Jalen Suggs could be the table-setter the Orlando Magic needed all along

The Orlando Magic are widely thought to be looking for a point guard to set their offense up. But the young team could be looking internally again to fill this need. Jalen Suggs may have been the answer all along.
Jalen Suggs established himself in his third season in the NBA. Now the Orlando Magic have to do a better job projecting what role he is best suited for. And whether he could be the answer for the team at point guard.
Jalen Suggs established himself in his third season in the NBA. Now the Orlando Magic have to do a better job projecting what role he is best suited for. And whether he could be the answer for the team at point guard. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

As the Orlando Magic were pondering what their future might hold during the much-anticipated 2021 NBA Draft, everyone believed Jalen Suggs would be out of reach. It felt like a four-player draft and the Magic, sitting in the fifth pick, would be just out of reach of the marquee stars.

It felt unfortunate because it felt like Suggs was the exact kind of guard prospect the Magic needed. Someone who could score and create his own shot off the dribble. Someone with point guard skills. That versatility alone seemed too much to pass up.

It took three years but Suggs became an essential player for the team. Someone who defined the Magic's culture and defensive identity. As the Magic look ahead to their offseason, it is Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner AND Jalen Suggs as the core the team is building around.

Everyone is spending their time trying to figure out how to build around those three.

That still falls on defining who Suggs is and how best to use him.

The Magic are hoping for a repeat of his 2024 performance —and an expansion considering the 23-year-old is still so early in his career. But with the Magic holding tons of free agency leverage, they have to start defining what Suggs is and what he and the Magic need to be their best.

Paolo Banchero seemed to make the Magic's biggest need clear if everyone did not feel it throughout the playoffs. Orlando needs another playmaker and creator.

Banchero told The Washington Post he wants the team to find a table-setter to ease the creation burden off him. The Boston Celtics at least showed how valuable having five selfless playmakers and passers can be at the highest levels.

Orlando is surely looking for something similar. They do not want to lose the advantage they have with their two playmaking forwards. But it was also clear they needed a bit more.

But as we get closer to free agency, there is at least some belief the Magic are not going to find the traditional point guard they are looking for. Matt Moore of The Action Network reported the Magic have confidence Suggs can take on the point guard role full-time and they can dip into a much deeper and stronger shooting guard market to improve the team.

Everyone is waiting to see what the Magic end up doing this offseason and the player they ultimately target and sign with their excess of cap space.

A lot of this focus then will turn to Suggs and whether he can truly become the team's point guard. How the Magic answer that question may end up defining their offseason.

Jalen Suggs took a long trip to become essential to the Orlando Magic

When Jalen Suggs dropped to the fifth pick, there was pure jubilation. He seemed like the perfect guard for the young team the Magic were building. The kind of perimeter building block the Magic have not had.

It has been a long trip to get Suggs to where he is today. He had two disappointing seasons to start his career. Injuries slowed him down. He could not find his shot. He turned the ball over a ton. He needed a lot of work.

The Magic came into this season not sure what to expect but they found something in Suggs. Or Suggs found something in himself.

He turned himself into an All-Defensive Team player and one of the best and most dogged perimeter defenders in the league. He rediscovered his 3-point shot, hitting 39.7 percent of his 3-pointers after shooting 21.4 and 32.7 percent from three.

Last year he averaged a career high in scoring with 12.6 points per game. He got his shooting under control, hitting a career-best 47.1 percent from the floor. With his defense, which was always present even as he struggled with his outside shot, Suggs became a clear-cut starter and foundational player for the team.

Suggs opened the door to tons of possibilities.

The Orlando Magic still haven't answered whether Jalen Suggs is a point guard

The question though is what his role ultimately should be and how the Orlando Magic make the most of Jalen Suggs.

After struggling with his finishing around the basket and his drives early in his career, it seemed the Magic did more to contain his worst features and channel his energies in the most productive ways last year.

Still, there are signs that he could take on some of those point guard roles.

Suggs averaged 4.5 drives per game last year according to data from Second Spectrum. He shot 52.3 percent on those drives. According to data from Basketball-Index, he shot 66.42 percent at the rim, placing him in the 75th percentile in the league.

In 2023, Suggs averaged 3.9 drives per game and shot 50.5 percent on those drives. In his rookie year, he averaged 9.0 drives per game and shot 38.4 percent.

There is a balance Suggs has had to learn. In his rookie year, he shot just 49.2 percent on shots within eight feet on 260 attempts. In 2023, that moved to 55.8 percent on 165 attempts. Last year, it was at 63.5 percent on 233 attempts.

It has been a slow build to get Suggs finishing and scoring at a level that would warrant becoming a starter.

But does that make him a point guard?

The Magic certainly did not use him like one. He was fourth on the team with 45.8 touches per game (trailing Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Cole Anthony). He averaged only 2.7 assists per game (a career low). He at least maintained an average of 1.8 turnovers per game (although there were still some big turnover games from him).

There are signs though Suggs could take on a bigger point guard role. And this is what the Magic must weigh.

According to Basketball Index, the Magic averaged 8.45 assist points per 75 possessions from Suggs. He was overall a good passer for his role, averaging 0.92 assist points per 75 possessions more than expected for his role according to Basketball Index.

Of course, he is not being compared to other point guards. The Magic had the ball far more often in others' hands with Suggs largely playing off the ball.

In the playoffs, Jalen Suggs took on more ball-handling duties to try to help Paolo Banchero lower his turnover totals. It had some success but was still inconsistent. Suggs was more caretaker than playmaker. And that seems to be what the Magic need.

The Orlando Magic have promised to give their young players a chance to grow

The Orlando Magic have a decision to make this offseason. It is less about which players to pursue but which kind of players they need.

And that becomes increasingly difficult to answer because they are still so young and still discovering what they have. Orlando should be in a space to allow the team's young players to explore their skills fully.

Paolo Banchero should want less playmaking responsibilities so he can get easier shots and feel fresher later in games. But he should not want to give up all those responsibilities.

And that goes for Jalen Suggs too. Now that the Magic have seemingly reclaimed Suggs after his rough first two seasons: What are their plans for him? What can he still be?

With the Magic having this excess cap room and having this two-year window to spend before they have to give extensions to their core three players in Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs, they do have to start making some decisions on who these players are.

Ultimately, Orlando wants to have as many playmakers and creators as possible. Everyone has to play the responsibilities of every position on the floor. That is the versatility the team is chasing.

Is Jalen Suggs a point guard? That remains the central question the front office is likely considering this offseason.

If they buy into everything else about him, the Magic probably want to give Suggs his own space to explore and grow. They may not be ready to commit to Suggs as a point guard one way or the other. They need to find a way to support Suggs in this growth.

Essentially, the Magic are looking for ways to share the growth burden across every position so everyone can explore and play.

The challenge of this offseason for the Magic will be trying to predict how much Suggs can grow in this role. And whether they can gamble on him stepping up.

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There is evidence he can. But also plenty of evidence that Orlando needs to fill that role this summer.