Jalen Suggs steps into the light and returns better for the injury

Jalen Suggs returned for the Orlando Magic and looked a more poised and prepared player. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Jalen Suggs returned for the Orlando Magic and looked a more poised and prepared player. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

According to teammates, Jalen Suggs was frustrated when he first fractured his thumb in his right hand and learned his rookie season would have to get put on pause.

Any young player — especially in this era and society — always wants to go. Getting them to slow down is plenty difficult.

The frustration over the injury quickly turned into opportunity though. One the rookie guard needed to take advantage of.

Suggs went into what he described as “dark mode,” working with the team’s medical training staff to recover from his injury and continue to maintain his strength and conditioning. He also worked with assistant coach Nate Tibbetts and video coordinator and player development coach Randy Gregory to stay ready and set out his plan.

Suggs stayed behind closed doors — notably off social media — and away from everything on the outside. This was all by design. He was focused on getting better even as he recovered and even with limited court time.

Jalen Suggs returned from injury Friday night and made an immediate impact for the Orlando Magic. The work he did behind the scenes while out was clear and evident.

He did not emerge publicly until before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards, when his potential return in the very near future was already announced. On social media, Suggs posted that “dark mode” was almost over.

It ended Friday against the Charlotte Hornets. In the Orlando Magic’s 116-109 win, Suggs returned from a 20-game absence with that fractured thumb and made an immediate impact.

He scored 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, adding six rebounds and seven assists. For a rookie who was at times struggling to get the pace of the game down, Suggs played with some incredible patience and poise.

It was not a perfect game. But for his first game in a month and a half, this was a sign of improvement. It was a sign of the work that he put in even when he could not hit the court.

It made him better.

"“For as much as it sucked to be out, this injury was a blessing in disguise in reality,” Suggs said after Friday’s win. “It gave me time to sit back and reevaluate and realize the thing that I was doing and the habits that I had to change into better ones and grow on the court and off the court. I needed that.”"

Suggs probably needed something of a pause to reset himself.

Despite all the accolades and hype for his arrival, Suggs looked very much like a rookie in his first stint. Before the injury, Suggs was averaging 12.3 points per game and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 33.9-percent from the field overall. His effective field goal percentage was below the 40.0-percent mark.

Suggs had some good moments — a 17-point quarter against the Brooklyn Nets and a series of clutch plays in a win over the New York Knicks — and already proved to be a capable defender. but Suggs needed the chance to slow down and see the game a bit differently.

It was a difficult month for Suggs to sit on the sidelines but it was one he needed for his growth.

"“He’s a great teammate,” Moritz Wagner said after Friday’s win. “He doesn’t have an agenda, he just tries to play basketball competitively. He doesn’t put his head down too much. He just keeps playing. For his age, he is pretty mature. He cares about it. I’m very happy for him. He is in a great situation and works hard. The sky is the limit.”"

Wagner said it was most impressive to him how apparent Suggs’ improvements were while he was out. It showed his seriousness to improve and understand the mental aspects of the game better. It was clear from practice he said how much Suggs stayed involved and looked for ways to improve.

Coach Jamahl Mosley credited Jalen Suggs’ work with the team’s coaching staff and his preparation for helping him be able to step right back onto the court and make an impact.

It was clear on the court too where many of his early-season struggles seemed to get pushed to the wayside for the majority of the game.

Suggs played Friday’s game with a lot more patience, allowing him to finish better at the rim. He still had six turnovers, a point he knew he had to clean up after Charlotte did a good job speeding him up in the second half.

But it was overall a solid game from Suggs measuring his time and finding his space to attack.

His ball-handling certainly could still tighten up. But considering his injury and his time off, this is something that will come with more comfort and rehab on the court.

"“I think he did a very good job,” Mosley said after Friday’s game. “I think he was trying to defend at a high level. His ability attacking the rim was good. There were some points of patience and poise. We knew there was going to be that stretch where he came in trying to get himself going and he got past that first wind and I was very proud of him down the stretch.”"

There will still undoubtedly be plenty of growth to come for a young player like Suggs. But his defense did not seem to miss much of a beat. He was aggressive attacking the glass and, despite some moments where he was clearly still getting his feet wet, he was making a positive impact defensively.

The clip above is not what a rookie is supposed to be doing fairly consistently defensively. Let alone, a rookie who had just missed 20 games.

What the Magic saw in these clips and on the court was a player who was eager to go out and play. But also they saw someone who took his time off seriously to improve.

The impact and energy he gave the team in helping them snap a 10-game losing streak were even bigger. Everybody could feel how eager he was to get back on the court and to help make the team feel whole again.

"“Everybody can feel it,” Franz Wagner said after Friday’s win. “When he first got injured, he was really frustrated and obviously wanted to come back as quickly as possible. The biggest thing for Jalen is he loves playing and loves competing. Obviously, he couldn’t do that for the last few weeks. Seeing him out there and playing the way he did tonight with the intensity and effort that I mentioned, it makes everybody happy on the team.”"

There is still a lot of learning to do. Suggs had a spat of turnovers in the third quarter and needed to be calmed down again. Jalen Suggs said a discussion with Markelle Fultz helped him get back in the right mindset and get back under control.

Suggs then became a key part of the Magic’s decisive 15-2 run to open the fourth quarter, creating havoc defensively while playing with control and poise offensively.

It was exactly what the Magic needed to turn the tide and get back on track.

Suggs still has a little less than half a season to continue growing on the court. If his time off was any indication, it will be time he takes advantage of. Getting a chance to sit back and reset likely helped him focus.

Next. 2nd Quarter MVP: Franz Wagner makes his case. dark

Suggs now seems ready to step into the light and make good on the work he did behind the scenes.