Availability the only reason Jalen Suggs is not headed to Rising Stars

Jalen Suggs will not get a matchup with Bennedict Mathurin at the Rising Stars Game this year. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs will not get a matchup with Bennedict Mathurin at the Rising Stars Game this year. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic will have a presence in Salt Lake City for All-Star Weekend in a few weeks.

That was a given considering Paolo Banchero is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year and Franz Wagner might be the best sophomore in the league right now (all due respect to Evan Mobley). The Magic, as one of the best young teams in the league, were always going to be one of the big players in this showcase game.

Orlando though still feels a bit left out somehow. Franz Wagner will not be alone, but he will be without his fellow draft mate in Jalen Suggs.

Suggs will not be heading to Salt Lake City after being one of the 12 rookies to be in the game last year. He is one of six players who did not get the return invite for the Rising Stars Challenge (that list includes Cade Cunningham who is out for the year with an injury and the fact the list of sophomores is trimmed to 10).

Jalen Suggs will not get a return trip to the Rising Stars Game for his sophomore season. His injury issues and offense are the main reasons why he will sit home this year.

The number of rookies who did not get the return invite shows the twists and turns that are natural in player progressions. There is no straight line.

It certainly has not been a straight line for Suggs. And based on this year alone, it is easy to see why Suggs got left off the list. Still, Suggs has a case to make the game and he should feel a little bit of a snub for not getting the trip to Salt Lake City.

Suggs’ stats this year are not particularly strong. The story of his season has been about injuries more than anything else.

Suggs sprained his ankle late in the preseason and recovered in time for the season opener. He opened the year against the Detroit Pistons with a 21-point, 4-for-6 3-point shooting performance. That seemed like a hallmark game.

But he re-sprained his ankle the following game and missed a week, returned and then dealt with nagging ankle issues that caused him to miss 21 games. This start and stopping for Suggs has led to inconsistency and resurfacing of the problems that led to his disappointing rookie season (at least in comparison to his expectations).

Suggs is averaging just 9.1 points per game but shooting a lowly 40.7 percent from the floor and 27.5 percent from beyond the arc. Surprisingly both of those shooting numbers are improvements from last season. His scoring is only down because his minutes are down and he has settled into a role off the bench.

Suggs ranks 17th among sophomores in scoring. All the players playing in the Rising Stars Game among sophomores are within the top 12 in scoring — the two that are not are the injured Cade Cunningham and Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves.

To be sure, scoring is a big thing for these All-Star games. It is a showcase. And Suggs has played in only 27 games so far this season. That has put him at a deficit to his peers.

Among the guards that are new to the game, it is hard to argue against Jose Alvarado and the entertainment value he brings to the game as a defender and from his time in the playoffs. He has been fantastic for the New Orleans Pelicans as they continue to be involved in the playoff push.

If Jalen Suggs were to take someone else’s spot, it would be from the New York Knicks’ Quentin Grimes. Grimes is averaging 10.3 points per game this season. Hardly a dramatic uptick. But the Knicks are in the playoff hunt, Grimes had a strong Summer League showing and he has played in 41 games.

Availability is the best ability. And that is likely why Suggs is not in the game.

That is not an indictment of Suggs by any stretch. This game is a temperature of the sophomore class and Suggs has been running a bit cool.

That certainly feels like it is changing.

While Suggs has been struggling offensively for much of this season, he has been among the best defenders when he is on the floor. And that only seems to be increasing since he returned from his latest bout with ankle soreness — the team has a 108.4 defensive rating with Suggs on the floor in January.

He has been getting after it defensively. It is clear this is where Suggs can make the biggest impact. And it is the role he is starting to embrace more and more. Suggs is proving to be a disruptive and dangerous defensive force.

That does not exactly translate well to All-Star games. Especially since the game already has Alvarado in it. Never mind how well Suggs played in last year’s game and that his team lost with him on the foul line.

Suggs though could make the league regret not putting him in the game with a strong two-week run to the All-Star Break. He has done so with his stellar defense. But the offense just needs to catch up. That is coming . . . albeit slowly.

It is the one piece of his game that is missing to better establish his role and his place with the team.

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Alas, it is too late for Suggs to make a return trip to All-Star Weekend and really turn the Rising Stars Game into a Magic affair. Quite simply, Suggs has not been on the floor enough to warrant a trip to Salt Lake City.

Fortunately, the Magic will be well-represented.