Cole Anthony’s self-confidence has always been evident.
Whether it’s during a postgame interview on Bally Sports Florida or down the stretch of a close game, the second-year Orlando Magic guard’s belief in what he and his team can accomplish is consistently palpable.
So his response to what he learned about himself from the 2021-22 season shouldn’t be surprising.
“The biggest thing I learned is that I can be pretty dang good in this league,” Anthony said. “That’s personally what I believe. I might have a chance to be an All-Star. That’s how I feel. You can disagree, I don’t really care. I’m going to keep working.”
It looked like Anthony’s play to start the season was going to earn him All-Star and Most Improved Player consideration.
Anthony, the No. 15 pick in the 2020 draft, averaged 20 points (41.8% shooting, 35.4% on 3-pointers), 6 rebounds and 5.8 assists in his first 24 games. He was the player the Magic leaned on in clutch moments.
But after his hot start, Anthony averaged 14.2 points (37.1% shooting, 32.4% on 3s), 5.6 assists and 5 rebounds in his final 41 games, including averages of 13.8 points (33.3% shooting, 22.7% on 3s), 6.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds in January.
Although his season-long averages of 16.3 points, 5.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 31.7 minutes were increases in production, his shooting splits (43.2% on 2-pointers, 33.8% on 3-pointers) were similar to his rookie season.
There were multiple reasons for Anthony’s decline in production and efficiency.
Opposing teams started to take notice of Anthony’s improved play and he became a higher priority on opponents’ scouting reports.
Anthony also leans on tough shotmaking, with his 4 field goal attempts after seven-plus dribbles accounting for nearly 30% of his shots (14 per game).
Ankle injuries — he missed 14 of 22 games from mid-November through early January because of a sprained right ankle — also didn’t help, slowing down his progress even though he appeared in 41 of the final 44 games.
Through the shooting struggles, Anthony — who has a reputation as a shoot-first guard — continued to take steps as a passer and playmaker. He improved at connecting with shooters on drive-and-kicks and showing more willingness to give up the ball more quickly.
“He continues to work on doing a good job of finding when to make the right play, when to take the big shot [and] when to move the basketball,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “That’s going to be a continued level of growth.”
Anthony said he’ll focus on developing multiple parts of his game, especially in the weight room.
“I’ve been telling everybody, ‘When y’all see me in the summer, I’m going to be strong,’ ” Anthony said. “They’re going to be like, ‘Dang, Cole. Is that Eric Bledsoe?’ That’s one of the things. I’m going to be working on every single aspect of my game. There’s no such thing as perfection.”
Being stronger would be expected to help Anthony with his struggles at the rim. He shot below 56% within four feet of the rim, a subpar mark according to Cleaning The Glassboth seasons of his career.
“Being labeled as a smaller guard, I got to try to figure out my opportunities,” said Anthony, who’s listed at 6-3 and 190 pounds. “Getting stronger will help with that a lot. That’s not the only thing I’m going to get better at. I’m going to keep improving in every single aspect of my game.”
This offseason and the 2022-23 season will be crucial for Anthony.
He’s entering the third year of his rookie-scale contract, with a $5.54 million team option for the 2023-24 season.