Orlando Magic need Jalen Suggs to fill in their weaknesses

Jalen Suggs' run with the Orlando Magic in Summer League showed the world he is a star in the making. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Jalen Suggs' run with the Orlando Magic in Summer League showed the world he is a star in the making. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Jalen Suggs showed up big time for the Orlando Magic in his Summer League debut.

Before a thumb injury kept him out from the third game and beyond, the fifth overall pick averaged 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He walked away as one of the most impressive rookies in Summer League, even if there was just a three-game sample size to work from.

Magic fans spent the entire offseason excited for what was to come in Suggs’ rookie season.

Jalen Suggs impressed with some gaudy performances worthy of a top-five pick. But the Orlando Magic’s guard did a lot of things the stats did not show that hint at his role ahead.

While he impressed most with flashy bits of athleticism, the Las Vegas showcase tournament is not truly indicative of what to expect from the young guard out of Gonzaga.

He is likely not going to have the offensive freedom which saw him attempt 17.5 shots per game.  That would have ranked second on the team last year behind only Nikola Vucevic who, of course, is no longer on the team.

So, what about his Summer League performance should the Magic be keying in on? I made a video on YouTube detailing some of my favorite highlights from the Summer League to describe exactly that:

In my video, I threw out the big dunks and other ESPN top-10 worthy plays.  Those extraordinary displays of athleticism are expected from the top picks of the NBA draft.

Instead, I focused on three key areas Suggs needs to translate from his performances into the 2021 season.

Firstly, the Magic need Suggs to continue developing his passing ability.

Orlando ranked 28th in team assists last year at 21.8 per game. They even ranked 22nd in the league in potential assists, as tracked by NBA.com with 43.7 per game.

The team was void of a passing guard capable of distributing the ball to other teammates at a high level.

Cole Anthony is a self-minded offensive playmaker and R.J. Hampton is more of a supporting piece at the guard position than a lead man. Even Markelle Fultz would not be labeled as a traditional point guard despite averaging a team-high 5.4 assists in his eight games last season.

Suggs showed great flashes of this ability in Summer League. He was consistently able to break down bigger guards on the perimeter before drawing outside defenders to the paint, where he found his open teammates at the three-point line.

At times, it seemed the coaching staff encouraged him to focus more on his own scoring instead of making those kinds of plays which is understandable. Every team wants to win a Summer League Championship but experimenting with important prospects is always going to take precedent.

Even in college, Suggs showed plenty of passing potential.

He averaged only 4.5 assists per game in 28.9 minutes per game and 8.4 assists per 100 possessions. Suggs, notably, played more of a facilitator role in Gonzaga’s stacked lineup, taking over when the team needed him late in close games.

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There were precious few of those. So Suggs’ assist record does not look great — he tallied more than five assists in just 10 games last year. However, three of those came in the NCAA Tournament and five came against Power 5 conference opponents.

Suggs showed plenty in his passing ability even if the sample sizes are kind of small.

Secondly, Orlando desperately needs Suggs to maintain the 3-point shooting he displayed in Vegas.

In two games, he shot 41.7-percent  from outside. At Gonzaga, he made just 33.7-percent of his 3-pointers, albeit on just 3.5 attempts per game.

Everyone knows the Magic struggle when it comes to perimeter shooting, showcased by their team 34.3-percent average which ranked 27th in the NBA last season.

With a potential starting lineup of Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac and Wendell Carter, it is not difficult to see the team lacks a knock-down shooter. Anthony and Ross combined for 33.8-percent 3-point shooting last season. Both are more about volume than their percentage. Thus, why it feels likely both come off the bench.

If Suggs can shoot roughly 41-percent from outside, that would bring the four players to a much better 35.8 combined shooting percentage.

Three-point shooting is certainly not everything when it comes to team success, however, it is likely not a coincidence that seven of the eight teams that won a playoff series were in the top 10 of team 3-point shooting percentage last season.

Lastly, Orlando desperately needs Suggs’ energy.  One of the greatest things he brought to the team in the Thomas & Mack Center was his excitement.

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In virtually meaningless games, he was fully engaged. And his energy chasing down the block against the Golden State Warriors was critical in the team’s signature win — a game that announced Suggs’ arrival.

The Magic spent most of last season in no man’s land.

They were led by coach Steve Clifford who was not expecting the franchise to hit the reset button. With the playoffs quickly out of reach, the team rotated new young players in the starting lineup with regularity.

Additionally, players like Fultz and Hampton are still trying to establish themselves in the NBA. Cole Anthony was taken outside of the lottery in the 2020 draft and seems to have some limitations on his potential.

The good news is: Suggs has shown himself perfectly capable of doing things. As the video shows, Suggs did a lot of things that were not appearing in the box score to impress scouts throughout Summer League.

That is not the case for Suggs, who is now the face of the Magic franchise. They expect him to lead Orlando into the team’s next era. His worries will never be about his job security and instead is more centered on how far he can take the team in the coming years.

That can be a taxing role on a young player. For years, Jayson Tatum possessed the skills of a NBA superstar but had a hard time connecting with his teammates around him.

Nonetheless, that is the responsibility the top prospects of any NBA draft have to deal with. From what Suggs displayed so far on and off the court, he appears ready to take on the task.

Next. Orlando Magic should make 3-point shooting a priority. dark

With the NBA tip-off just a month away, Suggs will have to dedicate himself to defining what he can do to best benefit his teammates this year.