Jalen Suggs will provide a timely boost when he returns to Orlando Magic’s lineup
The Orlando Magic have hit the skids recently with the calendar flipping to 2023 and the team in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
All of the positive vibes about the group having turned a corner and figured some things out have been put on ice for the time being.
There is no doubt coach Jamahl Mosley still has a young group of players who are invested in his vision. It is just unfortunate rookie Paolo Banchero is experiencing a slump that was always going to come.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Mosley told the assembled media in Orlando that Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Isaac were “full-go” in Monday’s practice which included some 5-on-5 playing, meaning both should be back on the court for the Magic soon.
While Mosley did not give a timetable for their returns, this is still an important step for both players eventually making their returns to the court.
Given the nature of the Orlando Magic’s struggles in their recent losses, Jalen Suggs’ return will be a real boost to a backcourt rotation that needs his defensive play.
The team will soon depart on a daunting six-game road trip out West. But before that, they will have two home games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies. It would be fantastic to get Suggs back for the Grizzlies game, in preparation for that road trip.
Should that happen, Suggs will immediately come in and offer help defensively, especially in one on one situations. For the season so far, the Magic actually have a better defensive rating (114.3, 25th in the league) when Suggs is not on the court (115.4).
That does not tell the whole story though. And although Suggs was not a part of their impressive run of wins and the huge improvement of the franchise defensively during this period, he is a better defender already than fellow guard Cole Anthony.
Last season, one in which Suggs struggled as a rookie, the Magic had an excellent defensive rating of 107.8 when he was on the court. Given the chance to play more minutes with Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter and Bol Bol, he is going to have a big impact defensively.
Interestingly, and it is something that will continue to fly under the radar for some time, the Magic are not that much worse off offensively when Suggs is on the court.
They rank an ugly 27th in the league at 110.2 points per 100 possessions for the season, and that number holds steady at 110.1 with Suggs out there.
Getting him on the court has been the problem though. And the Magic have had the worst injury luck in the league, which has not helped their quest to win games.
Before going out with an ankle injury in late November, Suggs was averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 assists per night, both up modestly on last season. More than that, he looked a whole lot more comfortable in his role clamping down on opponents to help his team win games.
Moments like the below feel like a long time ago already, but they showed Suggs getting into a groove with this group and having a positive impact on winning basketball.
At this point in time though it does feel like Suggs is needed back badly for what he can do on the defensive end. Anything he can provide through scoring will be looked upon as a bonus, but he will be able to knock down some shots when it matters.
At times this season the Magic’s rating and play defensively have been elite. Sustaining it was always going to be hard, and the lethargic nature of losses to the Los Angeles Lakers (which no longer looks like a blessing in disguise) and Washington Wizards was concerning.
What Suggs will be able to do, as well as Isaac who will be returning after an incredible 29 months out, is inject some urgency that has been sorely missed on that end. He rotates well and hounds opposing guards when they pass half-court.
In other words, doing a lot of the dirty work that we saw for a period and which equated to wins, but was then gone just as quickly. In the last 10 games, the Magic still have a top 10 defensive rating (112.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), and the hope is they can surge again in that area when Suggs returns.
On a more basic level though, the organization will need all hands on deck for the upcoming road trip. If it goes badly, the play-in tournament will look as far away as ever.
At that point talk of trading for a legit star like Trae Young to help them make a leap will increase. There will be plenty of options and the Magic are moving into that position to make these kinds of moves, something a few in the national media are already pondering.
With Fultz the clear floor general and Anthony the sixth man for this roster, the path to minutes for Suggs has become clearer in his absence.
He can play in tandem with Fultz to form a formidable defensive duo, or alongside Anthony to compensate for his size and limitations on that end.
His return to the Magic, most likely off the bench to begin with, will be big in what is shaping up to be the most important month of the season for the franchise. They need what Suggs can give them to reach their full potential this season.