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Player Focus: Cole Anthony

Bad Men, Bad Takes – Season 1

Any kid coming out of North Carolina’s basketball program does so with the expectations that they will succeed at the pro level.

Not just because it’s a Division 1 school with a long and proud history of producing NBA talent such as Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Rasheed Wallace, but because it produced the ultimate NBA talent – Michael Jordan. The majority of players who are drafted ultimately don’t succeed in the NBA, however, and if the jump in talent isn’t too much for an individual, the pressure to live up to expectations and perform, often is.

The 15th pick by the Magic in the 2020 NBA Draft, Cole Anthony came into the league not only with the aforementioned expectations of a pick from North Carolina, but also that of being the son of an 11-year NBA veteran – his father, Greg Anthony. The pressure would’ve been enough to get to some, but Cole appears to be a special player, as seen by his decision just weeks after being drafted to wear the #50 jersey his father wore during much of his NBA career.

Many players steer clear of doing or saying anything that will draw people into comparing them to someone else, let alone their father. It’s this confidence, however, that has helped Anthony succeed to this point in his NBA career and seen him break out over the past week.

Cole Anthony after being selected by the Magic on Draft Day. Credit: Orlando Pinstriped Post.

The Orlando Magic drafted Cole Anthony knowing exactly who he was – a shoot-first guard who can be erratic and have questionable shot selection, but also one who can win you games because he is never afraid of (and possibly naïve to) the situation that is evolving in front of him. We witnessed this many times during his rookie season. In just his 15th game as a pro, Cole Anthony rose up to hit this game winner against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He could’ve made the pass to James Ennis, who was on the opposite wing, to take the three. He could’ve diverted to the middle and run a hand-off to sharp-shooter Evan Fournier. He also could’ve deferred to team leaders Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic once the rebound was controlled. He did none of those things, and backed himself in to take, and make, the shot.

I don’t bring up the other options to highlight what Anthony should’ve done – I’m not one to try and take the joy of a moment like this away from a rookie. But this play does highlight the confidence and naivety he possesses, both of which have worked in his favour since arriving in Orlando. We also saw this combination lead to him hitting this game-winner against the Grizzlies late in his rookie campaign.

Anthony’s confidence means he never shies away from the big moments.

Which brings us to the here and now, and Cole Anthony has been straight up balling in the last week. During our Orlando Magic team preview, we spoke of the gluttony of young, talented guards the team has and who would be given the keys to this team. There were votes for Markelle Fultz, RJ Hampton and Gary Harris, but Anthony has made it impossible for the team to put the ball in anyone else’s hands.

Anthony was my pick during the podcast, but not even I predicted he would have an early season explosion like this and help a team we all predicted would be horrible to pick up wins. In the last week, Cole has lead the team to wins over the Timberwolves and Jazz while playing scintillating basketball on both ends of the floor, averaging 24.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.75 steals and nearly a block per game, all while shooting 38% from behind the arc. To put those numbers in perspective, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has averaged 25.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.7 steals and less than a block per game on 35% shooting from behind the arc this season – and Morant is on my MVP Guest List.

Facts! Cole Anthony’s post-game interview after beating the Jazz shows just how confident, and naive, he can be. Credit: Bally Sports Florida

His continued development and aforementioned combination of confidence and naivety must have Orlando Magic fans salivating at what Anthony could become. I personally see him as possessing the aggression, and sometimes irrational confidence, of Russell Westbrook, while also having the ability to facilitate a pick and roll and hit a mid-range shot like Lou Williams.

Westbrook is an eight-time All-Star, while Lou Williams is a three-time Sixth Man of The Year winner.

If Anthony’s ceiling is the middle point of those two players, I think the Magic will be very pleased with what’s the come.

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