Jalen Suggs aimed to fit in and is finding his role and shot

Jalen Suggs has made his biggest push defensively to carve a role with the Orlando Magic. But his shot is coming around on low volume too. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Suggs has made his biggest push defensively to carve a role with the Orlando Magic. But his shot is coming around on low volume too. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic were shaky in the fourth quarter but still in control against the Miami Heat. They just needed to put the hammer down and make that last play. The little play that edges them ahead and could give them some comfort.

Their bench group, which has been destroying teams of late, was still in the game and running on fumes. But that is what makes this group so good, they scratch and claw and fight even while they are fighting through it.

And so the last really bright moment of the Magic’s frustrating 107-103 overtime loss to the Heat on Saturday came because of one of these opportunistic plays, and the player who is best at causing this kind of chaos.

Cole Anthony missed a shot at the rim that Bam Adebayo rebounded. Adebayo sought to get the ball up the court quickly. But Jalen Suggs was laying in wait.

He picked up his fourth steal of the game and knocked the ball to Cole Anthony. Cole Anthony had only Bol Bol in front of him. That was an easy pass to Bol for a windmill dunk and a 12-point lead that very easily could have been the game.

The biggest takeaway from Suggs’ rookie season was his clear defensive potential. As he struggled to find his shot through all the injuries, Suggs showed his flashes as a strong defender.

As he came back from lingering ankle soreness from ankle surgeries and sprains since the end of last season, Suggs has faced a reduced role. He has found control by creating chaos. Just a much more composed and focused brand of chaos.

And his defensive impact has become even clearer of late to make plays like this that simply energize the team in significant ways.

Jalen Suggs returned from injury looking to fit in with the Orlando Magic. He has already established himself as a strong defender but now his shooting in small volume is starting to come around.

It was only a few weeks ago that Zach Lowe of ESPN.com asked, “What is Jalen Suggs?” in his weekly 10 things column. Since then, we have a pretty good idea of what he is:

He is the Magic’s chaos agent. An energetic and disruptive defender whose energy spreads to everyone else on the court. And now increasingly a controlled and understanding role player offensively, whose shot is starting to come around.

Suggs is starting to find himself and tap into the talent that made him the fifth-overall pick of a deep draft class.

"“I think just being me,” Suggs said after Saturday’s loss. “Not overthinking the game. Taking what comes whether it is in transition, pick and roll, cutting, slashing, knocking down shots. Just all the things that I work on every day. I fi can trust that which I haven’t in the past, which is frustrating, if I trust that work that I put in every day, I feel like I can help the team in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s offense or defense, whatever is needed that night.”"

Suggs said as he came back from his injury, he did not want to force his offense and disrupt the team’s already strong rhythm. He had to find a way to fit in with the team. Naturally, that came on defense.

Suggs’ counting stats are not always going to show his value because so much of what he does is about the energy he provides. He has completely embraced that role.

But for the season, Suggs is averaging 9.2 points per game, 3.5 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting a still-cool 42.2 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. But those shooting numbers are improved from last season and starting to rise.

Since Lowe published that article on Jan. 27, Suggs is averaging 8.4 points per game, 2.6 assists per game and 1.9 steals per game with shooting splits of 46.9/43.5/61.1. He has scored in double figures in five of those eight games.

That is a small step toward offensive consistency, where Suggs has struggled most.

More importantly, the Magic have a 111.8 defensive rating with Suggs on the floor this season (109.0 offensive rating). But since Jan. 27, the Magic have a 106.8 defensive rating with Suggs on the floor. The team still struggles offensively at 108.1 points per 100 possessions. But Suggs’ defensive energy is even clear from the numbers.

This is still a small sample size of eight games. But it certainly seems like Suggs is starting to put some pieces together and play with more consistency. The consistency the team needs.

Already, Suggs’ defensive impact has Magic fans wondering if a return to the starting lineup would help energize a starting group that is starting to lag — the numbers there are unclear with a -21.2 net rating in 25 minutes, including giving up that 12-0 spurt in Thursday’s win over the Denver Nuggets.

A lot of the team’s success has come simply from defining his role and Suggs doing a better job playing within that role. Suggs’ success still comes down to what he can contribute offensively. And even that is starting to make a turn.

Gone are the seemingly wild drives to the basket and rushed shots.

Suggs is averaging 3.6 drives per game and shooting 50.9 percent on those drives for the season. Last year, he was at 9.0 drives per game at 38.4 percent shooting according to data from Second Spectrum.

Since Jan. 27, Suggs’ drives are down to 2.6 drives per game and shooting 50.0 percent on them. That is a significant decrease, even with his drop in playing time. But it shows where his focus and the Magic’s focus with him offensively has fallen.

None of this matters if Suggs is unable to hit a shot. That has been the great mystery and conundrum to solve when it comes to Suggs and his game.

But even here, Suggs is starting to show some signs of consistency.

Suggs is hitting 30.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts on 2.1 attempts per game this year, according to data from Second Spectrum. Last year, he was at 22.7 percent on 2.3 attempts per game. This shows how much driving was integral to his game so far and how inefficiency there only highlights his inefficiency as a shooter.

But since Jan. 27, Suggs is shooting 58.3 percent on 1.5 catch-and-shoot field goal attempts.

That is a dramatic increase, even if his usage has dropped. And the improvements work to highlight his defensive impact because he is not being as much of a drain offensively.

The biggest change for Suggs, and this has been throughout the season, has been his shooting from mid-range.

Suggs is shooting 61.3 percent on 1.0 mid-range field goal attempts per game this season after shooting 35.0 percent on 1.3 attempts per game last year. Since Jan. 27, Suggs is shooting 60.0 percent on 0.5 mid-range attempts per game since Jan. 27.

This again points to Suggs’ usage decreasing. His role calls for him to defend and be a floor spacer, but on low volume.

But right now, he is starting to take shots as they come to him and he is hitting them. It may not be at volume yet, but it is a sign of steady progress.

It is all part of the development progress for Suggs. His shooting is coming around in small doses.

But the impact is clear on defense. The Magic are at their best and most energetic when he is getting after opponents defensively. For now, that is his main role and the biggest thing he does.

Suggs could well be a lesson in not writing off a young player at such a young age. He had an abysmal rookie year offensively, but the Magic kept shouting that his defense was unlike anything they had seen. They chose to bet on that.

This is proving to be a good bet. Even if Suggs does not become everything everyone imagined during the draft process.

There is obviously still time in his career though. He did not get a healthy offseason thanks to the ankle surgery that has hampered him some this sophomore year. The time this summer could well help him evolve these skills and return a different player next season.

Bol Bol is finding his groove again. dark. Next

But the team already has an understanding of who he is and what he can be. And the Magic are starting to understand this and define his role. And Suggs is succeeding.