Playing with Nikola Vucevic Could Benefit Cole Anthony Like How Jamal Murray Benefits Playing with Nikola Jokic

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - A player Cole Anthony has been compared to is Denver Nuggets budding superstar Jamal Murray, who was absolutely incredible throughout the 2020 postseason at Walt Disney World. Like Murray, Anthony has natural scoring abilities, is terrific at carving out space for step-back jumpers and floaters, is a creative tough-shot maker, is very crafty off the dribble and has a smooth shooting touch from long distance. It’s going to take time for Anthony, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, to reach his full potential, but he undoubtedly possesses the tools and work ethic required to transform into an excellent pro.

Playing alongside an elite playmaking center like Nikola Jokic has helped Murray blossom in the NBA, which is why landing in Orlando and uniting with arguably the second best playmaking big man in the league right now is perfect for Anthony.

Although Nikola Vucevic, 30, and Anthony, 20, are at different stages in their careers, their skills complement one another, and it may not take long for them to jell on the court. While patience is necessary, especially since Anthony didn’t have a normal pre-rookie offseason, Vucevic’s vision, instincts and unselfishness will make him better, just as it has for his other teammates through the years.

“The way we are playing in the league now, especially you saw it in the bubble, guys like Vooch, Vooch helps them all play better every time he’s on the floor because of his ability to shoot the three, like if he continues to shoot the ball the way he did in the bubble it makes him even more of a difficult cover,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “The other thing that he can do is he can pass. When I was a young coach listening to coach (Pete) Carril at a clinic and he said, and back then it was centers, if you can have a center that can shoot it, it opens up the lane for cutting for everybody else. And if that center can pass the ball, then you’re good to go.”

Both in dribble handoffs, which Jokic and Murray run impeccably together, and pick-and-rolls, Vucevic and Anthony should be able to create high percentage scoring chances quite often for each other.

Especially because Vucevic, a 2019 NBA All-Star, is such a versatile scoring threat, opponents are going to have to pick their poison when he and Orlando’s rookie guard run pick-and-roll together. If Vucevic’s defender opts to switch onto his new teammate, who showed at UNC he is very confident when he recognizes a mismatch, that will give Anthony the opportunity to display his creativity in space. That also would give Vucevic an advantage, as he can post up a smaller defender down low.

WATCH MURRAY SCORE OFF JOKIC ON-BALL SCREENS

No duo ran more dribble handoffs last regular season than Jokic and Murray, who, according to Second Spectrum tracking data, connected 428 times on that play type. Of those, 140 led to a Murray shot attempt with 65 makes (46.4 percent). It got even better during the playoffs. Of the 53 dribble handoffs between the two that led to a Murray shot throughout Denver’s historic postseason run, 29 of them went through the hoop (54.7 percent).

WATCH MURRAY SCORE OFF DRIBBLE HANDOFFS WITH JOKIC

The addition of Anthony, who averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds (very impressive for a combo guard) and 4.0 assists in his one and only season with the Tar Heels, gives the Magic another paint attacker. Having Vucevic, one of the better outside shooting big men in the NBA, will benefit Anthony when defenders collapse on him on his drives. The kickout pass is how most teams generate their best 3-point looks, and the only way to accumulate many of them is by getting in the paint and having shooters spaced out on the perimeter.

Most of last season’s playoff teams, including the Magic and Nuggets, ranked in the top half in total 3-point attempts via direct kickout passes. The Rockets, 76ers, Bucks, Raptors and Magic ranked No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, respectively, while the Nuggets finished 11th.

Particularly when the Magic roll out a lineup that features Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Anthony and Vucevic, they will be well equipped to spawn a plethora of kickout 3-point looks.

Many of Jokic’s 3-point tries from last season came off kickouts, some delivered by Murray.

Vucevic, who drilled a career-most 98 3-pointers in 2019-20, made 58 of his 166 attempts from beyond the arc when a kickout pass preceded the shot, per Second Spectrum.

Still in the process of learning Anthony’s game, Vucevic is excited to see what the 15th pick in the 2020 draft can bring to the table.

“He’s definitely a talented player,” Vucevic said of Anthony. “Definitely he knows how to play. He can shoot, can create off the dribble, something that we need. I think he can be a good fit for us. We’ll have to be patient and give him some time but I think that he can definitely help us as the season goes on.”

“Me being one of the oldest guys on the team and being one of the leaders, playing ball the right way could set a good example for the younger guys,” he added about his playmaking ability. “I enjoy playing that way. I think it’s one of my biggest strengths.”

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