Orlando Magic’s rookies will need time to settle into season

Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic had an impressive debut against the Boston Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic had an impressive debut against the Boston Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have concluded their preseason schedule. And while it would be unwise to read too much into it, there were nonetheless some intriguing takeaways from the four games played.

Mo Bamba is showing significant signs of development. Wendell Carter looks extremely promising after arriving as the centerpiece of the Nikola Vucevic trade. And R.J. Hampton’s performances suggest he has a lot more to offer than where he was taken in last year’s draft.

If anything, the only thing that did not stand out in some way during the preseason were the Magic’s two top-10 picks from the 2021 NBA Draft.

Both Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner looked the parts of rookies during the team’s preseason games. They have not quieted any of the excitement for their seasons or their careers.

But preseason served as a reminder of just how much time the Magic’s two rookies will need before they can make the impact fans are hoping for.

Orlando Magic rookies Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner have displayed plenty of promise, but it is clear that both will need lots of time to get near their best.

Suggs arrived in Orlando with plenty of expectations surrounding him. The 2021 Draft was largely touted as having a top-four followed by the rest, and Suggs was widely expected to be the final pick of the four.

But the Toronto Raptors’ surprising decision to take Scottie Barnes left the Orlando Magic with an obvious choice at five. Drafts never turn out the way people expect at the time, but it appeared as though Orlando had finally been gifted a slice of luck after a fairly miserable few years in the draft.

Suggs displayed all the signs to suggest he has what it takes to be a future NBA All-Star at Gonzaga. His speed and athleticism combined with solid defense and the ability to shoot and create for others had scouts enthused about what he could eventually become.

But coming into a situation where there is no recognized star has meant Suggs is having to shoulder a lot of the franchise’s hopes. At present, he represents the Magic’s biggest hope of becoming the main focus of the rebuild, despite being just 20-years-old and having not yet played a proper NBA game.

Fans of all NBA teams will often get carried away with rookies, believing they are the answer to their team’s immediate problems. We forget just how difficult it is for these young players making the step up from competing against players of their own age to going head-to-head with NBA veterans of several years.

And both Suggs and Wagner are finding out just how tough that step up is.

Suggs did not step in and make the immediate impact everyone thought he might. Although, he certainly could grow and get there fairly quickly.

Across three preseason games, Suggs averaged just 5.0 points per game and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 27.3-percent from the floor and 20.0-percent from deep.

Again, it is preseason. There is no reason to get carried away with these numbers. But Suggs’ preseason performances did suggest he will need a lot of time to adjust and to start having the impact he did in college on an NBA court. Perhaps more than people realize.Outl

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Slow down on Suggs

Inefficiency and rookie point guards go hand in hand, as we have seen recently with Cole Anthony. They need time to learn where they can be effective and where they cannot, and have to go through plenty of failures to learn that.

Jalen Suggs has all the tools to be great, he just does not yet know how to use them in the NBA.

His final preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs saw him play a much more limited role.

He scored just four points in the 101-100 defeat, took just four shots in 24 minutes and spent a lot of time without the ball in his hands. He still contributed with solid defense and a willingness to get on the floor for loose balls.

But the Orlando Magic have to find a way of getting Suggs more involved. The loss demonstrated how tough it is to find the right shot in the NBA compared with college.

It is clear when watching him he is trying to figure things out. Improving his handle and growing his ability to create his own shot will both go a long way in ensuring that he can make the most of his shooting skills.

There were flashes of what he could do. He had a few instances where he hit a pull-up 3-pointer from deep. And then there were few instances where he showed burst to finish at the rim.

As time goes on he will learn more about his teammates and how he can best create opportunities for them in Jamahl Mosley’s offensive scheme.

But Suggs has already shown glimpses where he can be effective right away. His shooting potential is clear, with his deep three against the Boston Celtics being shared widely on social media. But more impressive has been his defense and passing ability.

Defense is probably the most advanced area of Suggs’ game right now. He has a knack of defending the rim well and blocking shots. He recorded two blocks against the Celtics (including one in transition against Jayson Tatum reminiscent of his Summer League block). He also dove to the floor to win the ball and set Gary Harris up for an easy bucket against the Spurs was just one of a number of eye-catching defensive moments during preseason.

And on the offensive end, passes like his perfectly placed alley-oop to Mo Bamba and bounce pass to Wendell Carter both late in the fourth quarter against the Spurs showed how he can help both big men to thrive.

Suggs can have a positive impact right away by playing hard on defense and using his court vision to help the team, but, nonetheless, patience is required when it comes to his own ability to score the ball.

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Waiting on Wagner

Unlike Jalen Suggs, no one is expecting Franz Wagner to become a star.

The narrative around selecting him with the eighth pick was that he is a higher floor, lower ceiling player than some of those selected around him, and does all the little things well.

We have certainly seen those aspects in spells during the preseason.

He is solid defensively, with a good understanding of where to be on the court and also has strong court vision to find his teammates for easy baskets. The hope is Wagner can become an effective playmaking, 3-and-D wing — exactly the type of player a team needs in the modern NBA to be successful.

But the 20-year-old’s early struggles have been clear.

He finished preseason averaging 4.5 points per game,1.5 rebounds per game and shot a 34.8-percent effective field goal percentage. His contribution on offense was pretty negative, and his role was not clearly established.

There were also too many occasions where he was sloppy with the ball and lost possession.

This was not helped by some poor shooting displays, but there were some encouraging moments too. He made two of his three threes against the Spurs and showed his playmaking touch also, finding Wendell Carter with a nice fake in the paint.

Wagner’s potential is there for all to see. But, like Suggs, it is going to take a lot of time — and probably even more so in his case — for it to come through on the court. These guys are not going to hit the ground running. They will need some time to ease in.

Demonstrating he can consistently shoot well from 3-point range while making the right calls on offense will be key to his development.

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The Magic’s rebuild is going to require a lot of patience, most of all when it comes to these rookie talents. The potential is there, but fans have to give them the time to show what they are truly capable of in the NBA.