It is March and the shot that has come to define Jalen Suggs’ basketball career (and may be the greatest highlight of his basketball career) is coming on replay.
Everyone knows the moment. A tie game in overtime of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four. Suggs taking the ball, getting near half-court and sending a prayerful heave toward the basket for the win. Then he goes running for the sidleine, jumping on the scorer’s table in the largely empty arena (a remnant of the NCAA Tournament’s bubble for that season).
Everything seemed possible and Suggs’ stardom for the upcoming NBA Draft seemed assured.
Things have not obviously played out that way. Suggs went with the fifth overall pick but struggled through his rookie year. His shooting especially took a big hit. He failed to deliver on this seeming assured stardom.
Young players always need time to develop. And while injuries played a major role in his stalled development — a hand injury early in his rookie year and ankle injuries later in the year, during the offseason and throughout this season — the shooting struggles have remained his biggest detriment even as he has gained confidence as a defender.
Whether Suggs is able to take the next steps was always going to depend on his shooting. And as he has had consistent playing time uninterrupted without injury, his shooting has actually started to come around.
Jalen Suggs has started to develop as a shooter, hitting more shots consistently. That is a big step for the Orlando Magic guard to continue evolving for his team.
As the Magic’s season draws to its close, the Magic certainly have to be encouraged with this development. But they will need to see Suggs finish the season on a high note from deep to build into an important offseason of (health, first and foremost) development.
Suggs’ shooting numbers still do not look great. He is shooting just 30.6 percent from beyond the arc. That is not a great percentage but a significant improvement from the 21.4 percent shooting he had as a rookie last year.
Suggs is taking fewer threes and shots overall as his minutes decreased to coming off the bench. But it has undoubtedly been a better season with Suggs embracing his defensive role more. That is clearly where he shines.
But offense is still kind of important.
That is why the last 15 games have been so important. Suggs is shooting 37.8 percent from beyond the arc (17 for 45) in the Magic’s last 15 games to average 10.0 points per game on 8.5 field goal attempts per game.
It is still on low volume. Suggs has been more focused on his defense and creating chaos there. But he still has only two games with fewer than five shots. Suggs has not been the focal point offensively, but he has remained involved.
This recent shooting mini-surge though is encouraging at least for mapping him out in this role with the potential to do more.
It is not even that Suggs is shooting that impressively, but he has strung enough 2-for-4 games amongst 1-for-3 games to be at least consistent enough.
Suggs may not be hitting a ton of threes, but he has looked a whole lot more respectable with it.
Of course, the perception of a player as a shooter is more important than percentages in some respects. Defenses will still bet Suggs’ mini burst is just a flash in the pan. They are more than happy to let Suggs shoot from deep.
Suggs is shooting just 32.1 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers according to data from NBA.com. This is undoubtedly the biggest area where Suggs needs to improve. He is hitting 51.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in the Magic’s last 15 games (14 for 27). That is not an incredible volume (nearly two 3-point attempts per game in that time), but the results are starting to show.
Suggs has always been good at shooting off the dribble.
This season, he is hitting 23.8 percent of his shots off one dribble for the season (20.8 percent on threes) and 58.5 percent of his shots off two dribbles (33.3 percent on just six attempts on threes). In the last 15 games, he is shooting 5 for 11 off two dribbles and 18 for 41 (43.9 percent) off three dribbles.
These difficult shots are starting to go down more consistently for Suggs. He is picking his spots. But most importantly he is starting to convert.
At the end of the day, that is what matters with shooting are results.
Suggs already creates some gravity. He has a 0.19 scoring gravity score according to Basketball-Index, putting him in the 62nd percentile. That is likely more a product of his threat as a driver. Teams do have to collapse around him because he is typically so effective at getting to the basket.
The shooting is the part that still has to come around. There are still those hints that it is.
The 3-point shot is the focus but Suggs is shooting 10 for 22 (45.5 percent) on corner threes. That is a shot the Magic have to do better at getting. And Suggs has been one of the best mid-range shooters in the league making 21 of 42 mid-range shots according to NBA.com.
These are all positive signs. And the last month or so has shown how Suggs can fit his offensive game in and make an impact when he stays patient and under control.
Undoubtedly though, Suggs’ ultimate success will come down to whether he becomes a more reliable shooter. That is what these last 15 or so games have started to show, as quiet as this surge has been.
These last 15-plus games for the Magic then will be about continuing to solidify this shooting surge from Suggs and giving him a jumpstart to an offseason where he is likely to improve his shooting even more.