The Whiteboard: A pull-up jumper has made all the difference for Cole Anthony

Orlando Magic, The Whiteboard

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With injuries to Markelle Fultz and a series of roster-clearing trades, Cole Anthony ended up with a lot of offensive responsibility as a rookie. His combined usage and assist rate was higher than every other rookie except LaMelo Ball and no other rookie had the ball in their hands for as many minutes per game.

In the role, Anthony looked regrettably over his head. He finished the season averaging 12.9 points and 4.1 assists per game but shot just 39.7 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from beyond the arc. He looked largely ineffective as a dribble penetrator, not drawing fouls at a significant rate and making just 43.3 percent of his shots off drives. He struggled to create separation and his jumper, which was supposed to be the most reliable tool in his arsenal, didn’t look solid off-the-dribble or off-the-catch.

Hitting pull-up jumpers has changed everything for Cole Anthony

Anthony has looked like an entirely different player to start this season and his ability to hit jumpers off the dribble is what’s really unlocked everything else for him. Through 11 games for the Magic, he’s averaging 20.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game, shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from beyond the arc. On pull-up jumpers, specifically, he’s hit 50.0 percent of his 2-pointers and 47.1 percent of his 3s.

Anthony is a strong guard but he doesn’t have the elite handle or quickness to consistently create advantages for himself off the dribble. The threat of his jumper gives him a reliable weapon, a shot he knows he can get against almost any defense, but it also forces the defense to react and creates some of those advantages his burst can’t. Defenders have to play him more aggressively when his jumper is falling and he can use his strength and body control to get himself to the rim.

The balance has helped him be much more efficient in the pick-and-roll, where’s he averaging 1.01 points per possession — about the same as Stephen Curry and Jayson Tatum. He ranks in the 77th percentile in scoring efficiency, a big jump from last year when he finished in the 53rd.

Anthony has also taken advantage of the additional creators the Magic have added to their rotation this season. Jalen Suggs has split ball-handling duties with him and Franz Wagner and R.J. Hampton have offered some value as complementary creators as well. Even though Anthony has had the ball in his hands more, on a per-minute basis this season, he’s also attempting 4.7 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers per game, up from 2.0 last season.

It’s possible there’s some regression to the mean coming for Anthony’s shooting percentages but what we’ve seen this year looks a lot more like what the Magic were expecting, given his pre-draft profile. He looks much better with more talent around him and the idea of his ceiling as a bigger, stronger version of peak Kemba Walker doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched as it did a few months ago.

Deni Avdija is finally showing what he can do

Like Cole Anthony, Deni Avdija has followed up a disappointing rookie season with a promising start, taking advantage of some small skill developments and some big changes in the roster around him and the role he’s being asked to play. His shooting percentages are actually down across the board from the already low starting point of last season but he’s doing more of all the other ancillary things that made him such an appealing draft prospect.

Per 36 minutes, Avidja is 9.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.5 blocks, a box-score line that speaks to his offensive and defensive versatility. He’s still very much a complementary piece but he looks more and more comfortable leveraging his passing, awareness and ball-handling to work as connective tissue for the Wizards’ offense.

On defense, he has the size and quickness to defend both large and small wings — the five players he’d defended most so far this season are Giannis Antetokounmpo, OG Anunoby, Danilo Gallinari, Josh Richardson and Jaylen Brown. And he’s held up extremely well against players looking to attack him off the dribble.

New additions like Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie have gotten most of the attention for the Wizards’ surprising start but Avdija’s development has been at least as important, helping make things easier for everyone at both ends. These numbers are very noisy at this point in the season but the Wizards have outscored opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions with Avdija on the floor this season, by far the best mark of any player in the Wizards’ regular rotation.

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