‘He’s built for this’: Magic confident Cole Anthony can step in for Fultz

Orlando Magic rookie Cole Anthony has played mostly a sixth man role off the bench to this point of the season, but that figures to change following the news that surfaced on Wednesday night.

The Magic announced following a 105-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers that starting point guard Markelle Fultz suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Fultz attempted to plant on his left knee early in the first quarter but, instead, his leg gave out and he went crashing onto the court. He was carted off back to the locker room in a wheelchair and immediately underwent an MRI.

The news immediately sent shockwaves throughout the team and the rest of the NBA.

Of course, Fultz played just 33 games over the first two years of his career with the Philadelphia 76ers due to a shoulder injury. He had finally been healthy, appearing in 72 games last season with the Magic while averaging 12.1 points per game. He started off this season on track to have his best year yet but will now miss the remainder of it, seemingly, as quickly as it started.

Following the game, teammate Terrence Ross was shocked to hear the prognosis of Fultz and was initially speechless during his press conference with reporters.

“I mean, it sucks. It’s not good news,” Ross said. “But if anybody can handle this, it’s ‘Kelle. He has the heart of a lion. He’s super talented, always positive. I know he’ll be able to handle this. We all got his back, we will all be here for him. You hate to see this, especially for a guy who already fought through so much and came back and was ballin’ and now this. It’s just one of those things, it’s going to make him stronger. He is going to come back from that, I have no doubt.”

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In place of Fultz, the Magic turned to Anthony, who produced eight points, four assists and three assists in a season-high 32 minutes of work. The increased workload will certainly be a precursor of things to come with Fultz now out.

Anthony had only played over 30 minutes once this season prior to Wednesday night — a blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on New Year’s Eve. He was typically among the first players off the bench and performed well in that role but will now be thrown into the fire and play an extensive role for a team that has started off with a 6-2 record and is second in the Eastern Conference.

Despite being only eight games into his NBA career, his Magic teammates are confident that Anthony will be able to rise to the occasion in place of Fultz.

“He is built for this,” Ross said. “He is not shy of any moment. He’s a tough kid. He is improving really fast. He is picking everything up. It’s going to take some time but you gotta go through it. That’s how everybody goes through it when they first get into the league. They gotta figure out where they are, figure out how they can contribute every single night. It’s going to help him grow up a little faster. It’s all about how he handles it but I think he will do well.”

Unfortunately, Anthony is in the midst of a brutal offensive slump. He is converting on 30.3% of his shots from the field, including 19% from 3-point range. When asked if he feels prepared to take over for Fultz, Anthony said he is ready but playfully added that it would help if he could start making a shot or two on the court.

Despite the offensive woes, Anthony has managed to stay productive on the court due to his defensive activity and ability to make plays. Anthony has drawn four charges this season, which is tied for third-most in the NBA, while he is also seventh in charges drawn per game. He earned praise from Magic head coach Steve Clifford for his defensive activity and willingness to seek contact on that end of the floor.

That, as Anthony said after the game, is completely by design.

“I compete so, I mean, I take it personal when I see someone who is trying to get a bucket on me,” Anthony said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening. In turn, that is going to help the team. They see that if I set the tone by pressuring my defender, that is going to make them want to go pressure their defender, too. It’s a chain reaction. As a team, we just get better defensive like that so I’m going to do everything I can on my part to do that.”

The loss of Fultz will undoubtedly hurt the Magic this season, and further test their depth.

The team is already dealing with injuries to Evan Fournier and Michael Carter-Williams in the backcourt, and the Fultz news further exacerbates that issue. Anthony will certainly have his fair share of growing pains, but the team is confident that Anthony can step in and help immediately.


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