That is the nature of the league and a suddenly contending team. The Orlando Magic have put a lot less emphasis on player development and more emphasis on wins as the season winds down and the Playoffs come into clearer focus. If you can develop while putting the team in a position to stack wins for the Playoff chase, that is ideal. But this time of year it is all about wins.

Black has found himself outside of that rotation as the season winds down. And so a lot of his work happens at the AdventHealth Training Facility, doing work with the coaching staff and playing 3-on-3 with the other players who may find themselves out of the rotation.

Anything to stay ready. That is what players in his situation have to do. Because at any moment their number might be called. And right now the stakes are very high for the team.

The Magic know what Black is capable of doing. And Black is just a moment's call away from being back in the lineup, as he was Wednesday when he played against the Golden State Warriors.

If there is a lesson from all of this it is that every player on the roster has to be ready. And Black has often been ready when his number is called.

"Probably just stay ready," Black said after shootaround Friday of what coaches are telling him to keep him ready to play. "It's a lot of games. There's a lot of chance for whatever -- fatigue, injury, whatever it may be. Just learning to keep working on my game and stay ready whenever the chance may be."

Black played 14:59 in Wednesday's loss to the Warriors, the most he had played since the loss to the New York Knicks when he stepped into the lineup for Jalen Suggs. He got 12 minutes in Saturday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies, playing the entire fourth quarter as the Magic turned the game into a complete rout.

Black had one highlight, a steal and a slam that showed off his speed, length and dexterity. The exact kind of play that the magic drafted Black to make and he has made throughout the season.

Of course, it happened with the game long decided. But every moment matters as Black establishes his reputation as a young, up-and-coming defender. The work, whether in garbage time of a blowout or on the practice, is what matters.

That is Black's path to playing at the moment. He is on standby when one of the Magic's guards has to sit out a game -- the Magic either turn to him or to Caleb Houstan (Houstan got the minutes Friday against the LA Clippers and again against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday).

With the Magic still limiting minutes for Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz on back-to-backs (there is just one left) and Gary Harris now managing a plantar fascia injury, the Magic could call on Anthony Black seemingly at any moment.

Being ready is a prerequisite for the job and something the Magic have faith in him despite being a rookie going through the league.

Black has largely stepped up when the team has called on him.

"You have to give him so much credit," coach Jamahl Mosley said before Friday's loss to the LA Clippers. "When [Fultz] went down early, he stepped right in and played great basketball. Then to step out and be in and out as guys are fluctuating through the lineup. It says so much about his maturity to be able to understand as a rookie that it is a long NBA season but to stay ready. He puts the work in on a regular basis. He's in the gym, watching film, our coaches do a great job with him to make sure that he understands exactly the moment is going to come again and he has to be prepared."

Black is averaging 4.7 points per game and 1.4 assists per game on 45.9/38.5/61.3 shooting splits. In 33 starts, Black averages 5.0 points per game and 1.8 assists per game on 43.2/32.7/60.6 splits. Many of those starts came early in the season with Fultz out of the lineup.

His 3-point shooting, the biggest area coaches pointed to for improvement, has come a long way. Since leaving the starting lineup, Black is shooting 40.9 percent from three, albeit on a small 1.4 attempts per game.

His shooting has been the most encouraging development in his season and the area where he will still likely put in the most work as he prepares for a second Summer League and throughout his offseason.

But it has not been enough to get Black consistent minutes. Black is still learning the ins and outs of the game. And the stakes for the Magic have been high.

Still, that does not mean Black is not involved and does not mean Black is not on his path for development. He still has a simple role when he plays, one he can accomplish and has accomplished when he is called on.

Black said all the coaches have asked of him is to be a good defender and bring energy to the team. That will be enough should his name get called in the Playoffs.

There is the chance the Magic will need that energy from Black at some point. Even if he has to spend most of the back half of the season learning from the bench.

"It's definitely fun being on a team who is going to make the Playoffs, especially it being my first year and not really knowing what it's like," Black said after shootaround Friday. "It's been fun playing for something and having a reason to come in here and work every day."

The Magic know they can rely on Black if they need him. Even if he finds himself further down the depth chart. They know what he brings to the table.

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All Black has to do is stay ready when his number is called.