Orlando Magic’s top goal is to give Jalen Suggs a healthy summer

Jalen Suggs has shown flashes of his talent, but also plenty of room to grow. The Orlando Magic need to be thinking how best to set him up for his offseason. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs has shown flashes of his talent, but also plenty of room to grow. The Orlando Magic need to be thinking how best to set him up for his offseason. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

There have been several times it has been clear Jalen Suggs has been hurting.

He will go hurtling to the ground off a drive or while taking a charge and slowly pick himself back up. This is perhaps part of his much-talked-about football background. He is going to get up after every hit and he is not going to shy away from contact.

In his last game Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers, he took such a fall. He was slow getting up and hobbled down the court. It was clear he was in pain. If the Magic had not taken him out, he might have tried to tough his way through it.

Suggs missed Tuesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets and Friday’s game against the Detroit Pistons after with what is being called a right ankle bone bruise.

It is clear that if he is given the all-clear to play, he would play. Suggs probably wishes he could play through whatever pain he is going through now.

That is how Suggs is made up. And that is a quality you want in a player.

But the Magic have made it very clear this season — and certainly the rest of this season — is about the long-term vision. Everyone has talked about how this is a long game. And that right now the team is taking its lumps and learning what it can for the bigger picture.

As the season draws to a close that will increasingly have to do with setting up these young players for their summer and how they can get better. When it comes to Suggs, that is making sure he can use the whole summer to improve.

The Orlando Magic have to start thinking about their long-term future and that might mean making sure Jalen Suggs has a healthy summer to make some needed improvements.

It is unclear at this point how severe Suggs’ current injury is. But as the Magic decide how to bring Suggs back from it for these final dozen games, they should be thinking about this long-term too. The most important thing for Suggs is a healthy summer.

Even if that means Suggs’ rookie season is over.

If that is the case, it is certainly a different season than anyone expected.

In a rookie class that has made its mark throughout the league — from Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green’s budding stardom, to Franz Wagner’s consistency, to Evan Mobley’s defense pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers into the playoff picture to promising turns from Josh Giddey, Chris Duarte and Ayo Dosunmu and more — Jalen Suggs has been something of a disappointment.

It is not that there is no hope for Suggs. He has shown enough promise and potential to continue believing in his future development. But this is hardly the rookie season anyone imagined for Suggs. Not to mention nowhere near the year everyone though he might have when it felt like the Magic lucked into picking him with the fifth pick last July.

Suggs is averaging 12.1 points per game and 4.4 assists per game. However, he is shooting just 36.1-percent from the floor and 21.6-percent from beyond the arc. It is one of the worst volume-shooting seasons from a rookie in some time.

Nobody is giving up — most draft experts will point to De’Aaron Fox’s difficult rookie year (11.6 points per game, 4.4 assists per game and a 44.1-percent effective field goal percentage). There is plenty of room for him to grow.

And his defense has stood out throughout the season.

He remains one of the Magic’s best perimeter defenders. Opponents shoot 43.5-percent when Suggs is the closest defender, according to NBA.com’s tracking statistics. That is the second-best mark on the team (trailing only Wagner). Opponents shoot 2.2 percentage points worse when Suggs is the closest defender (that trails only Wagner among wing players).

He averages 1.6 steals per 75 possessions and 3.3 deflections per 75 possessions, placing him in the top quarter of the league in both metrics, according to Basketball-Index. His catch-all defensive metrics all rate well too — ranking in the 78th percentile in D-LEBRON.

There is definitely something in Suggs. But his offense has been a major struggle with only a few peeks into what he could be. And this is where he is going to need his full attention this summer.

His shooting numbers are poor, but there is still a lot of promise in them. He can get to the basket seemingly at will, it is merely his finishing that is the struggle.

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According to Basketball-Index, he averages 12.1 adjusted drives per 75 possessions and 5.3 total shots at the rim per 75 possessions. Basketball Index’s Rim Shot Creation metric rates Suggs at +1.4, placing him in the 94th percentile.

The issue is that Suggs shoots just 59.36-percent at the rim. They rate him at -1.7 in Rim Shot Making, one of the very worst marks in the league.

Indeed, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats from Second Spectrum, Suggs shoots 38.4-percent on 9.3 drives per game. For the season, he is shooting 55.0-percent within five feet of the basket on 211 attempts (39.3-percent of his total attempts).

And that does not get into his pick and roll game — an area he has really struggled with the Magic scoring 0.60 points per possession when Suggs is the ball handler in pick and rolls.

This is all to say there is something there. But there is a lot he is going to need to work on. And this summer is a key time for him to make a lot of these improvements.

Getting the experience to see what situations he finds himself in and how to finish and read plays is certainly valuable. But he is going to need time in the lab (as the kids say) to work on all of these things.

And that is really what the rest of this season should be about for Suggs. It needs to be about setting him up to succeed in the summer and giving him his best chance to make those necessary improvements.

That might mean that Suggs needs to sit and protect his health first and foremost.

The team knows he plays a style that goes at the basket with aggression. That leaves him susceptible to the falls that have left him dealing with ankle issues throughout the second half of the season.

Among the many things Suggs has to learn in the coming year is how to protect himself and fall more effectively.

Orlando should not be merely holding out players for the sake of it. There are still valuable things to learn the rest of the season — not to mention the messaging to send to key players on the roster about what is ultimately important. But the Magic are in a spot to put their long-term future ahead of any short-term gains.

The biggest gains are going to be made in the summer. And the Magic should be looking to set up their young players for the best summer they can have.

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For Suggs, that might well mean his season should be over.