Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony has made leaps in every statistical category in his second season and vaulted himself into the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year conversation.
The 6-foot-3 guard is the first Magic player averaging 20 or more points with a .500 or better effective field goal percentage in his first or second season since Penny Hardaway during the 1994-95 season.
Anthony discussed why he wanted to be drafted by the Magic, where he ranks in the Most Improved Player award conversation, the future of the Magic, and much more with HoopsHype.
Not everyone grows up as a son of an NBA athlete. What was that like for you trying to make a name for yourself?
Cole Anthony: I always had my father, and I looked at him more as a resource as opposed to someone whose name I had to live up to. That’s not something I was focused on. For me, I always loved the game, and it’s still true today. I play regardless of whether I was his son or not. My parents and my dad didn’t force me to play basketball.
Is there anything you took from him or any advice that’s helped along the way?
CA: I still take advice from him to this day. I probably will for a while longer too. I’d say one of the best things he ever told me was to enjoy the moment and don’t be in a rush to get to the future because if I rush the process, then I’ll miss the moment I’m currently in.
What went through your mind when you went 15th to Orlando and did you feel slighted going outside the lottery?
CA: It wasn’t the most thrilling thing in the world for me to see my name slip, but Orlando – and you can ask my family and friends – was a team I wanted to come to. I looked at the situation and the players there. I knew Mo Bamba. He’s one of my best friends. Having a dude like that on your team is invaluable where you have a close relationship. We just felt Orlando would’ve been the best situation for us. We were super lucky I had a good workout in front of them. I’ll forever be grateful to them for drafting me. When I got picked, it was a flurry of emotions rushing through.
Do you look back at the guys taken ahead of you?
CA: Every single day. I can name all 14 dudes and every team they went to. I remember that, and it’s motivation for me every single day.
What’s changed for you this season as a player that’s allowed you to improve?
CA: I really dedicated this whole summer to getting better by studying the game, working on every aspect of my game from my jump shot to my handle, and learning the NBA game. I think now I’m ecstatic the work is starting to show. I’m still putting in a lot of work. I’m a firm believer that what’s done in the dark will always come to the light. I’m happy a part of that is starting to happen, I’m performing well, and hopefully, I can help this team keep getting better.
You seem to want the ball in your hands down the stretch of close games. What’s going through your mind in those clutch situations?
CA: You spend the whole first three quarters making sure your team is functioning well. You’re trying to keep your team in the game and make sure we have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. When that fourth quarter comes, that’s where it’s time to get to work, whether that means me scoring or making plays for my teammates. I feel comfortable with the ball in my hands in situations like that. Me and the rim have a pretty good relationship. In the fourth quarter, I feel like there’s a magnet with my hands, the ball, and the rim. I’ve worked my whole life to have an opportunity to get in fourth-quarter situations like that.
Where do you think you belong in the Most Improved Player of the Year conversation?
CA: Coming into this season, that’s an award me and my team talked about winning. It’s something that I’d love to win, but at the end of the day, if it happens, it happens. I want to make sure my team is functioning well, everyone is getting better, and that’s a bigger win to me. That being said, I wouldn’t be mad if I won that award. It would be pretty cool to be rewarded for your hard work. I have a lot more work to do.
The team has you, Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and RJ Hampton. How can all you these guards work together?
CA: I think we’re all super talented guards. I don’t think at any point having a lot of talent is ever a bad thing. I see us learning. Me and Jalen started to learn how to play together, and me and RJ as well. Me and Markelle haven’t played much together, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to see him back on the floor. I know he’s close and anxious to get back out there. I think it’s going to work. Markelle and Jalen can guard bigger positions, and RJ too. As for me, I’m a little smaller. I think 6-foot-3 is big, but in the NBA nowadays, I’m the shortest person on my team. Everyone’s going to have to sacrifice. At the end of the day, if we can end up winning, everyone eats and will reap the benefits of that.
What have you seen from Markelle Fultz while he’s rehabbing to get back on the court?
CA: From what I’ve seen, he looks good.
What are your thoughts on Franz Wagner and what he’s brought to the Magic?
CA: That kid has a chance to be a star. I really think that Franz can be a very good player in this league for a very long time. I’m here to help him accomplish all his goals and help our team reach all of our goals. That kid is special.
How has Jonathan Isaac looked, and what can he bring to this team when he returns?
CA: (Isaac) is a guy who’s one of the best defenders in the league when he’s healthy. On a young team where we want to defend, I think we need some help right now. I think we’re getting better. A guy like him is super valuable. Getting him back would be awesome. He can be the anchor of our defense, guard all positions, is super springy, and has a high motor. We need a guy like that.
What have you thought of the season so far for the Magic?
CA: We all would’ve loved to win some more games, but we’re in a rebuild mode right now. I think that’s at least obvious. It’s just a matter of growing as a team and learning how to play with each other. We’ve got to have small victories. It may not be a win, but we have to look at if we got better in this aspect of the game, so we can ultimately end up winning more soon. If we do end up winning more games now, I don’t think anyone would complain about that. I just think we have to be realistic with ourselves and give it 125 percent every single night and try to win as many games as possible. We have a bunch of players injured. We had two guys coming into the season with Fultz and Isaac that are two of our best players who haven’t played a game yet. We’ve got Michael Carter-Williams and E’Twaun Moore out. Jalen Suggs has been out. Injuries haven’t been our friend.
What’s your outlook on the team long-term when you look a couple of seasons ahead?
CA: I think we can be a genuine playoff team. I look at us potentially being a higher seed in the East. Obviously, I’m speaking a big game, but Rome wasn’t built overnight. We have a long way to go, but I think when it’s all said and done, we’ll have a chance to be one of the best teams in the East. I think we’ve got some dogs. I think we’re going to have a real chance to contend in the Eastern Conference.
What long-term goals do you have for yourself that you want to achieve?
CA: I have so many goals for myself. Those goals are going to come as the team wins. I want to be an All-Star. I want to be an All-NBA player. I want to be great. I don’t want to be good. When you get to this level, you will find out that not everyone wants to be great. I want to be great. In order for me to be great, my team has to achieve and win. I’m a team person, and I want to see this team succeed. With that, everyone’s goals on this team will come true.
Has anything surprised you about your NBA journey thus far?
CA: At this point, I don’t think so. I think I’m accustomed to everything at this point. Actually, I played the Warriors for the first time in my career, and they’re pretty damn good (laughs). They shut me down. I look forward to playing them again.
You touched on Mo Bamba earlier. What have you seen from him in a contract season and looking ahead at his future?
CA: I’ve seen Mo grow and become more active offensively and defensively. He’s worked on his shot. I think he’s pretty good. He’s top-three in the league in blocks. He’s one of the premier rim protectors. In saying all this, Mo has two or three more levels that he can get to. That dude has a chance to make a lot of money playing this game. The moment he gets that and really embraces that, I think Mo can be the best defender in the league. I think he can reach that Rudy Gobert level, but I think he can be better than that. Mo is offensively skilled. He has a nice touch. I really am happy with what I’ve seen from him this year, but I still think he has a long way to go, which is to say how gifted I think he is.
How about Wendell Carter Jr.?
CA: I think I saw a stat that he made seven threes last season after the trade. In the first couple of games, he beat that. He’s worked on his shot, and you can tell. It shows you we’ve got guys who want to work.
You can follow Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) on Twitter.