Orlando Magic are resetting expectations for Jalen Suggs

Jalen Suggs had a rough rookie season and that has changed the expectations for him this coming season. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs had a rough rookie season and that has changed the expectations for him this coming season. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

On NBA Draft night in July 2021, the Orlando Magic were a bit despondent.

Their Lottery luck did not turn up for them and they landed with the fifth and eighth picks in a draft that seemed like it had four runaway draft picks. It felt like a loss as the team began its rebuild.

Then came a lifeline.

At the time, the Toronto Raptors selecting Scottie Barnes was a surprise. There was growing hype around Barnes and the pick was proven correct with Barnes winning Rookie of the Year in a really good rookie class.

But on draft night, it felt like the Magic won the Lottery. Fortune brought Jalen Suggs to Orlando and everything seemed to be right. The Magic — or at least Magic fans — believed they had their star and a jumpstart to a rebuild that had only inched forward for much of the previous decade.

A year later, the Magic were celebrating an actual Lottery win and making a surprise pick of their own in Paolo Banchero. The team’s eighth overall pick, Franz Wagner, is shining on the international stage.

Suggs has been left by the wayside it seems. He had an inconsistent rookie year where he struggled to shoot and his apparent stardom has come into question.

Jalen Suggs’ difficult rookie year has everyone shifting expectations for the promising young guard. The Orladno magic are not giving up on him by any means. But it sets up a big year where Suggs can map out his role.

The shiny new toy in Banchero has arrived and the world keeps ticking by. The team keeps evolving and spinning. Roles and potential starts to get cemented.

Suggs is still at a point of his career where anything is possible. No one should close the door on him.

But each season is indeed a data point. And with each new season and new batch of players arrive. As the Magic build their team, they have to adjust how they view Suggs and what he can be.

That is what makes this season so important for Suggs. He still gets leeway as a young player, especially with how many injuries he dealt with during his rookie year. The Magic will still be invested in his growth. He will likely slot in as the starter for the Magic next to Markelle Fultz, especially considering Gary Harris’ injury to start the season.

But things change quickly in the NBA. No one stands still and the league and teams are constantly evolving.

So what can Suggs become?

There is no doubt last year was a struggle for him. He averaged 11.8 points per game on a 40.0-percent effective field goal percentage. He was in the bottom half of the league in almost every catch-all statistic.

Some of that is excused because he was a rookie. He had a lot of responsibility placed on him and had a rough go. But there were a lot of signs that seem to downgrade his potential.

While all of his defensive numbers track well, his shooting was a major detriment. It is the biggest thing he has to improve moving ahead to next year.  What his future ultimately is likely is tied to his improvement as a shooter.

But the question has now become what is his ceiling. The limitless future he seemed to have on draft night a year ago does not go away, but it feels much farther away.

This is a season that will cement Suggs’ role in the NBA. Is he a future All-Star or superstar as we all thought on draft night? Or is he going to be a solid role player on defender with an inconsistent jumper?

This Magic season is all about figuring these questions out throughout the roster. The team needs to start sorting players into roles. And with each year that gets used up on a rookie contract, the team cements how they view that player moving forward.

Suggs still has an undefined role and future. And this season will go a long way to figuring that out.

The reality is that one uneven rookie year is not enough to derail him.

In their annual yearly projections, FiveThirtyEight projects Suggs to double his Victories Over Replacement Player to 2.2 this year (he was at 1.0 last year, according to FiveThirtyEight). That is normal for a young player. Young players inevitably get better.

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But the more interesting thing about this are the player comparisons FiveThirtyEight makes to All-Stars like Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Dejounte Murray.

The site compares Suggs most closely to Westbrook’s 2010 season. And there is something to that comparison.

Both are dynamic, athletic guards who struggle with their outside shot but can get to the basket seemingly at will. Their flair for passing and breakneck speed driving to the basket are at least a baseline comparison — Westbrook is clearly a better player and that is an extremely lofty goal to reach.

Westbrook’s rookie year saw him have a 0.7 VORP, according to Basketball-Reference. He jumped to 2.3 the next year and 4.4 the following year.

Suggs had a VORP of -1.2. That shows how far Suggs still has to climb and improve to get to where Westbrook got.

Even a more modest comparison to another speedy guard in Wall offers some hope. FiveThirtyEight compares Suggs to Wall’s 2012 season. Wall started his rookie year with a 0.8 VORP, according to Basketball-Reference and improved to 1.6 his second season.

But the point is that things can change quickly. Young players are going to improve and take that step up. It would not be surprising to see Suggs make some significant improvements.

The question is just how much.

A rookie year is a strange thing for sure. There are always inconsistencies and learning that comes with a rookie year. But Suggs is starting way behind other similar stars. And it feels like it will be a stretch for Suggs to return to those lofty expectations.

This is a year for Suggs to set what his ceiling might be and chart his future forthe team and for his career. That is the reality as the years pile on each other, teams re-evaluate and change what they see from these young players.

Suggs clearly has a place in the league. It is not as if he has sudenly washed out of the league. But he no longer has the rocket ship to stardom strapped to him. His play last year just did not justify it.

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So this year is about reclaiming that and figuring out his future and his ceiling once again. From there, the Magic can assess what to do with him next or how to use him to build around their young core.