The Orlando Magic have high hopes for rookie guard Jalen Suggs. They made that clear when they put Suggs front and center to speak to the fans and welcome them to the 2021-22 season during the team’s opening night on Friday.
Fans made it clear the kind of hope they put in the young guard on draft night when everyone went bonkers over the Magic selecting him fifth.
He had a stellar debut that included a game-saving block. He followed that up with more athleticism, scoring and passing in their second game.
Even through some struggles in the preseason, it was clear how much talent Suggs possessed. He again blocked Jayson Tatum in transition and hit long-range 3-pointers.
There were always going to be growing pains for a young guard — plenty of other young guards have had their struggles to start their careers. There is still a long way for Suggs to go and to grow.
What is clear from his early games is that Suggs is doing some good things and getting decent shot looks. But, as most rookies are, he is so sped up right now that he is missing and rushing shots.
As he slows down, Suggs’ shooting should improve. His shot quality is decent and his ability to finish at the rim should improve too as things slow down.
Orlando Magic rookie guard Jalen Suggs has missed a lot early on this season. The rookie just needs to slow down to get the desired results.
The numbers for Suggs are not impressive through two games.
He is averaging a solid 12.0 points per game, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. But all is certainly not well. While Suggs has been strong at getting to the line (9 for 9 from the line in two games), he is shooting just 7 for 31 from the floor (22.6-percent) and 1 for 12 from deep (8.3-percent).
In some respects this is encouraging. He is still scoring and producing despite wildly inefficient numbers.
In other respects, it is discouraging. After all, Suggs is essentially playing as the team’s point guard right now. And so his play and the tempo he brings to the game have outsized effects on the team’s ability to compete and stay in games.
And the way Suggs is getting his shots and the kind of shots he is missing are the kind of shots that lead to fast breaks and create a disjointed offense.
Suggs’ usage rate is sitting at 28.0-percent for the early season. He is playing like a star and the team is sinking because he is struggling to live up to that building.
Orlando has hopes Suggs can become the team’s star. But right now, he clearly is not ready to handle all that responsibility effectively.
The shooting question
The next question then should obviously be whether this is just rookie overeagerness or whether he is simply missing quality looks. Likely it is some combination of the two.
There are positive signs though.
According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Jalen Suggs has taken 18 of his 31 shots with the closest defender four or more feet away from him. He has made only three of these shots. He is just 1 for 11 on 3-pointers where the closest defender is more than four feet away.
If the Orlando Magic can get the ball moving more effectively to Suggs in spot-up opportunities, he theoretically should be open enough to shoot them. He just has to knock them down.
The one thing everyone has learned to this point is that Suggs is a confident shooter. He is not going to shy away — just look at those shooting attempt numbers.
Where Suggs has unexpectedly struggled in his ability to create off the dribble. His shooting percentages and shot selection when he is working off dribble have been the biggest parts of his learning curve so far.
Suggs is shooting 2 for 12 when he holds the ball for six seconds or more. That is 12 of 31 attempts so far. That is a big part of why the ball is sticking for the Magic. Suggs has often been trying to go at it alone — and he is probably not alone in this category.
And overdribbling or holding the ball is how anyone can get in trouble.
Suggs is learning very quickly how fast gaps can close in the NBA.
On this play, Suggs gets the ball on the wing and sees space in the middle. He tries to drive into the teeth of the defense but is quickly surrounded by his man in Derrick Rose and Obi Toppin stepping in to help.
The right play here is either to feed into the post to Robin Lopez, who has a good seal on his man, or to dish out to his outlet with Franz Wagner or Moritz Wagner at the 3-point line (shot clock notwithstanding). The issue with the Magic’s spacing is that this outlet has not made itself readily apparent.
Franz Wagner has been good about understanding where to position himself. But he is still a rookie. A move more into Suggs’ line of sight would have helped him get an outlet to get out of the trap.
Instead, Suggs hurries a shot — the shot clock winding down does not help — and gets it blocked. There are a lot of these sort of “star shot” kinds of plays where Suggs is looking to attack off the dribble.
A shot or aggressive play like this is not uncommon for him.
Suggs had at least two shots like this one in Wednesday’s season opener.
These are the kind of shots superstars take. They are mini-heat checks where they have the defense off balance and drain mid-range jumpers as they retreat. These shots become available because the defense is concerned about the player’s driving ability.
This is definitely a shot that is going to have to be a part of Suggs’ game eventually. But the way the stars get to shoot these shots is by being ruthlessly efficient at them.
Suggs is not there through two games at least.
The moment Suggs turns the corner then will be the moment he starts hitting these shots.
At the same time though, Suggs is regularly taking these kinds of pull-up shots and is only 2 for 15 on them. These are possession-stopping plays. And for a Magic team struggling to move the ball, the team should probably use these or settle for these pull-up shots.
It feels like Suggs is feeling the pressure of potential or burgeoning stardom and is trying to do it all at once. This may not be the stage he should be at in his development and career.
Driving to the rim
Perhaps Jalen Suggs’ best skill at the moment is his ability to get to the basket. He is averaging 11.5 drives per game according to NBA.com tracking data from Second Spectrum, trailing only Cole Anthony’s 14.0 per game (his issues with driving are an issue for another day) on the team.
This is actually one area where Suggs is effective. He is making 50.0-percent of his shots (5 for 10) on drives. Considering how poor his shooting is everywhere else, this is not so insignificant at the moment.
More than half of his points have come off these drives.
Suggs can certainly still make more shots at the rim — 50.0-percent at the rim is still below league average. But it is really clear how skilled he is at getting to the basket and making shots near the basket.
This was a really impressive finish and encapsulates everything the Orlando Magic can hope for from Suggs as he develops.
He does a great job coming around the screen with pace, but remains under control. He changes his pace well, hitting the turbo to get to the rim and finish over Mitchell Robinson. Doing that against a quality shot blocker is really impressive and it looks like Robinson almost catches up to Suggs on the finish.
When the Magic drafted Suggs, he was advertised as someone who could contort and use his patience to finish effectively at the rim. This is proof of that.
But too often, Suggs’ finishes look like the one he had on the previous play. He makes this shot, but clearly makes a bad read and probably gets away with a charge in the process. It is a rushed shot and a forced shot.
Again, this is more proof that Suggs will be able to figure things out. He still makes the shot. And he said during media day he has been talking with E’Twaun Moore and working on his floater. Adding that to his game will make him a far more dangerous driver.
But for now, everything feels rushed.
Suggs does a good job attacking the close out, but the Knicks close him down well and Suggs opts for a forced shot (which he makes) rather than the kick-out to Anthony for three.
His play against the Spurs revealed similar issues where Suggs looked sped up at his rim shots and that led to overly complicated finishes and rushed shots at the point of attack.
He just does not seem like he has control over the kinds of shots he wants to take.
In this play, Suggs makes a great read off the screen. He attacks Drew Eubanks after Derrick White gets eaten on the screen. And he changes his speed effectively to get to the basket.
But he does not make the next read of the defense. White is able to recover and challenge the shot. Suggs was not able to get all the way to the rim in time and did not read the defense quick enough to make the next play.
Suggs expected a free run to the rim but found the space quickly closed up. This is a theme throughout many of Suggs’ drives and mid-range shots.
Welcome to the league.
This is actually really strong defense from White, a veteran player at this point who works hard to get back in the play. And this is a really good play from the Magic, even using a second screen to rub off the big man and create this path to the basket for Suggs.
At this point, it is about Jalen Suggs getting to the basket and making the play — whether it is the finish at the rim or a pass (Ignas Brazdeikis is open in the corner).
This is really the point where Suggs is at. He is getting downhill and getting in good position to make plays but he is not quite making these plays yet. He is a rookie still getting his feet under him.
And the large deficits the Magic are facing has seemingly made everyone try to bring the team back on their own. The team has to build some trust and patience offensively and that will make everyone look better.
Take your time
Jalen Suggs’ shot selection to this point has not been bad. In reality, Suggs is taking all the kinds of shots the Orlando Magic want him to take. He is making the plays and in spaces on the floor they want him to be in.
The shots just are not falling. And there are clearly a lot of reasons for that.
Whether it is right or not, the Magic have put the ball in Suggs’ hands a lot. Injuries have forced them to do that. And they clearly have a long-term vision of throwing Suggs into the deep end and talking him through these situations as he experiences them.
The big lesson for Suggs in this early part of the season is to slow his game down. He has to continue making instinctual plays and attack when necessary, but he has to remain patient and poised under pressure.
That probably should mean Suggs should look to create off his drives. He is settling for tough jumpers at this point instead of keeping the ball moving. The reason for that is a bit of a mystery — part when Suggs gets the ball late in the shot clock, poor offensive scheming and execution and a rookie with wide eyes and a green light to shoot a lot.
It is incredibly cliche to say the game slows down for rookies at some point when they get some experience. But watching Suggs play, it feels apt to say the game needs to slow down for him. He needs to slow down and read the game in front of him. He is just moving too fast and getting stuck without an outlet.
This is a general problem for a lot of the Magic’s young players so far. The team is getting sped up — and big deficits only make the problem worse.
Suggs will have his breakthrough. He is too talented and he has put himself in positions where he will get baskets at some point. That will be a confidence-building day for sure.
Until then, the game just needs to slow down for Suggs. He needs to slow down. And until then, he needs to keep his focus on being aggressive but also keeping the ball moving.
When that happens, the results will follow.