Summer League is about hints. It is not meant to be a loud proclamation of what players can be in the NBA.
Everyone knows this too. They will all say the goal for young players is to get their feet wet and effort, intensity and focus are far more important than any statistical output.
My rule for Summer League is that Summer League is not where you figure out who can play, but figure out who cannot play.
There is a lot of noise in Summer League, so when there is something that speaks clearly, you listen. If something rises above the din, it requires notice.
In some respects then, Jalen Suggs asked the NBA world in his debut Summer League game for the Orlando Magic:
Are you listening?
Magic fans were already giddy when Suggs “dropped” to No. 5 in the Draft. Here was the offensive-minded perimeter scorer the team has not truly had since Tracy McGrady left in 2004. That is both an impossible standard to live up to — McGrady is a Hall of Famer, after all — and a sign of the sheer paucity of perimeter talent the team has had.
Orlando, at the beginning stages of another rebuild, needed a central figure. In the first Summer League game, the team handed Suggs the ball and let him get comfortable at his own pace. He was the point guard on a team with two other ball-handlers in Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton.
Overreactions are natural after one Summer League game, but Jalen Suggs showed the Orlando Magic exactly what they wanted to see in his debut.
And with the Magic trailing as the starters re-entered in the fourth quarter, it was Suggs who took the lead. He made the big plays — the pull-up go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the quarter and that crazy block on a 2-on-1 fast break to send the game to overtime.
Magic fans were not the only one buzzing about Suggs. This did not feel like simply a Summer League showing.
"“When it’s time to make winning plays, I want the ball in my hands,” Suggs said after the game Monday. “I know that. My teammates and coaches have full trust in me to make a good play offensive or defensively. When it comes down to it, I try to make winning plays for everybody so we can go into the locker room and celebrate a win and learn from our mistakes rather than sulk from a loss.”"
That is a mindset the Magic wanted to get when they brought Suggs in.
Everyone talked about the leadership intangibles he had from playing football — where he was recruited by some big-time college foootball programs — and his late-game heroics at Gonzaga are well noted.
In the midst of a rebuild, the team needed someone who has the determination to win. That is what Suggs seemed to provide immediately.
Suggs’ final line was just as impressive — 24 points, 9-for-22 shooting, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Suggs was everywhere beyond his scoring too. He was a presence on the boards and willing to get after players defensively.
If this is a taste of the Suggs experience, Magic fans have every right to be excited.
"“I’m not surprised at all,” fellow rookie Franz Wagner said after Monday’s game. “The guy is a hooper straight up. He’s always ready to hoop, always ready to play. I think his real personality comes out in the games. I’m sure during the year as we go on, our relationship will grow. He had a great game today. I’m sure he’s going to have a couple more this season.”"
It was a Summer League game and there were plenty of errors and rough edges. As Suggs noted, it was his first game of 5-on-5 since the NCAA Tournament final against Baylor.
He struggled with his shot early and described the game as being a “little kid on Christmas.” It showed with some of the over-eagerness of his early play. The goal for Summer League is to improve and so Suggs still has plenty of areas to improve.
The team was not always tied together and the defense had its rough moments. But late in the game, everyone picked each other up and got down defensively to get stops. Coach Jamahl Mosley said holding the Golden State Warriors to 16 points in the fourth quarter was the team’s most impressive feat. So too was the 10-point deficit the team erased in the final quarter.
That resilience stood out overall for Mosley and will be the base for the work the team has to do the rest of the week.
It was the late-game moments that spoke loudest. That is what Suggs did at Gonzaga so well. And with the pressure ramped up, Suggs seemed to shine the most. Both as a scorer himself, but as someone willing to do what the team needed whenever it was called for.
Mosley treasured his willingness to trust his teammates and make the plays at the right time. This is all a continuation of who Suggs is. The Magic are just learning about this and seeing it play out on the floor at last.
Early on, rookies have to shake off the nerves. Suggs seems to thrive under it.
"“I’m learning to become comfortable with nerves,” Suggs said after Monday’s game. “Everybody has them. I was overwhelmed with joy and that covered up the nerves that I had. Just going out there and getting comfortable again, everything is going to work itself out. I know the work that I put in. I understand what I had to do. I just had to go out and execute. Some shots fell, some didn’t. But the hard work, you can never be wrong with that. I tried to go out there and be my best self and have fun.”"
If this is the first impression Suggs is going to leave Magic fans, their excitement from draft night is warranted. This was not just a strong scoring performance. This was an all-around performance and, most importantly, a winning performance.
Suggs still has plenty to build. But this was not merely a Summer League performance. This was a shout across the field for Suggs.
For Magic fans hoping to see Suggs rise above the crowd, they saw that. And that is extremely promising.