It is easy to see all the potential Jalen Suggs has when he is on the floor.
In the first half, Suggs rounded the corner to throw a lob to Wendell Carter for a big dunk. A little bit later, he drove toward the middle of the floor stopped and hit a pull-up jumper over a defender.
In the fourth quarter, with the Magic trailing and trying to make up ground they had slowly lost in the third and fourth quarters, he got into the paint along the baseline and whipped a pass to Gary Harris for an open three.
All those signs are there for a team that can function and a rookie who has star potential. Suggs looked to be playing under a whole lot more control and poise as the team’s lead guard.
Orlando moved the ball well to take a seven-point lead midway through the third. The team seemed to have everything in check and the ability to handle one of the league’s hottest young teams.
Then there were the moments where he and the Magic looked every bit the young, injured and struggling team their record suggests they are.
The plays where Suggs drove into the lane and got picked from behind or the ball knocked away from him on the perimeter. the times where the shot would not fall or the silly fouls away from the basket that put the Magic’s young rookie in foul trouble early.
The Orlando Magic continue to look like a young team in many ways. Their potential and struggles are highlighted intheir rookie guard still turning the corner in the league.
Orlando knows it will have growing pains this season. And all that potential and all that youth was on display in a 106-99 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center on Wednesday.
“I think tonight we played a great 44 minutes of basketball,” Suggs said after Wednesday’s loss. “We had little lapses that led to 3-4 minutes that came in spurts. In 30-second, 45-second segments, where we got lackadaisical. We let them get comfortable and let them build confidence. We played a great 44 minutes of basketball and showed a lot of great things tonight. But we also have things we can work on and things we can correct, talk about and keep pushing and continue to grow.”
That duality, and how those small poor moments can lead to big problems and how teams find their comfort against this Magic team especially, remains one of the bigger issues the Magic cannot resolve.
Orlando was in the game and leading by seven points midway through the third before Charlotte finished on a 15-3 run to end the quarter. Those three points coming on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Moritz Wagner.
Much of that happened with the Magic’s key starters — Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba — out of the game. With the injuries, Orlando could not avoid some rough lineups and it hurt them at this critical juncture.
That does not mean the team was consistent throughout. And they were simultaneously showing their best and their inexperience throughout the game. Suggs, playing in his 18th career game, showed both of those throughout the game too.
Suggs finished with 17 points and six assists. As he continues to get and look more comfortable, he made 6 of 14 shots, although he missed all five of his 3-pointers.
With the ball in his hands a lot more with Cole Anthony missing his third straight game, Suggs had a lot more control over the tempo of the game throughout. And it is a good thing the Magic finished +5 with him on the floor for this game.
But he made plenty of rookie errors.
“I think this is a great opportunity for him to go up against these guards who are picking up full court and pressing and trapping him,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s loss. “His ability to see the game with a high IQ and now he is understanding what he has to do on the physical side of where he needs to go on the floor, the positions he finds himself in and where the open pass is.”
His five turnovers stood out most, many of them from defenders getting behind him and poking the ball away or knocking the ball free as he tried to drive to the basket.
Suggs displayed plenty of patience and poise. But he also still makes the kind of mistakes you would expect a rookie to make.
Orlando as a team committed 15 turnovers that led to 11 Charlotte points. But the Hornets also had 21 fast-break points on 9-for-11 shooting in fast-break situations. The Magic still struggle there scoring just five on 2-for-8 shooting.
On top of that, the team had some sloppy turnovers like when Mo Bamba had an inbounds violation stepping back onto the court too quickly after a made basket. Or when Jalen Suggs had consecutive turnovers trying to get the ball up the floor against Terry Rozier’s pressure defense.
The Magic are seeing their rookie turn a corner for sure. But there is still plenty to work on.
“I think these past four or five games I felt I’ve kind of turned the corner into trying to get adjusted and trying to get my feet wet because it’s a completely different situation to now I’m comfortable and now I’m confident,” Suggs said after Wednesday’s loss. “Now, coach Mose has talked about it now I’m switched to let’s get this thing moving. Now I understand where I’m at. I know how things kind of work. I’m used to it and I have my confidence here. Now, what do we have to start doing to come and get different outcomes?”
Figuring out how to get those different outcomes will be the challenge of course.
Suggs identified in himself that turnovers and shot selection remain the biggest areas he has to improve. That is certainly true for the entire team. They still have a penchant for settling for threes (42 attempts) and not moving the ball effectively enough consistently to keep their offense going.
That is what happened during that decisive run. Orlando is playing with only one true point guard in the team’s prized rookie. And the Magic were struggling to execute consistently despite the fight the team showed to stay in the game and give themselves the chance to win.
That is still the last step the team is trying to reach. Playing well consistently enough to win and win regularly.
“There were a lot of great things to take from this game,” Suggs said after Wednesday’s loss. “For as much as this loss hurts. We really wanted to get this one going into Thanksgiving and kind of build it into Friday. It sucks but there are a lot of great things we can take away from today. Things don’t change overnight. We just have to continue to build on performances and games.”
The same could be said for their rookie guard. He is still putting all his pieces togehter and still rounding that proverbial corner. He too is looking for consistency. And likely the Magic are not going to hit that mark until he gets there.
The ball is going to be in his hands to get there for sure. And everyone has to make better decisioons to get the Magic across that finish line.