2022 Orlando Magic Time to Step Up: Jalen Suggs’ shooting

Jalen Suggs had a rough rookie season for the Orlando Magic. Improving his shooting could quickly change that script. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs had a rough rookie season for the Orlando Magic. Improving his shooting could quickly change that script. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

There is one thing the Orlando Magic know needs to happen this year. They have been saying it on repeat throughout the course of the offseason. Whether it is described as “leveling up” or described as general improvement, this is the central story for the team this year.

Orlando’s potential for success will come from these individual improvements as much as it is the team coming together. The Magic feel they have a good bit of chemistry and can work together well. But the team needs its young players to get better.

The Magic have a lot of young players who are still unfinished products. The offseason for each player on the Magic is just as important as what happens during the course of the season. If anything, the outcome during the Magic’s season is the product of what players are working on now.

Ask a player and they will be coy with what they worked on and inevitably say they work on everything. And with so much of this Magic team working as a blank slate, there is something to that. Everyone needs to reinforce what they were successful at while starting to fill in the gaps in their game.

Everyone has something they need to start working on and improving on in the short term to carve out their role. They may not become masters at a certain skill within one summer, but players need to go in the right direction.

The Orlando Magic need several young players to make significant steps in key skills to improve. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Jalen Suggs’ shooting.

There is undoubtedly a need for the Magic to see players step up this season in significant ways. But it will still take baby steps for these players to reach their final forms. And this is a season for players to take that necessary next step.

What we want to do then in the run-up to the season is to begin to analyze areas where they can improve. And make immediate improvements.

The best and easiest place to start then is perhaps the biggest key for the development of one of the Magic’s young players.

Everything for Jalen Suggs and his success moving forward will center around his shooting. In every way, his shooting numbers were just abysmal and the biggest thing holding him back.

If there is one area where any player needs to make a clear improvement it is with Suggs’ shooting.

Suggs last year averaged 11.8 points per game and shot only 36.1-percent from the floor and 21.4-percent from beyond the arc. His shooting numbers from all areas of the floor were just poor — 19.0-percent on pull-up 3-pointers, 22.2-percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, 21.8-percent on above-the-break 3-pointers, 20.0-percent on corner 3-pointers and 35.0-percent on mid-range shots.

Those are just bad no matter how you cut it. And it changed how teams defended him, especially with how good he was getting to the basket — even there he made 58.9-percent at the rim on 4.0 field goal attempts per game.

Suggs established himself as a pretty solid defender, especially for a rookie. And he was able to get to the basket fairly consistently, he was third on the team in field goal attempts per game at the rim according to NBA.com.

But there was really only one area he was consistently effective offensively — off cuts where he averaged 1.47 points per possession off cuts. There is something to moving him off the ball and using him to dart through defenses getting toward the basket.

Even there, shooting would help. Teams want Suggs shooting jumpers or going wildly to the rim.

In a celebrated rookie class, Suggs as the fifth pick stood out as the only potential miss among the top seven or eight picks. He was the lone guy that disappointed in a major way.

That does not mean Orlando is giving up on him. They were selling to the world that Suggs rated highly defensively and was elite on that end beyond just for a rookie. And there were plenty of moments where Suggs showed the skills that had him projected as a future All-Star in college.

He is a strong driver to the basket and should continue to get better at attacking the basket. Jalen Suggs was capable of getting to the foul line, averaging 3.4 attempts per game (trailing only Cole Anthony on the team in that mark). And he has at least shown some ability to hit from the outside.

That part may be just theoretical at this point. But Suggs had three games with four 3-pointers and an additional two games with three 3-pointers. Granted, the Magic won only one of those games — his hallmark game at New York that ended with him stealing the ball and throwing an alley-oop to Wendell Carter to clinch the game. The Magic lost two other games by one possession, including his early-season breakout performances in Brooklyn and Toronto where he scored 21 points in each game.

Everything about Suggs’ game last year screamed his potential. It was clear how good he could still be. It was just about putting all the pieces together and seeing where it would end up and come together.

There is good news here.

Suggs spent a good chunk of his season creating his own 3-point shots. Some of that might be a product of the Magic running him at point guard giving him few parameters so he could explore. That is what teams in Orlando’s position could do. Maybe Suggs needed some more direction.

According to Basketball-Index, Suggs had a 3-point shot creation ability that put him in the 89th percentile, meaning he took a significant volume of his 3-pointers without getting an assist.

According to NBA.com’s tracking stats, Suggs took 97 of his 3-point attempts with the closest defender six or more feet away and 80 of his 3-point attempts with the closest defender 4-6 feet away.

He made only 40 of those total attempts for a 3-point field goal percentage of 22.6-percent. Those attempts accounted for 90.3-percent of his 3-point attempts. So he got some theoretically decent looks that he can knock down.

Basketball-Index is a bit harsher in evaluating Suggs’ openness claiming he only took 15.3-percent of his shots as open shots (they make some adjustments on publicly available data).

However you want to carve out the numbers then, Suggs just was not able to take quality shots. That is probably the first place the Magic need to go.

They should be thinking of reigning him in and limiting where he gets his shots. If he is unable to get to the basket, he needs to move the ball and take fewer shots off the dribble. He needs to become a more effective and selective catch-and-shoot option.

That will unlock other parts of his game.

It was not surprising to see later in the season how teams just sagged off Suggs and gave him space. He started the year at the top of everyone’s scouting report and struggled with the attention. By the end of the season, teams were happy to see him shoot.

To find success this season, Suggs just needs a good enough shot to keep defenses honest. That is going to give him the space to use his athleticism to get by defenders to the basket and create the passing lanes that could make him an effective passer.

Everything for Suggs relies on him improving as a shooter.

His injuries last year did not help him find his place last year. And the injury early this offseason certainly ate into his time to work on and improve his various skills.

That improvement is likely to be gradual. Suggs does not need to become one of the best shooters in the league overnight (although nobody would complain). He just needs to take steps toward becoming league average.

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Even a 3-point percentage in the low 30s or making one of every three from deep would go a long way to changing how teams defend him and open up the rest of his game.