On one hand, nothing seems that different about Jalen Suggs.
In the Orlando Magic’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Pelicans, it still looked like he was willing to throw his body around and do anything the team needed from him defensively.
There he was fronting Zion Williamson and forcing a tough pass over the top that went out of bounds. Or there he was waiting in the wings for the Pelicans to lose him and swooping in for a steal, not getting it and diving on the floor to chase the thing down. Or there he was playing the low man and cutting out Herb Jones before kicking the ball out of his hands and out of bounds.
Suggs is always energetic and always willing to commit to his teammates. That is what has made him such an endearing player.
Things have not been easy though for him in his first two seasons. Injuries have slowed down his development and eaten into his time on the court. He missed much of his first NBA offseason dealing with an ankle injury.
There has been enough though to still believe. He is an excellent defender and has shown plenty of offensive flashes.
Jalen Suggs has struggled through the early part of his career. An offseason reset physically and mentally has him poised to take a big step this season.
What did he need then to make his mark on the team? He needed to reset himself some. He needed to get away from the game and get his body and his mind right. And that may be making all the difference for him as he enters the season.
"“What a summer of growth honestly. I get excited talking about it,” Suggs said at media day last week. “My temperance, my self-discipline, my mental, my spirit, my soul, that was the biggest thing this summer.“Off the court was the main thing. When you take time away and allow the body to heal and rest and recover, not only did it do wonders for that, it allowed me to really work on myself. The difference that it has made on my outlook and how I approach each day. It has helped me fall back in love with this sport again.”"
The starting lineup for the 2024 season is not set after one preseason game. Coach Jamahl Mosley will likely still be testing and mixing and matching lineups through the next three weeks and three games. Everyone will have to wait for Oct. 25 against the Houston Rockets to see whether Suggs is part of that group.
Suggs had some good moments in the Magic’s opening preseason game. He scored six points on 2-for-6 shooting, making just one of his five 3-pointers. He again struggled on offense.
Still, he looked like he played under more control. As the game went on, he played with more poise and control. That is what is most important for him and part of what he worked on this offseason.
Everything in the preseason is a process. And he still needs to get his legs under him like all the players do. Once that came, like for the rest of the team, the Magic started to show their potential and what they are capable of doing.
"“My self-discipline. That is something I have honed in on all summer,” Suggs said at media day. “It is the biggest thing. That and my temperance. In that, my entire game has opened up. I’m out here hooping, playing free and feeling like J-Suggs. It’s a great feeling because my identity is not wrapped up in this sport anymore. I know who I am. I am a great guy, a son, a big brother, a follower of God. I can put my trust in my faith in that. And it allows me to come out here and just hoop and play freely.”"
That faith is something he had to regain. Getting to this opportunity was a journey in itself.
Everyone certainly believed he had the talent and ability to do it. Fans had been clamoring for it all offseason. There were at least a few small indications that such a lineup made sense — the sample sizes were too small.
He averaged 9.9 points per game on 41.9/32.7/72.3 shooting splits. They were modest stats and in some ways a step back from his rookie season, even though his shooting numbers took a jump up.
His overall play style still looked like a player who needed the game to slow down for him. He stood out defensively for sure, but the question was always whether his shortcomings on offense would enable that to come through.
A lot of that regression came from the injuries he suffered early in this season and the false start he kept going through as he tried to get back on the court. It was a frustrating season for Suggs on that front and he was constantly climbing uphill.
While Suggs had plenty to work on on the court, it felt like he had as much to gain off the court. He had to kind of reset himself as he said several times on media day.
It has been a difficult start to his career. It required a fresh perspective.
"“God was teaching me a lesson early about patience, about waiting for your time and your turn,” Suggs said at media day. “You are doing all the right things until I could do that. The injuries sat me down and forced me to really develop mentally and as a person. I think it was a blessing in disguise.“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I could have had a perfect two years — Rookie of the Year and all the awards — I wouldn’t trade in for anything I experienced. It helped me grow as a man, as a teammate, and those experiences have been valuable. Definitely feel healthy now and I can tell the difference.”"
Jalen Suggs credited new VP of Player Performance Arnie Kander for helping him shift that mindset. Kander introduced Suggs to meditation and other motivational speakers to help him learn to discipline his mind. It did seem to give Suggs a different perspective.
Suggs has fallen in love with the process and he comes into the building focusing on how he can be a better version of himself. Suggs stayed around the facility in Orlando for most of the offseason.
Now he is putting all that to work. He is hoping that this reset can reset his career and give him a new opportunity.
The early returns are that it has done something. He jumped into the starting lineup and while he did not accumulate a ton of stats, he made an impact with his passing and his defense. He seemed to play under much more control. He looked like a new Suggs.
There are still a lot of things he will need to grow and develop. This will still be a season of discovery and growth.
But Suggs seems to be in a better place mentally. He has his health again. His energy and effort certainly did not appear to change.
Now he has to take advantage of the opportunities in front of him. Whatever that opportunity might become.