Jalen Suggs keeps taking steps forward for Orlando Magic

Jalen Suggs has continued to show flashes of progress as the Orlando Magic rookie makes his way through the league. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs has continued to show flashes of progress as the Orlando Magic rookie makes his way through the league. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

38. 132. 66. Final. 105

The flashes of brilliance for Jalen Suggs were always there.

There was always a reason he was widely considered one of the four best prospects in his draft class and was there for the Orlando Magic to take at No. 5. Getting him to those lofty expectations has been the biggest challenge for the Magic.

So when he has moments that raise an eyebrow, it brings back all the hope that Magic fans had for him on draft night back in July.

Unfortunately, Suggs’ flashes have come in pieces. Rarely has there been that breakthrough game that improving rookies typically have that portend stardom. There has not been a consistent full performance — let alone a string of them.

Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns, it started feeling like Suggs was starting to simmer. The pent-up potential trying to find its way out.

Jalen Suggs continues to make clear progress as he knocks on the door of a consistent breakthrough run for the Orlando Magic.

The sudden burst was there as he glided to the basket and bulldozed his way through and around defenders to finish at the rim. He twisted and turned to get his shot off and make it hard for the defense to get around him.

When they seemed to have him covered or denying the drive, he would flip it to the next man with precision and focus. Sometimes even with flair, like he when he sent the ball between his legs to Franz Wagner who took the pass in stride to the basket for a jam against a dumbfounded defense.

Suggs was everywhere for most of the night, scoring 20 points and dishing out a career-high 10 assists for his first career double-double. It was just the fourth time this season he has hit the 20-point mark. He hit 7 of 14 shots and made five of his eight free throws. His 11 assists stacked against just three turnovers.

For a rookie who has had plenty of ups and downs, this was a standout game. A game that showed just how good the rookie guard can be.

"“I think he has had a few games where we talk about the level of his aggression and getting to the rim,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday’s game. “But just with that pace as well, being able to get the ball over and flip it and find the bigs and move it side to side. It is great for him to see these things and continue to work and know where he can continue to gauge for what he has done.”"

But it was a rough night for the Magic overall in a 132-105 to league-leading Suns at Footprint Center on Saturday night.

Orlando’s defense struggled to contain the offensive dynamo that is Phoenix with Chris Paul dishing out 15 assists, throwing lobs to Deandre Ayton or Mikal Bridges or kicking out to Jae Crowder. Devin Booker did not even get going until the third quarter when his 14 points in the quarter buried any hope Orlando had of winning.

The Magic were doing their best just to keep up all game. And while they want to play at a fast pace, staying in control is the bigger issue. That is something the Suns, a fast-paced team themselves, have mastered.

Like in Friday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns were able to eat up every mistake the Orlando Magic made, whether it was a turnover (15 of them for 23 points), quick missed shot (18 fast-break points total) or missed rotation.

The Magic did not play a perfect game or anything near it. And that is probably what they would have needed to have a shot against a Suns team at its peak of powers.

The only pockets where the Magic found some success came with Suggs with the ball in his hands. When he was the thing he is absolutely best at offensively in the NBA — getting downhill and to the basket.

"“I liked the pace of the game and his ability to push the ball up the floor,” Mosley said after Saturday’s loss. “He was able to get a lot of guys easy shots being able to get out in transition and attacking before the defense is set. I really liked his aggressiveness.”"

Suggs deserves credit for trying to impose his sense of pace on the game. Orlando wants to play with speed and get the ball up the floor quickly. This is really where Suggs is at his best. He can quickly dart into the lane and finish with some finesse.

There were several occasions where Suggs got the ball off a made basket and quickly got into the lane for a shot before the Suns could set their defense. That is part of how the Magic want him and the team to play. They want to get into their offense quickly and put pressure on teams to defend the full 24 seconds.

Suggs has been especially good at this. He is perhaps the best driver on the team. Or at least the most improved.

This season entering Saturday’s game, Suggs is averaging 4.6 points per game on 9.6 drives per game, according to data from Second Spectrum. He is shooting 39.1-percent on those shots and adding 0.8 assists per game off his drives.

But since returning from his thumb injury a month ago, Suggs is averaging 4.5 points per game on 9.5 drives per game, while shooting 44.8-percent from the floor and dishing out 0.6 assists per game.

Suggs’ playmaking is still a part of his game he needs to develop — while Suggs often can make brilliant passes, he also gets himself stuck and throws turnovers and lazy kick-outs that get easily intercepted. But what has happened since his return from injury is he is scoring much more efficiently at the rim.

His overall numbers reflect that too. He is shooting 50.0-percent on his shots within 10 feet of the rim this season on 5.7 attempts per game. Since returning from injury, he is making 54.3-percent of his 6.3 attempts per game at the rim.

Suggs is averaging 12.4 points per game and 5.5 assists per game while shooting a 44.7-percent effective field goal percentage since returning from injury. His season-long averages are 12.4 points per game, 4.4 assists per game and an effective field goal percentage of 41.3-percent effective field goal percentage.

Those brief glimmers are getting brighter and brighter.

"“Pushing the pace and wanting to play faster just makes things easier for everybody, including myself,” Suggs said after Saturday’s loss. “When you are able to steal some easy baskets and where it is 1 on 1 and there is no big back in the paint or help side or whether it is creating a problem for somebody else. A lot of times when I got downhill tonight, it created problems.”"

Suggs constantly credited others for his success and spoke about everything he did was to create opportunities for others — whether it is trailers or to get the ball spraying out to shooters on the perimeter.

Suggs has credited his upswing since returning from injury to the work he put in with assistant coach Nate Tibbetts and Randy Gregory. He said they both did a good job keeping him in shape and keeping his mind sharp so he could hit the ground running when he returned.

He also credited the film study and talks he has had with Markelle Fultz.

While Fultz is still out recovering from a torn ACL, he has remained a constant presence on the bench talking with the other young guards. It should be no surprise too that Fultz is a big part of this progress as he shares what he has learned about the game with his younger teammates.

Suggs has absorbed a lot of these lessons to get where he is at and begin to have his breakthrough.

The trick is always consistency. And that becomes even tougher for a point guard. The Magic need better control over their tempo and the decisions they are making.

Next. Gary Harris will present Orlando Magic's next big challenge. dark

There is still a lot of work to do. But it is also clear that a player like Suggs has made an important step forward on that growth. He is starting to find his way bit by bit.