The Amway Center erupted with cheers and applause on draft night in 2021 when the Toronto Raptors drafted Scottie Barnes fourth overall, allowing Jalen Suggs, the coveted guard from Gonzaga, to fall to the Orlando Magic at No. 5. Many felt the Magic had just drafted the guard of the future.
And they had. Just not the point guard of the future that many were expecting.
As the Magic’s rotation began to stabilize in the second part of the 2023 season, Suggs thrived in the consistency of his role as the closing 2-guard. It took some time with injuries slowing him down in his first two seasons, but the potential that had Magic fans so excited on draft night started to peak its way out.
With some health and consistency, Orlando could see the full potential from Suggs not just with his terrorizing and energetic defense but with his offense and shooting.
The Magic are clearly looking for someone to solidify the shooting guard spot. And everyone is turning to Suggs in his third season to fill that role.
Jalen Suggs struggled with injuries through his first two seasons. But the Orlando Magic’s promising young guard started to show off his potential and build toward the 2024 season.
The finish to his season was really encouraging no matter how you slice it.
In his final 30 games of the season, Suggs averaged 10.2 points per game, shot 38.2 percent from 3 and shot 46.4 percent on 2-pointers, considerably above his career averages of 27.1 percent and 38.7 percent respectively.
That marked improvement is certainly cause for hope among Magic fans whose draft night elation will still prove to have been well placed.
Suggs’ offense will be the biggest concern and the biggest area for him to improve. For the entire season, he averaged 9.9 points per game on 41.9/32.7/72.3 shooting splits. For the season he shot 49.6 percent on 2-pointers.
That displayed all the hints that he would show after the All-Star Break (his final 19 games where he averaged 10.7 points per game with 40.3/36.0/79.1 shooting splits) and those final 30 games.
While only a small sample size, the results are real to Magic fans who know Jalen Suggs to be an extremely grounded and determined individual.
In a recent interview with The Sixth Man Show, Suggs said of his offseason thus far,
"“[It has] been just a typical offseason. A lot of work. Healthy. I think that’s been the biggest difference is, knowing I can do, and work on, any and everything, you know. No restrictions, not limited or nothing, how long I can be on the court or anything, just work. You know and I’ve been diving into it, both physically, basketball wise, mentally, lifting, you know, just doing everything I can to perfect that craft. I think that’s where I’ve grown up, matured. And I’ve gotten to the point where I moved to just prioritize. There’s no distractions, nothing external going on, it’s just me and basketball right now.”"
Hearing Suggs’ love verse to basketball — just him and ball right now — is enough to send chills up any Magic fan’s spine. And once that wears off, we hear the primary reason Suggs will be the starting 2-guard for the Orlando Magic this season, and hopefully, for many to come – he is healthy.
Suggs has one gear, 11, because when you are at 10, Suggs has a little more.
The intensity with which he plays the game can be a double-edged sword, especially for a young player. It allows Suggs to get to the rim through contact, fight around screens and spark the team to higher levels of competition.
This same fierceness caused Suggs to take more bumps and hard fouls, leading to an array of injuries: a concussion, thumb, and ankle injuries numerous times. No injury too serious but enough in combination to cause him to miss 79 of a possible 184 games in his career.
But this offseason, as Suggs emphasized, he is healthy. It is in fact his first healthy offseason with the Magic.
With Suggs’ self-identified growing maturity and focus, the results of the last 30 games of last season become real.
There has never been a question about Suggs’ ability on the defensive side of the ball. In his second year in the league, Suggs was top 10 percent among guards in steal percentage, block percentage and offensive rebound percentage (per Cleaning the Glass). All while bearing the lion’s share of responsibility for guarding the opponent’s primary ball handler, 81 percent of the time (per Basketball Index).
Suggs averaged 2.0 steals per 75 possessions and 3.7 deflections per 75 possessions, both in the top 10 percent in the league according to Basketball-Index. They rate him with 4.9 bad pass steals and deflections per 75 possessions, further signifying how alert players have to be when Suggs is the primary defender.
Despite his poor shooting, Suggs is a dynamic and dangerous defender. Almost every number bears this out.
The Magic had a 111.0 defensive rating with Suggs on the floor, 2.7 points per 100 possessions better than the team’s average. Only Franz Wagner and Moe Wagner, two players Jalen Suggs often shared the court with, had better ratings among rotation players.
When Jalen Suggs played with the Magic’s starting group in place of Gary Harris, the Magic had a 102.4 defensive rating and a +11.3 net rating. That came in only 58 minutes across 15 games (3.9 minutes per game), hardly a large enough sample size to draw any kind of conclusions.
But it is the seedlings of a decision many Magic fans hope comes true.
Suggs has elite, all-defensive team potential. The question is how will the Magic use it? How will Suggs take advantage of this opportunity?
Suggs is certainly one of the players everyone is watching and waiting to see how he develops. It could be crucial not only for Suggs’ future but for the Magic’s future.
Pair Suggs’ defense with a healthy offseason for Suggs to work on understanding and thriving in this offense, with his skill set and he can still deliver on the draft night elation that Magic fans felt.