Film Room: Cole Anthony’s Rookie Season Strengths

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO -- Throughout his rookie year, but especially after returning from his rib injury that cost him 25 games, Cole Anthony was aggressive and played with the right attitude and energy.

It translated into some statistical success. He scored in double figures in 19 of the Orlando Magic’s last 22 games, including erupting for a career-best 37 points in the season finale against the Philadelphia 76ers. He also dished out seven or more assists seven times throughout the season.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder buried a pair of game-winning 3-pointers as well. The first one occurred on Jan. 20 against the Minnesota Timberwolves when he pulled in a rebound off a missed free throw, rushed down the court and hit an acrobatic triple at the buzzer. The next one came on May 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies when he knocked the 3-pointer down over the long arms of Kyle Anderson with one tenth of a second remaining.

Among 2020 NBA Draft picks, Anthony finished fourth in points per game (12.9), seventh in rebounds per game (4.7) and fourth in assists per contest (4.1).

Let’s take a closer look at what the recently-turned 21-year-old did well throughout his rookie campaign.

OFFENSIVE CREATIVTY/SHOT CREATION

Anthony’s No. 1 strength is clearly his ability to create his own shot off the dribble. Half of his shot attempts were generated out of pick-and-roll action. He made 44.4 percent of his attempts through this play type.

What helps him clear out some space is his patience. It’s both a strength and a weakness, but he’s a heavy dribbler in the half court. From April 7, which is when he returned from his injury, to the end of the season, 43.5 percent of his shot attempts came after taking seven or more dribbles. Conversely, only 6.7 percent of his shots came after taking two dribbles and 2.5 percent of them came after one dribble.

Learning to play off the ball is going to be critical for him going forward. As is, he’s a microwave scorer with excellent footwork, awareness and poise. But with 75 percent of his buckets coming unassisted in 2020-21, becoming a better off-ball scorer – either by spotting up or cutting inside – will make him a more well-rounded offensive player.

As the season evolved, he became more efficient. Over his last 22 games, he shot 56 percent between 15 and 19 feet from the basket and 51.1 percent within five feet. If you’re wondering why his percentage from the mid-range was higher than it was near the basket, part of it was quantity. He took many more shots from closer in than he did a few feet below the 3-point line. Before his injury, he shot 46.7 percent from 15-19 feet out and 47.9 percent from less than five feet away.


REBOUNDING

Unique about Anthony is his willingness to crash the glass and outhustle opponents in the paint for loose balls. Occasionally, he would fly in from the perimeter and score on putbacks. Those were some of his rookie season’s most exciting plays. He also at times would come out of a pack with a rebound and fly the other way looking to score in transition.

PLAYMAKING

Driving the ball into the paint was something Anthony did a lot of when he was on the floor. In many of those instances, he was able to locate open shooters behind the 3-point line. He particularly had a good connection with Mo Bamba, who drilled a few of his threes this year when the ball was kicked out to him from Anthony.

Some of his turnovers, however, came from making reckless passes. It’s something he will need to address this summer. Becoming a better game manager will be important, especially if he’s going to continue to be in a lead guard role.


DEFENSE

What he lacks in experience and length he makes up for with determination and toughness. Only Michael Carter-Williams took more charges on the Magic this season than Anthony, who drew six of them. A pesky on-ball defender, he showed what he’s capable of when he’s locked in defensively.

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