During Orlando’s 133-113 victory against the San Antonio Spurs Friday night, Cole Anthony was one assist shy of his first career triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists). He did so in 30 minutes off the Magic’s bench, the third-most minutes he has played in a game this season.
And while the amount of minutes Anthony got may not be indicative of what is to come for the third-year guard (Markelle Fultz was injured midway through the first quarter, forcing an early substitution) what Anthony did with those minutes is.
Anthony got started with a catch-and shoot three-pointer following a kick-out from Wendell Carter Jr. (welcome back!) and an extra pass from Gary Harris (also welcome back!).
Anthony’s efficiency on these shots since returning from injury has not been spectacular (10/31 or 32.3% on his catch-and-shoot threes), but an in-rhythm shot like this to begin the game is probably what ignited his superb performance.
What was also incredible about Anthony’s performance was that he only scored two field goals in the first half, the majority of his buckets came during the final 16 minutes of the game.
His second field goal came during an inbounds play in which Anthony was acting as a big, setting a flat screen for Paolo Banchero (inverted offense is fun). Banchero rejects the screen and reverts to the three-point line, creating space for Anthony to cut to the rim and score an and-one basket.
Anthony’s first field goal of the second half also came on a play where he was a designed screener.
On one side of the floor, Fultz and Carter Jr. are running a pick-and-roll, and on the other side Harris is getting a stagger screen from Anthony and Banchero. Those simultaneous actions caused confusion among the Spurs’ defense.
Stanley Johnson, who is matched up with Banchero, is sliding down to help Zach Collins (Carter Jr.’s defender) on the pick-and-roll. That leaves two players defending a three-player action on the opposite side of the floor. Anthony then drifts to the left corner and Fultz finds him after a paint touch.
After beating Collins off the dribble for a transition layup, Anthony made his first pull-up jumper of the contest. He calls for a screen from Franz Wagner and the Spurs switch, leaving Anthony enough space to drain his longest shot of the evening. The same instance happened five minutes later, only that time Harris was the screener.
Anthony is shooting 7/15 (46.7%) on his pull-up threes since coming back from injury and even better on his pull-up twos (16/32). This can partially be credited to the coaching staff getting Anthony in the best positions to score.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Magic ran a Spain pick-and-roll action with Anthony, Moe Wagner and Mo Bamba, placing Anthony at about the free throw line against a back-peddling Jakob Poeltl.
And for all my “that boy nice watchers,” in this 13-game span Anthony is shooting 51.4% on his field goal attempts with three or more dribbles. Every once in a while Anthony gets into his proverbial bag and showcases why he was once the No. 2 ranked player in his class.
There is no single reason why the Magic went from a 5-20 team to winning eight of their last nine games, but Anthony carving out a role for himself has as much to do with the Magic’s recent turnaround as anything else.