The Orlando Magic‘s disappointing and frustrating season will come to an end soon, with attention then turning to what looks to be a loaded draft class of 2021. The hope is that the Magic will get a top-five pick in this draft, and losing games has appeared to be the plan since the trade deadline.
Only, point guard Cole Anthony isn’t reading from the same script as everybody else at the moment, instead, nailing a game-winning 3-pointer on Saturday night over the Memphis Grizzlies, his second such game-winner this season. Anthony missed some time with a cracked ribbed around the time Orlando’s core was blown up, and has wasted no time in taking his opportunities now that he is back.
Unfortunately for the Magic and their fanbase, who absolutely love Anthony already, winning these games goes against what they’re trying to do right now. Even if watching him play is an absolute joy, whatever about ping pong balls and draft odds, it is fun to watch winning basketball.
The Orlando Magic have plenty to be optimistic about next season, but perhaps Cole Anthony is more integral to their future success than we thought?
It seems a lot to put on Anthony’s shoulders so soon, but he looks like he is relishing the challenge. His attitude and the way he conducts himself is something the Magic have been lacking over the last decade. Nikola Vucevic was amazing, a franchise icon, but ferocious isn’t the first word you would use to describe his play.
Anthony brings that in spades, and it would be great for head coach Steve Clifford to build around that style of play. Despite the shift towards bigs who can do it all, this is still a guard-dominated league. In his rookie season, Anthony is showing that he was a steal with the 15th pick in last year’s draft. He also makes for a great postgame interview too.
It is fair to be cautious at this point and not anoint Anthony too soon. After all, we’ve been here before with the likes of Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo and even Mario Hezonja. But this just feels different. In that win over the Grizzlies, Anthony had a career-high 26 points and carried the team for portions of the game.
If he can continue to do this, and really there is no reason not to be excited by his ceiling, who knows how important he can become for this roster? This throws up some serious questions, however, that doesn’t need to be addressed at this moment but by this time next season certainly will be.
Jonathan Isaac, when fully healthy, looks like he can be the franchise cornerstone. He is an elite player defensively who was improving at a nice pace offensively as well. Anthony potentially coming in and taking this role from Isaac is a good problem to have, but let’s not rush to forget how good Isaac could one day be.
His injury history is already concerning, but Chuma Okeke has come back from the same injury (ACL tear) to be one of the surprises of the season for the Magic. It is likely Isaac will be back and take it up a few levels once he returns. If injuries keep dragging him down, however, Anthony is doing a fantastic job in auditioning for the role of “the guy” in Orlando.
The more interesting conundrum will be what happens when Markelle Fultz returns. He is also out with an ACL tear right now, and before going down looked like he could be the second-best player behind Vucevic in a run back to the postseason. That seems so long ago now, but there is no doubt that Fultz has the potential to be the Magic’s point guard for a long time.
Anthony’s emergence complicates things, although the idea of both playing together in a starting backcourt is exciting. If anything, the arrival of R.J. Hampton, who has also had some nice moments since coming over from the Denver Nuggets in the Aaron Gordon trade Anthony approved of, makes this an even trickier situation to navigate.
Assuming Fultz comes back and picks up where he left off, Magic fans will be happy to see him leading the team with the ball in hand. Fultz plays at a tempo and with a style that is a real contrast to Anthony, but that is no bad thing. He is calm, fluid and can pick out a pass like nobody else on this roster.
But the last handful of games have shown the fans something worth getting excited about. There are a lot of ifs and buts surrounding the future of the Magic, and it hinges massively on the health of Isaac and Fultz. They should come back and have a big impact. If they don’t, Anthony already looks like he would love to run a team and would be very good at doing it.
Even his comments regarding the Gordon trade after that game-winner over the Grizzlies would have been music to Magic fan’s ears. He’s got that bite to him, and that desire to have the ball and to make a difference. For an organization starved of high-level point guard play since Jameer Nelson left, Cole Anthony has come in and been everything that was advertised, and more. It may also be that he is the cornerstone for the franchise in the long-term too.